By Sherri Dugger
Media and Outreach Director, Indiana Farmers Union
All conversations in my world revolve around the 2018 Farm Bill these days. The bill, known as H.R. 2, is the largest of its kind that involves American food and farming systems, and it is currently being cut apart, pieced back, spit-shined, smoothed, waxed, and polished, before it will be approved. This legislation is making its way through both chambers of Congress with the U.S. House of Representatives expected to vote this week.
“Pork. The Other White Meat.” “Got Milk?” “Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner.” Remember these advertising campaigns? They were paid for by Checkoff programs, which are funded through mandatory taxes placed on farmers. Checkoff programs were originally intended to help market and promote the products of all farmers to consumers. Use of these funds were supposed to be transparent. There was to be accountability for how the money was spent. The funds were never to be used for lobbying for or against any one group of farmers or farm products.
Enter: Our reality. The billions of dollars funneled through the program have made their way into the wrong hands, where there is no transparency, nor accountability. Research conducted by Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) details the egregious misuse of funds under the current system. (For the entire article, go here.)
- In 2010, an independent audit of the equivalent of just nine days of beef checkoff program spending found more than $200,000 in improper spending by the primary beef checkoff contractor, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), including the use of checkoff dollars for lobbying and overseas vacations.
- In 2015, documents obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request showed that the American Egg Board illegally used checkoff dollars to attempt to halt sales of an egg-free mayonnaise product.https://www.lee.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/issue-in-focus?ID=D9212876-FC43-4536-B60D-469612FFDE92
As they stand, the Checkoff programs prop up industrial agriculture systems with money taken from small, independent family farmers. These farmers are forced, in essence, to pay for their demise. According to USDA Census data, we have lost 95 percent of egg farmers, 90 percent of pig producers, and 88 percent of dairy producers in the U.S. in the last 40 years. These producers are the victims of politicians and industrial agriculture trade associations pursuing anti-competitive policies and securing subsidies that favor the biggest operators. The Farm Bill is where those anti-competitive policies and subsidies get written into law.
The fewer farmers we have, the worse off we are. When we lose diversity in our food systems, consumers lose choice. Our communities, our environment, the animals we raise, and our health suffer the consequences of that loss.
Amendment No. 24, the Brat-Blumenauer Amendment, will be voted on this week. This legislation:
- Prohibits the Checkoff board from entering into any contract or agreement with a party that engages in activities for the purpose of influencing any government policy or action;
- Disallows any anticompetitive activity, any unfair or deceptive act or practices, any act that may be disparaging or negatively portray another commodity or product;
- Requires the Checkoff board to publish and make available for public inspection all budgets and disbursements of funds entrusted to the Board.
Under the industrial food system, unclear labeling, false marketing campaigns, and misleading claims about the origin of foods ensure that consumers don’t know how and where their food is raised, which chemicals and antibiotics remain in it, and the environmental impacts of the industrial systems that raised it.
It’s time for that to change. The power is in your hands. When consumers educate themselves and speak up for what they want in our nation’s policy, the battle against these multinational corporations that currently control our food system can be won. These next two days are critical for H.R. 2, our nation’s Farm Bill. Call your member of the U.S. House of Representatives and ask him/her to vote in support of Amendment No. 24, the Brat-Blumenauer Amendment.