USDA believes that checkoff programs are constitutional and will continue to support them, says William Hawks, USDA Under Secretary of Marketing and Regulatory Programs.

"USDA's position is that we support these self-help programs. They are intended to allow producers to work to improve markets for their products. We believe they are constitutional and we are going to continue to defend them," says Hawks.

Among his duties, Hawks has oversight responsibilities for checkoff programs. "We're looking for transparency; we expect the funds to be used for only those program activities provided for in the law," he notes.

Hawks visited ag commodity leaders in Des Moines, Iowa, then heard from the National Pork Board leadership about pork checkoff-funded programs. "We updated him on our transition process (between NPB and the National Pork Producers Council), and we gave him an overview of the industry," says NPB Vice President Craig Christensen, a pork producer from Bouton, Iowa.

Christensen explained to Hawks the checkoff-funded programs that provide science-based research in food safety, swine health and animal welfare.

"Obviously, from what I have seen today, the Pork Board has funded a significant amount of research including research on food safety issues," says Hawks. "We (USDA) think of these programs as working to increase demand, but it impressed me that this program is working on food quality and safety issues and increasing producers' understanding of these issues."

Questioned about USDA's Mandatory Price Reporting system, Hawks explained that USDA initiated new confidentiality guidelines on Aug. 20. "We're putting out the vast majority of our reports now. It was just a massive undertaking to change from a totally voluntary system to a mandatory system. We will continue to work through the issues as they come up."

Hawks has farmed since 1970, most recently serving as the managing partner of Hawks Farming, which operates about 7,700 acres of land in three counties in northern Mississippi. Hawks has been active in many agricultural boards and committees, including the American Farm Bureau Federation and the American Soybean Association.