bipartisan support

A Self-Evident Truth: America’s Farmers Need Bipartisan Support

Although the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act (OFF) may be unlikely to move forward, its introduction to both the Senate and House with widely bipartisan cosponsorship sends a clear message: something is rotten in the state of our food production.

-Staff Writer, Caroline Ognibene

Image shows quotations from OFF highlighting its goals to: reduce political influence, end unfair distribution of benefits, reduce conflicts of interest, and improve transparency

On March 28th, 2017, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), co-sponsored by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), first introduced the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act (S.741) to the 115th Congress in an effort to regulate the agricultural checkoff programs. Most notably, the Act requires fiscal transparency:

“The Board shall publish and make available for public inspection all budgets and disbursements of funds entrusted to the Board that are approved by the Secretary.”

Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act (S.741)1

The bill was reintroduced (S.935)2 to the 116th Congress with the additional cosponsorship of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Its companion bill in the House (H.R.5563)3 also has bipartisan support; it was introduced by Representative Dina Titus (D-NV), cosponsored by Representatives Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Steve Cohen (D-TN), and Joe Neguse (D-CO).

This rare collaboration between legislators of opposite parties suggests the urgency of solving this economic injustice. However, in order for the bill to move forward, it must pass its relevant committee, both the Senate and the House, and be signed by the President. GovTrack cites a 3% chance of this bill actually being enacted.4 5

As of now, farms of all sizes pay 15 cents per 100 pounds of American-produced milk (and 7.5 cents per 100 pounds of imported milk). These mandatory assessments fund The Dairy Research and Promotion Program, also known as the Dairy Checkoff Program, a national producer and importer program for dairy product promotion, research, and nutrition education.6

As AFA has previously written, the checkoff programs largely benefit corporate agribusiness at the expense of small- to mid-sized farmers. The checkoff programs are an example of what corruption looks like: ostensibly, the aim is to increase demand for an otherwise declining industry, but in practice, the checkoff board members make hundreds of thousands per annum at the expense of small farmers who are squeezed out of the market. Corporate partnerships with fast-food chains and the NFL do little to benefit the struggling independent American farmer.

“some operators of smaller farms complain they do not see the same benefits” and “there is additional frustration about the salaries paid to Dairy Management officials at a time when, faced with sagging milk prices and economic problems, scores of small farms are closing.”

– Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 7
Image shows the bipartisan support for the OFF with a quote from Republican Senator Lee and Democrat Senator Booker

The significant takeaway from this attempt to publicize financial records is the bipartisan support behind it. The checkoff programs run antithetical to the values promulgated by both sides of the political aisle. The programs offer a regulated market for large-scale corporate farm owners and leave the small- to mid-scale farmers to struggle. Adding insult to injury, these farmers are compelled to pay into the very programs that benefit only their industrial competitors. If there were nothing to hide about the financial records, they wouldn’t be hidden.

“The 10 top executives at Dairy Management were paid an average of $800,000 each in 2017 and two collected at least $1.19 million, according to IRS documents. That year, 1,600 dairy farms closed nationwide, including 503 in Wisconsin.”

“Farmers have been forced to pay $900 million for marketing. Now they are teaming up with animal activists to find out how it was spent.” – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 8

The plight of the ‘Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act’ offers an allegorical glimpse into the corporate world behind the curtain of pro-farmer political rhetoric: triple cheese-stuffed pizza crust at the expense of American health; Domino’s in school lunches at the expense of child nutrition; industrial agribusiness at the expense of animals and the environment; corporate profits at the expense of small farms; bloated paychecks at the expense of democratic transparency.

While AFA advocates for a broad transition away from animal agriculture, we recognize the bipartisan support for this Act as a sign that our food system undeniably needs reform. We recognize the Act’s failure to pass as a sign that we need better legislative representation.

Call to Action

The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act has a low chance of passing. However, this bill shows a political readiness to collaborate across the aisle when it comes to defending America’s farmers.

That’s why AFA is lobbying for the At-Risk Farmer Act, which would assist animal farmers and ranchers in transitioning to plant-based agriculture. With this Act, we can support America’s small farmers while protecting our environment and public health.

Support AFA today by sending a letter of support to your elected officials, becoming a member, or volunteering with us.

bipartisan support