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Perspective:
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Reflections of 35 years

Connie Tipton

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

I’ve had a somewhat unusual but very fulfilling career working for companies that make and market dairy products, so I thought I would share a look in the rearview mirror as I move into the last few months of my tenure at the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA).

Here’s my story.

I joined the staff of the Milk Industry Foundation and International Association of Ice Cream Manufacturers (now the International Ice Cream Association) in May of 1981 as an assistant to then IDFA Vice President E. Linwood “Tip” Tipton (name sound familiar?). I was returning to the job market after having two children and surviving a divorce. My prior experience included fundraising and communications, and I had a keen interest in politics and policy, so a trade association with policy interests seemed a good choice.

I rapidly rose to office manager, then head of communications (my studies at Ohio State University focused on journalism and communications). In October 1983, Tip and I were married and honeymooned in New York City for a brief weekend before traveling to Chicago for the Dairy Show. At that time, the show was run by the Dairy Food Industry Suppliers’ Association (DFISA), in conjunction with an industry convention for processors and suppliers that our organizations conducted.

Tip took over as the president and CEO of the milk and ice cream associations in 1988, but prior to that the associations began a number of initiatives that remain successful today. In 1982, the International Sweetener Colloquium was launched with a meeting of nearly 200 people in Arizona. In fact, it was such a hit that we decided to start a similar meeting for the dairy industry the following year, and that was the first Dairy Forum.

Also in 1982, President Reagan proclaimed July as National Ice Cream Month, which required getting signatures from a majority in both the House and Senate. That was my first foray into the legislative world. To launch our first official “Ice Cream Month,” we decided to hold an ice cream party on Capitol Hill in the summer of 1983 and invite all of the members of Congress and their staffs. The party was an immediate success and has remained a real hit on Capitol Hill to this day. By the way, I attended my 34th Capitol Hill Ice Cream Party last month!

In the latter half of the 1980s, the associations started our own Dairy Show, which ran in the alternate years of the biennial DFISA show, and that was the beginning of many successful trade shows that helped build the associations’ coffers.

In 1990, IDFA was created when the National Cheese Institute joined with the milk and ice cream groups to form a strong, unified voice for dairy foods makers and marketers. That year we also passed the Fluid Milk Promotion Act of 1990, which propelled us to form the Milk Processor Education Program, and MilkPEP began its iconic milk mustache advertising in 1994.

Of course there were farm bill skirmishes over dairy and sugar policy every few years, with some qualifying as real battles. Early on in the Reagan administration, we passed legislation to get government price-support reductions. In fact, President Reagan chose that bill to sign after being shot to show Americans and the world that he was all right.

Over the years, we continued to work on reducing government price supports and export subsidies.

In 1983, Congress put in place the Milk Diversion Program to reduce milk production and prop up farm prices. That was followed by a “whole herd buyout,” where the government paid farmers to slaughter entire herds of cows and stay out of dairying for five years. Then Congress, in their inimitable wisdom, added the Northeast Dairy Compact, which raised consumer milk prices in the Northeastern United States. It took a multiyear battle to kill that one. This effort was combined with periodic fights over federal milk marketing order reform (anyone remember the “option 1-A or option 1-B” debate on Capitol Hill?) and, finally, a dairy farm direct payment program.

In the farm bill signed into law in 2014, dairy price supports, Milk Income Loss Contract payments and export subsidies under the Dairy Export Incentive Program came to an end and were replaced with the current margin payment program intended to assist farmers with catastrophic losses on the margin between milk prices and feed costs. 2014 marked the end of a long slog to eliminate price supports and a big win that defeated a proposed supply management program.

As these farm bill fights came and went, there was plenty going on with other legislation and regulations. I’ll just recall a couple of major issues with lasting marketplace effects. In 1990, Congress passed the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act mandating the Nutrition Facts panel on products. The regulations from FDA for implementing the details soon followed. IDFA played an important role in influencing both the legislation and regulations. Today, we’re looking at updated regulations just announced by FDA that will require updated labels on all products.

In 1994, rbST was first introduced, and FDA issued labeling guidance for companies wanting to indicate whether their products were made from milk that came from cows treated with rbST. The dairy industry was successful in defeating calls for both mandatory labeling and restricted labeling; however, milk from cows treated with rbST was rejected by many packaged beverage milk brands and retailers. This was clearly a precursor to the marketplace and legislative discussions on GMOs today.

After working on all of these issues and programs over the years, I was honored to be chosen in 2004 to continue the Tipton leadership of IDFA as president and CEO. And I must say that all of my years here have been interesting, challenging and rewarding. The relationships with so many of you in the industry have been the real reward.

Today, IDFA is a strong organization with a staff of seasoned experts who make a difference every day in outcomes on regulatory and legislative issues, in helping companies stay abreast of current concerns and manage communications on issues, and in having educational and networking opportunities that inform individuals as well as improve industry operations and relations.

I never dreamed I would spend 35 years with the dairy foods industry, let alone 12 of those years serving as the president and CEO of IDFA. It’s been an honor, and I am proud of our many accomplishments together.

As President Reagan once said, “America is too great for small dreams.” I believe the U.S. dairy industry is testimony to those aspirations. We have dreamed big and bold but have never forgotten our core values of integrity, trust and hard work.

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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