WASHINGTON, Jan. 27, 2016 - Dairy industry leaders are concerned that front-running presidential candidates have staked out positions in opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which the industry sees as an avenue to boost exports of U.S. dairy products.

Speaking in Phoenix Monday at the 2016 Dairy Forum, sponsored by the International Dairy Foods Association, senior IDFA executives described an uphill fight for congressional implementation of TPP, which is to be formally signed Feb. 4 in New Zealand.

“We’ll be lucky, based on comments by congressional staff, if we get it done in the ‘lame duck’ period after the November elections,” said Clay Hough, IDFA senior group vice president and general counsel. “We’d better get it done in the ‘lame duck’ because two of the three top Republican contenders, Cruz and Trump, oppose it and Rubio has gone from support to questioning.” Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders also oppose it, Hough noted.

However, IDFA President and CEO Connie Tipton injected an optimistic note. “Despite opposition from presidential candidates,” she said, “hopefully at the end of day somebody will flip-flop and come around” to support an agreement that “holds opportunities for this industry.”

Hough said the U.S. dairy industry is in a good position to meet anticipated growth in demand for dairy products around the world, “but we have strong competitors in New Zealand, Australia and the European Union.” However, the competitors face limitations in expanding export sales.

“The United States probably has the best fundamentals of any exporting platform,” he said, citing its “huge dairy herd” along with modern processing facilities with proximity to Pacific Rim countries where demand is projected to increase most significantly.

Tipton expressed concern that current and proposed dairy policies could serve as constraints to fully realizing potential growth in export demand. Federal milk marketing orders (FMMOs) “stand in the way of our markets working efficiently,” she said. “No other export-focused nation has a pricing system such as our FMMOs. It stands in the way of growth; it’s a glaring thing.”

The agricultural policy position of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is presenting a strong challenge to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic race, also could hinder industry growth, Tipton said. Because he represents Vermont, she added, “it’s not surprising that he focuses on small- and medium- size farms. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s important from the perspective of our industry that policies continue to push for growth and efficiency.” Sanders’ ideas are “probably not a policy we will be supportive of,” she said.

The dairy industry also must address “a lot of consumer pushback against ‘Big Food,’” she said, including ongoing efforts to enact laws that would require food product labels to disclose the presence of genetically engineered ingredients.

“Although activists on the other side are claiming victory, we’re not ready to cave in yet,” said Dave Carlin, IDFA senior vice president for legislative affairs and economic policy. He described “a very narrow window to get action on federal preemption” of state and local label mandates.

Hough pointed out that the matter could be settled by a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City, which is considering an appeal by IDFA and the Grocery Manufacturers Association for an injunction to suspend a mandatory labeling law to take effect in Vermont in July. “At this point, companies have to think about how to comply with the Vermont law,” he said.

“The real problem here is that we have been ‘out-messaged,’” Hough said. While proponents of mandatory labeling have put forth the fundamental message that consumers have a right to know what’s in their food, “we haven’t come up with a real good rejoinder,” he said.

The label mandate would make food more expensive, he said, calling it “an indulgence of rich people that’s not worth the life of one starved-to-death kid.”


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