Grassley Says Commodity Checkoff Programs Are Part of 'The Public's Business', Subject to FOIA

Jun 2, 2016

Agriculture commodity groups should not be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. That’s according to Sen. Chuck Grassley, who opposes House legislation that allows these groups to keep their documents and data private.

Commodity industries have checkoff programs that are tasked with research and promotion of their products, such as pork or eggs. Checkoffs are funded through mandatory fees from producers and are overseen by the USDA.             

Industries with checkoff programs say since USDA oversight is paid through these fees and not taxpayer dollars, they are not government agencies and therefore should not be subject to Freedom of Information Requests.

“As long as the federal government is involved, then the public’s business should be public,” says Iowa’s senior Republican senator. “Transparency brings accountability.”

Grassley says he and Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, were successful in keeping legislation similar to that of the House Agriculture Appropriations bill out of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill.

Last year a records request of the American Egg Board, the egg industry's checkoff, revealed emails from AEB staff discussing how to deal with a successful Hampton Creek's vegan mayonnaise brand, Just Mayo. Some emails suggested AEB was trying to influence government regulators, which is not permitted, and one email even included a joke about putting a hit on Just Mayo's CEO.