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Guest Columns

Perspective:
Industry Issues

Looking forward with hope

Connie Tipton

Connie Tipton is president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association. She contributes this column exclusively for Cheese Market News®.

With no more than a glance in the rearview mirror, I will bid adieu to 2011 and happily welcome the new year with hope and optimism. There are some positive glimmers this holiday season. Retailers are reporting strong sales, an indication that perhaps consumers are back in the groove of consuming. That’s definitely a trend we hope will extend to dairy products as families come together over eggnog, a cheese tray, peppermint stick ice cream or milk and cookies for Santa as part of their holiday traditions.

The new year will bring plenty of challenges, along with opportunities for change, innovation and growth as well. Here are some of the things we see on the horizon for 2012.

• Challenges and changes

Milk sales have been lagging for 23 months, and fluid milk companies are struggling under the weight of federal order Class I pricing that forces them to pay the highest price for farm milk. Last April, our boards of directors agreed it’s time to phase out that discriminatory pricing, and we’ve gotten a start with the Dairy Pricing Deregulation Act, H.R. 3277, introduced by Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) and co-sponsored by Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) in the House of Representatives. We’re looking forward to more co-sponsors of that legislation and more discussion of these outdated regulations as we get into the 2012 Farm Bill debate.

But phasing out discriminatory pricing doesn’t mean dropping a safety net for our farmers. We advocate margin insurance and better risk management tools for dairy farms so they can weather market fluctuations and take advantage of growth potential. Export opportunities continue to look great for us, but we need to get our policies right to encourage product innovation and market expansion. Whatever policy direction we take, it must help the U.S. dairy industry be as competitive as possible in exporting to emerging markets and in vying for market share with other foods and beverages here in U.S. markets.

Threats to or restrictions on marketing our products are another set of challenges that will continue into 2012. Government agencies have been particularly active in this area during the Obama administration.

• FDA, for instance, has lots of ideas in the hopper — things like front-of-pack labeling, limitations on marketing to kids, sodium reductions and new drug residue testing.

• USDA wants to limit flavored milks and other nutritious dairy products sold in schools as a part of its efforts to cut back on intake of sugar, fat and calories.

• EPA has a long list of threats, including establishing new tolerance levels for dioxin that are not based in science but could scare consumers away from our products.

IDFA continues to work on all of these issues, meeting with the agencies to make our arguments in person, as well as filing extensive comments whenever the process allows.

• Opportunities

After a fire-drill attempt to shove the 2012 Farm Bill into the ill-fated supercommittee bill, we now have a more normal process for writing new policy that will allow input and ideas from all affected parties. That’s especially important if we are to get a policy outcome that will best serve the industry and consumers. Hearings will likely start in the next few weeks, followed by committee mark-ups, possible floor action and amendments in both the House and Senate, and then a conference committee to resolve differences in House and Senate provisions. It’s a months-long process that will enable everyone to be heard — and that’s a good thing for democracy, assuming politics can be set aside in a very contentious election year.

Speaking of democracy, remember we all have the opportunity to work on behalf of candidates for office who share our values and ideas. That’s a privilege we should not squander. Every individual’s efforts make a difference, whether you actively support candidates and help campaign for them or simply cast your vote and encourage others to do so. Outcomes from the 2012 elections could be significant in changing the course of our country in many ways. Just look at the directional shift we made in 2008 for a reminder; then get out and get involved.

We are fortunate to be able to look toward new beginnings to make the future for the U.S. dairy industry more prosperous. Let’s make the most of it.

CMN

The views expressed by CMN’s guest columnists are their own opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of Cheese Market News®.

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