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Perspective:
Industry Issues

Big Brother with an agenda

Connie Tipton

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

Our government is on a dangerous path of intimidation, regulation and punishment for those who hold views that differ from the views of this administration. Whether it’s the Internal Revenue Service targeting groups because of their political beliefs or calls for disclosure of donors to political groups, there are clear efforts to silence the voice of business.

Let’s look at a few recent events.

The National Security Agency is logging emails and phone calls of ordinary citizens. The Internal Revenue Service is investigating individual taxpayers as well as blocking tax exemptions to groups with agendas that differ from the powers that be. The Justice Department has singled out a reporter for potential prosecution for doing his job for Fox News. What else is going on that hasn’t yet been uncovered?

All of this brings into focus the importance of free speech and the freedom to petition our government. These rights are fundamental to our democracy, and we must defend them vigorously, both independently and in united efforts through trade associations such as IDFA. One of the top groups in Washington with a big voice in this arena is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and IDFA is proud to be a member of that organization and working with them.

Unfortunately, these acts of government intimidation have the additional negative consequence of increasing the lack of civil discourse on issues. The barbs fly during political contests as well as issue debates, making villains of those on the other side of an issue. Elections have become mud-slinging events instead of debates about real differences among candidates, and the discussion of issues has devolved into a low level of mischaracterization and vehemence. It’s troubling to say the least.

To solve the issues that lie before us all as Americans, we must speak out loudly for honest discussion, debate and efforts to collaborate and avoid allowing one group or another to dictate. This is the clearest way to move forward on policies that can keep our industry and our nation strong.

How did we get to this place where people are vilified for disagreeing? Well, one example comes to mind from efforts to reform outdated dairy policy. There has been a long-time campaign to paint dairy processors and manufacturers as “only wanting cheap milk” and “not caring about dairy farmers.” Having worked with processors and manufacturers for 32 years, I can tell you this just isn’t true. A reliable supply of milk and dairy ingredients is at the top of the list for most dairy foods companies, along with the desire also to have an affordable price so the end equation will work to keep both farmers and processors in business and keep consumers buying our products. This is the win, win, win equation.

We also had an interesting experience this spring when the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) decided to publish a joint petition filed by IDFA and the National Milk Producers Federation. The petition requested a change to the milk standard of identity to allow the use of non-nutritive sweeteners in flavored milks. This was an effort to put fluid milk on a level playing field with competing beverages.

While there were reasonable people who honestly disagreed with this idea and believed that milk needs to be treated differently than other beverages, there were many more who sent outright “hate mail,” going as far as comparing us to such despicable characters as Adolf Hitler. All in all, more than 35,000 comments were filed at FDA, most based on the intentional mischaracterization of what we intended to do, which was driven by activists with their own agendas.

And while social media has made these sorts of campaigns easy to do, industry research showed that the effect on consumer attitudes was very limited. Without prompting or aided recall, only 1 percent of consumers mentioned that they were aware of the issue.

We all remember George Orwell’s book, 1984, about government keeping track of us as “Big Brother.” We want our government to do what’s right to protect us without taking over our lives.

Whatever the issue, our opponents have the right to disagree with us. But companies and organizations that represent them, like IDFA, have the right to make their views known and their voices heard. An open exchange of ideas is healthy and can be productive in bringing important policy changes, whether on legislation, regulations or government rulemaking.

Mischaracterization of intentions, lack of civil discourse and intimidation have no place in our government or in civil society. We must work to guarantee our rights.

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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