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Guest Columns

Perspective:
Industry Issues

A new Congress, a new beginning

Connie Tipton

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

I’m excited for the swearing-in of the 114th Congress on January 6, 2015. Every two years we get a chance to reset our relationships with Congress and talk about our industry and its priorities for the two years ahead. It feels like a refreshing new beginning, something that seems especially needed at this time of such turmoil.

Coming off of an election that gave a significant advantage to the Republicans in both the House of Representatives and the Senate brings new hope for getting things done on fundamental issues facing our government and the business community, like budgets, taxes and immigration. Simply having a functioning Congress will be a big step in the right direction, but the hurdle of what can pass the approval of President Obama remains.

A new Congress gives you an opportunity to touch base with returning members of Congress and introduce yourself and your company to the newly elected members representing areas where you have facilities. Let them know how your business is doing and the challenges you face so they will have that in mind as they set their agendas and priorities for issues.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned here in Washington, D.C., over my 30-year career representing the dairy industry, it’s that you can’t repeat your message often enough. Politicians are eager to hear what’s on your mind, and what’s going on in the business community, but it may not sink in, unless you keep emphasizing it.

Now that the 2014 Farm Bill is being implemented, our focus at IDFA will shift to other important legislative issues. One we will be working on with Congress this coming year is reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act that governs all of the feeding programs for schools; the program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC); and other similar government-funded efforts to make food more available. Milk and dairy products are prominent in these programs. The reauthorization effort will begin in the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and the Senate Committee on Agriculture, so members on those committees are especially important to work with on this issue.

I predict that trade issues, in particular trade agreements, will make more progress in the next Congress, and we’ll need everyone to stay focused to get the best outcomes for dairy. We’ll also need to do our part to see that these agreements get approved through Congress. Working with other trade associations and business coalitions is one way we lend our support to this cause. We can’t take for granted that the growing international market will continue to improve opportunities for our industry, and we need to ensure that our legislatures understand this.

Immigration and transportation productivity are other issues where we have common interests with others, and we’ve joined coalitions to see progress here.

There are other issues directly related to food that the new Congress may take up or act to intervene with the FDA, such as GMO labeling, new Dietary Guidelines, and nutrition facts and menu labeling regulations, to name just a few. Once again, we are leveraging our message to policy makers through a coalition, the Food and Beverage Alliance, which includes other food associations.

No matter what issues take priority with the new Congress, sound public policy depends on access to reliable information, and your relationships with Congress help legislators have a viewpoint and facts to consider in making informed decisions on legislation as it is developed. Indeed, representing your views to Congress is a fundamental pillar of democracy under the First Amendment to our Constitution, the right to petition our government.

Since policies are usually developed in the midst of competing interests and views, it’s particularly important to give voice to what is in the interest of your company, the industry and better business opportunities with stories of how these policies help or challenge your business and your employees. This makes what may seem like simple, black-and-white issues better understood for their nuances and impacts in the real world, not just in theory. These stories ultimately can lead to better decision-making in Congress.

At IDFA, we have worked over the years to build a reputation as a credible and reliable source of information on the dairy foods industry. No one has all the answers on any given issue, but sound public policy depends on diverse sources of information that are accurate, relevant and timely, and delivered by a trusted messenger in an ethical fashion. We pride ourselves on following these principles and work hard to build on that legacy. But also we strive to have solid relationships with policy makers who will understand and advance policies that create market opportunity for our members rather than more government impediments.

As Congress convenes next month, our staff will be attending many swearing-in events on Capitol Hill and arranging meetings with new members to introduce ourselves and our industry. We hope you will make contact with members of Congress in the state or district offices near you to help us build strong relationships for the dairy foods industry.

Remember, lobbying was put forth in the 18th century as one of our “rights” as U.S. citizens, but it is a 21st century responsibility.

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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