Is checkoff money being used illegally?

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Do you know where your thousands – and on a national scale, hundreds of millions – of federally-mandated, non-refundable checkoff dollars go?
It’s a question Bobby King, policy director of Minnesota’s Land Stewardship Project, asked when he viewed advertisements that attacked “anti-livestock activist groups” in the state on Minneapolis’ powerhouse WCCO television station earlier this year.
The problem. The 30-second ads (viewable at www.mnfarmandfood.org), said King, had an unmistakably political message.
“To build the case that there’s a crisis in livestock production here,” he explains from his Twin Cities office, “because Minnesota law gives counties and townships authority over livestock facility siting.”
The proof. Documents obtained by King under the Freedom of Information Act later confirmed that the ads’ blunt message was paid for by the United Soybean Board and the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council, the federal and state soybean checkoffs.
And that, he charges, is illegal.
“Federal checkoff dollars can be used for many things,” notes Lynn Hayes, senior staff attorney for St. Paul-based Farmers’ Legal Action Group, “like market promotion, export development and research, to name a few.
“One thing specifically outlawed by the soybean checkoff legislation, however,” she continues, “is influencing legislation or governmental action – lobbying.”
Doing the math. King had little difficulty making the connection between the ads and the soybean checkoff: Two of the three ads prominently sport the copyrighted United Soybean Board logo.
Also, all three of the ads encouraged viewers to “go to,” “visit,” or “learn more” about what is “at stake here” if “livestock expansion continues to be arbitrarily denied” by going to the Web site of a group with the name Minnesota Farm and Food Coalition.
Coalition identity. The Coalition, as its Web site details, is a who’s who of Minnesota farm and agbiz groups, including Farm Bureau and the Agri-Growth Council.
All openly and actively lobby local, state and federal officials on farm issues like, say, livestock facility siting.
(The membership of Minnesota Agri-Growth Council, www.agrigrowth.org, is another mutual aid society of state ag movers and lobbyists: Christensen Farms, Cargill, Bayer, Deere, Swift, Syngenta, Swift

About the Author

Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com More Stories by Alan Guebert

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