WASHINGTON – Yesterday, September 27, Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, Cory Booker, DN.J., Elizabeth Warren, D-Maine, Kirsten Gillibrand, DN.Y., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., Filed the Equity Opportunities Act in agriculture (OFF law), which would implement a crucial reform of programs to promote basic products (contributions), long plagued by corruption. The OFF law supports independent farmers and ranchers by improving transparency, prohibiting lobbying, limiting conflicts of interest and ending anti-competitive activities within these programs.
In addition, Sens. Lee and Paul introduced the Voluntary Checkoff Program Participation Act, which goes further than the OFF Act by allowing commodity producers to participate in levy programs on a voluntary, rather than mandatory basis, while providing a government mechanism for pool resources for research and promotion.
Originally introduced in the 115th Congress and again in the 116th, these bills would bring a long overdue reform to the levy programs. In a November 2017 report, the United States Government Accountability Office found that USDA’s oversight of levy programs was insufficient, raising concerns that the agency would systematically review subcontracts for levy programs. levy or independent economic assessments. GAO also noted a lack of transparency due to the failure of control boards to report program information.
USDA’s lax oversight has resulted in collusive and illegal relationships between levy funds and lobbying organizations to influence legislation and government action, despite a broad legal ban on such activities. Such anti-competitive advocacy efforts benefit some producers at the expense of others and force independent farmers and ranchers into a system that actively works against them.
“For too long, farmers and ranchers have been forced to pay into these programs only to see their money go to commercial and lobbying organizations that go against their very existence. The USDA hasn’t acted, so it’s time for Congress to step in and do what’s right for family farmers and ranchers, ”said Joe Maxwell, president of the Family Farm Action Alliance.
At the 115th Congress, more than 102 farm and food organizations expressed support for the inclusion of the OFF law in the 2018 farm bill. The Family Farm Action Alliance has long advocated for policy changes to reform the levy system and will continue to urge USDA and Congress to fight corruption or end the system.