The American Sheep Industry Association joined a coalition of agricultural trade associations this week in opposing the deceptively titled Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act, which would substantially undermine the group’s ability to promote American agriculture- and natural resource-based commodity products.
“The Trade Associations represent American farmers, ranchers, foresters and processors of raw materials. Each of these industries plays a critical and irreplaceable role in the U.S. economy through the production of food, fiber and other essential goods – all while creating jobs, stewarding resources and supporting local communities across the country,” read a letter to leaders of the U.S. Senate and House ag committees.
“The OFF Act targets commodity research and promotion boards, better known as checkoff programs. Checkoffs were established at the urging of the producers of their respective products. While each individual program operates in a manner uniquely crafted to suit the needs of that specific commodity, generally, a small portion of the sales receipts of that commodity is allocated to a research and promotion board overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Research and promotion boards exist to develop new markets and strengthen existing channels for specific commodities while conducting important research and promotional activities. They also work to educate consumers on behalf of a particular commodity to expand total demand to the benefit of all producers. Using the pooled resources and stakeholder investments obtained through checkoff assessments, they promote the product as a whole to create an industry-wide benefit through increased sales, consumer awareness and higher overall demand. For every dollar invested into a commodity checkoff, producers see several more in return.
“Proponents of the bill argue this legislation would increase transparency and close perceived loopholes in the statutes enabling checkoff programs. This is an inaccurate assessment. In fact, the bill would not create any new checks and balances to ensure compliance and fairness. Checkoffs are already subjected to rigorous compliance protocols, both internally and by USDA. Rather, the bill would stymie research collaboration, undermine producer direction of these programs and unnecessarily restrict implementation of critical checkoff functions.
“Importantly, you will note that none of the federally authorized research and promotion boards are signatories to this letter. This is not a coincidence. Contrary to claims made by supporters of the OFF Act, checkoffs are prohibited from using their resources to influence public policy. The Trade Associations are organizations which our members voluntarily elect to join. Each is one of the numerous individuals who pay checkoff assessments. We oppose this misguided legislation because these same members understand the value of checkoff programs and have seen firsthand the return on their investments over the years.”
The American Sheep Industry Association led the design and implementation of the American lamb checkoff. Established in 2002, the checkoff is one of the few that assesses packing companies in addition to producers and feeders. ASI led two subsequent nationwide referendums that overwhelmingly voted in support of American lamb promotion.
“Now more than ever, American lamb has to fight for consumer recognition. Without it, all of the podcasts, food shows and events would be imported lamb promotion as they were in the late 1990s” said ASI President Brad Boner.