Guest Columns

Industry Issues

Is this OK with you?

Connie Tipton

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

The federal government has taken a big step into the marketplace for food and it’s not OK with me. I think our elected and appointed officials should be focused on issues that individual Americans can’t control by themselves, rather than telling us all what we can and cannot do in the minute details of our daily lives.

A few examples come quickly to mind. What about all of the issues that have been raised about the Veterans Administration and the abysmal service provided to our veterans? Or what about Russia taking over nearby countries with no more than a small slap at the bank accounts of a handful of wealthy Russians? Or what about providing some leadership on immigration reform or getting our federal fiscal house in order?

You get the idea. Our federal government should be addressing the bigger issues while letting us exercise our own judgments about issues of individual importance to all of us, like what the kids should eat for lunch.

Apparently this interference is not OK with a lot of school kids either, as more than a million have dropped out of the school meals program since choices have been limited on lots of things, including milk over 1 percent fat. And now they’re taking away food options under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), telling women who qualify what they can buy with those vouchers. These WIC decisions aren’t based on science; they’re based on opinions, especially strongly held opinions by the First Lady.

We know that the WIC program just came out with a new rule limiting milk purchases to fat free and 1 percent, even for little kids. But just as ridiculous and arbitrary is the move to outlaw the purchase of a white potato, a vegetable chock-full of vitamins and nutrients with no fat, sodium or sugar, with WIC vouchers.

Sen. Collins, R-Maine, took on the potato issue in the appropriations process and tells me her action drew personal calls from Michelle Obama to every member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. I think this is astonishing. And all over the poor, maligned potato.

We should all have a sense of outrage (or at least frustration) with the growing intrusion of the federal government into the business of food and beverage companies, telling them what they can and cannot sell to consumers. This relationship in commerce has long been based on companies developing products that consumers want and delivering them to the marketplace. The products sell, or they don’t, and the companies respond to that market demand. Today, food companies are being accused of trying to kill their customers by formulating “bad for you” foods. How ridiculous does that sound? And the trial attorneys are paying attention, saying “Food is the next tobacco.” You can virtually see them rubbing their greedy hands together!

In the last few years, we have seen a big change in the attitude of those who have been selected and elected to run our federal government. They believe consumers are not making the “right” decisions, so they are trying to correct that with government mandates. And while I think they are well intentioned and that they believe this is good for consumers, all Americans should be concerned with this overreach into what used to be personal decisions and personal responsibility. These are some pretty important fundamentals to defend, in my opinion.

I personally believe these actions are very much outside the boundaries of what our federal government should be doing, and we all need to speak up just as loudly as the interest groups that readily fan the flames. Of course, changes to federal programs are in the purview of the federal government, but they need to be based on facts and sound science. I’m pretty sure any examination of the facts and of science would prove conclusively that milk and baked potatoes aren’t products that are dangerous to health or need to be limited.

As for our actions at IDFA, we have steadfastly argued on behalf of consumers having product choice, whether it’s in the retail supermarket or a school lunch room. It is alarming to see policies implemented in schools that drive kids away from nutritious milk and dairy products, and we do make those arguments, armed with facts about changes in school sales and consumption, to government officials. Unfortunately, current government officials have been unwilling to listen to the facts.


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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