Two separate bills aimed at changing the way commodity checkoff programs work have been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.
S.741, introduced by Lee and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., aims at checkoff reform meant to heighten accountability and transparency.
S.934, introduced by Lee and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., would make checkoff programs voluntary.
R-CALF USA, which has long been critical of the beef checkoff program, prefers S.934 because it makes all checkoff programs voluntary, Bill Bullard, R-CALF's CEO, said.
While he supports provisions in S.741, Bullard said it doesn’t go far enough. It misses some fundamental reforms, such as being able to use checkoff dollars to promote beef from cattle that are born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S., he said.
As is, the beef checkoff program is forcing producers to promote foreign beef and their competitor’s product, he said.
In addition, S.741 doesn’t address the constitutional violation of compelling producers to fund the speech of private entities — state beef councils — without their consent, an argument that was recently upheld by the U.S. District Court in Montana, Bullard said.
Making the beef checkoff voluntary would give producers the choice of whether to partner with state beef councils and the ability to hold those entities accountable, he said.
R-CALF is also critical that half of the $80 million collected annually through the beef checkoff and another $10 million annually from state beef councils goes to National Cattlemen’s Beef Association to carry out checkoff initiatives, he said.
“We certainly object to that because there’s ample opportunity for cross-subsidization” of NCBA’s lobbying efforts that are contrary to the interests of R-CALF members, he said.
NCBA has lobbied against mandatory country of origin labeling, rules that would strengthen the Packers and Stockyards Act and needed reform of trade policy — all of which would help independent cattle producers, he said.
“Our members are angry that their money is used against them,” he said.
The beef checkoff is a government-mandated subsidy, and NCBA is the biggest benefactor, he said.
S.934 would allow producers to choose whether they want to participate, he said.
NCBA views both bills as a sign that some members of Congress don’t understand how checkoffs work and further education is needed, Colin Woodall, NCBA senior vice president of government affairs, said.
Lee comes from a Heritage Foundation mindset that checkoffs are an unfair tax, he said.
NCBA and the Utah Cattlemen’s Association have had multiple conversations with Lee to explain the importance of the beef checkoff and how it works. It is self-funded and self-directed by producers, he said.
“This is one where he (Lee) hasn’t listened to his constituents at all,” he said.
Both bills are “terrible” because they attack all checkoffs, he said.
Because the bills are a regurgitation of legislation and amendments to the farm bill that were rejected by the last Congress, NCBA doesn’t think they are going anywhere, he said.
“We don’t expect these bills will get a hearing, much less a vote,” he said.