Titus seeks to restrict program alleged to hurt animals, family farmers
Got check offs? (Photo: Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg/getty Images)
Remember when actor Sam Eliot told collective America that beef is what’s for dinner? The popular ad campaign was paid for through a U.S. Department of Agriculture fund used to promote and research commodities. Congresswoman Dina Titus is sponsoring legislation she says would prevent lobbyists from eating up the money at the expense of family farmers and ranchers.
The money comes from government fees on farmers and ranchers and is allocated to benefit the respective industry. But Titus says the assessments, known as checkoff funds, are being abused.
“Lax oversight by the USDA has allowed harmful relationships between checkoff boards and lobbying organizations to foster,” Titus said in a news release on the introduction of the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act, designed to reform the program. “Such advocacy efforts – funded by mandatory fees – benefit certain producers to the detriment of others and have pushed Congress to enact legislation that harms the welfare of animals.”
Titus says check-off money has been used to advocate for faster line speeds in slaughterhouses. The Cattlemen’s Association says the practice allows more cows to be killed but critics say the increased speed results in more missed direct kills, causing suffering for the animals.
The Cattlemen’s Association also used checkoff money to lobby against an agreement in the 2012 farm bill that would have mandated larger cages for chickens.
“The Cattlemen’s Association believed it would create a bad precedent by requiring larger enclosures for one type of animal that could eventually be applied to cattle,” according to Titus’ Deputy Chief of Staff and legislative director Ben Rosenbaum.
The OFF Act would prevent checkoff money from being used for lobbying on agricultural matters, ban anticompetitive acts, prohibit activity involving conflicts of interest, and ensure compliance via audits, according to Titus.
“This program has devolved from producing ‘Got milk?’ ads to creating taxpayer-funded lobbying firms, and it needs to stop,” said Republican Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina, a co-sponsor of the measure.
Nevada farming associations did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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