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Guest Columns

Perspective:
Industry Issues

Advocacy in three acts

Michael Dykes

Michael Dykes, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association, contributes this column bimonthly for Cheese Market News®.

Why do companies join trade associations? In my conversations with dairy executives, I’ve uncovered a long and varied list of reasons, but ultimately one common goal emerges: Each company is looking for a productive and profitable return on its investment.

For the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), that means we need to be laser-focused on enhancing our legislative, regulatory and communication efforts and influencing federal, state and international government policies to promote the success of our members. In the past year, we’ve intensified our efforts with a more focused and strategic approach —with positive and promising results.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years in Washington, D.C., it’s that the education process never ends, especially following an election year like the one we just had. To make sure our legislators and regulators are educated on the issues most important to IDFA members, we have implemented a strategic educational campaign with three complementary steps for stronger, more effective advocacy.

• Meeting the new Congress

The 116th Congress sworn into office last month has nearly 100 freshman members: nine senators and 89 representatives. Republicans maintained control of the Senate, but the Democrats took control of the House, resulting in some significant changes to the agriculture committees’ roster of members that are of interest to dairy.

Following the swearing-in ceremony, IDFA’s advocacy team visited more than 60 of these new members and their staffs. We highlighted the priorities of dairy foods company members and shared details from Dairy Delivers, IDFA’s economic impact tool, to demonstrate the significant economic footprint of the dairy processing industry in their states and districts.

In a tandem effort, IDFA is inviting members of Congress to our Washington, D.C., office to delve deeper into dairy business issues and explore policy solutions to the issues important to our members. Last month, IDFA and Schwan’s Co. of Marshall, Minnesota, an IDFA member, co-hosted this year’s first meet-and-greet with Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., a member of the House Agriculture Committee and the Education and Labor Committee.

Introductory meet-and-greets like this allow IDFA’s team to build relationships with the members of Congress and discuss our priorities while sharing some delicious dairy products. Building these relationships, both on and off the Hill, is critical for IDFA’s legislative success.

• Hosting member fly-ins

We know, however, that hearing directly from constituents is really what gets the attention of an elected official. In the past year, we’ve ramped up our efforts on member fly-ins to Washington, moving from the historic effort of one annual event with a comprehensive agenda to several strategic fly-ins with targeted goals and a limited number of IDFA member company executives. In 2018, we arranged four targeted fly-ins and invited a variety of dairy executives to meet with legislators and administration officials who have the power to effect legislation and advance needed policy or regulatory changes.

Just last week, we held our first fly-in of 2019 to educate legislators about our priorities on appropriations and trade. On appropriations, our members called for additional funding for FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and Office of Regulatory Affairs to ensure federal regulations keep up with industry innovation for both products and production methods. The executives also highlighted the importance of federal funding for ice cream research to address processing waste issues.

On trade, our members stressed the importance of lifting the U.S. Section 232 tariffs on Mexico and Canada and gaining congressional approval of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. They called for strong bilateral agreements with IDFA’s list of top countries for dairy imports; an end to U.S. Section 301 tariffs on imports from China, which are harming growing U.S. dairy exports of whey and cheese; and safeguards against inappropriate geographical indications that restrict the use of common foods names.

During each of our targeted fly-ins, we heard members of Congress say they would like to learn more about the issues that are important to our dairy processors and visit facilities in their districts. Recognizing the value of bringing IDFA member company executives to D.C. for the legislative fly-ins, we decided to invite the members of Congress to visit our executives in their facilities and created the dairy “fly-out.”

• Launching dairy fly-outs

IDFA introduced its first fly-out last November in Nampa, Idaho. With this unique approach, we invited a delegation of federal and state legislators to tour an IDFA member’s operation and to discuss the policies needed to ensure continued growth of our members’ operations in the state.

Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and newly elected Rep. Russ Fulcher, R-Idaho, toured the Sorrento Lactalis Inc. facility in Nampa and met with executives from IDFA members Agropur Cooperative, Albertsons Companies, Brewster Cheese Co., Chobani Inc., Darigold Inc., Glanbia Nutritionals, Meadow Gold Dairies/Dean Foods Co., Reed’s Dairy Inc. and Sorrento Lactalis Inc., as well as IDFA.

We launched the fly-out concept in Idaho because of the significant number of IDFA members with operations in the state. Idaho’s dairy products industry has an overall economic impact of $11.4 billion and supports more than 41,000 jobs that generate $2.5 billion in wages. Bringing Idaho’s members of Congress together with their IDFA member constituents allowed us to share the importance of dairy to Idaho’s economy.

The introductory meetings, fly-ins and fly-outs allow informal conversations while providing a comprehensive portrait of our members’ priorities. Each advocacy success depends on regular engagement from our dairy company members, both large and small, and we couldn’t do it without their sustained support. The impact that they have — whether it’s on Capitol Hill, in the legislator’s home office or in the processing plant — frequently reaches far beyond their own companies and concerns. Their voices speak volumes for the entire industry, and we appreciate their efforts.

We’ve accomplished much within the first two months of this year and are looking forward to announcing more advocacy opportunities soon. We hope you’ll join us.

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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