WASHINGTON – Talk about dairy products is heating up in Washington and it doesn’t have anything to do with milk prices.
MPCs and FDA. Imported milk protein concentrates, or MPCs, are back in the news on two fronts. Legislation to sock a 71- to 98-cent tariff on each pound of imported MPCs is pushing for co-sponsors, and a group of U.S. senators are opposing changes to the Food and Drug Administration’s “standard of identity” for certain dairy products.
New York’s Charles Schumer came out swinging late last month, saying increased imports of MPCs from New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Europe cost New York dairy farmers $96 million last year.
Western New York farmers were the hardest hit last year, Schumer said, losing an estimated $21.43 million.
“These MPCs are foreign producers’ unfair way of getting around tariffs and it’s got to stop now,” Schumer said.
The N.Y. Democrat was hoping to drum up support for S.560 introduced early in 2003 by Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho.
The bill, referred to the Senate Committee on Finance, would impose tariff-rate quotas and duty rates on certain casein, caseinates, milk protein concentrate and other casein derivatives imported into the United States, except for imports from Mexico.
Schumer joined the ranks of 33 co-sponsors last year. Neither Ohio senator is a co-sponsor. In Pennsylvania, Sen. Arlen Specter has signed on as a bill supporters.
Schumer claims imported dairy ingredients like MPCs avoid U.S. tariffs on nonfat dry milk.
Penn State ag economist Ken Bailey released an assessment on U.S. trade in milk and dairy products for 2003 in March. His analysis shows the U.S. imported more protein in dairy products in 2003 than the year before, and imported less milkfat.
Imports of dairy products exceed exports, Bailey said, and imports have grown “significantly” since 1997.
Net imports of protein, however, are still below the high of 2000, the economist added.
Domestic help. In addition to S.560, other MPC-related legislation is in the hopper.
On April 27, Rep. Devin Nunes, a Republican member of the House Agriculture Committee from California, introduced a bill to develop a domestic casein and milk protein concentrate industry.
The bill has 11 cosponsors, including Ohio’s Steve LaTourette and Pennsylvania’s Don Sherwood.
Nunes’ bill seeks a program through the Commodity Credit Corporation to make payments, on a bid basis, to companies that produce and market dairy proteins produced form liquid skim milk.
The goal, proponents say, is to stop the flood of imports by shoring the domestic manufacture of proteins.
The bill is assigned to the ag committee.
Yet another bill. U.S. Senators Jim Jeffords, R-Vt., and Russell Feingold, D-Wis., teamed up to introduce the “Quality Cheese Act” in January 2003.
It would ban products that contain dry ultra-filtered milk products or casein from being labeled as domestic natural cheese.
S.40 was referred to the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry in January 2003, where it still awaits action.
Most milk protein concentrate used in the cheese industry is used either in the starter culture or in nonstandard cheeses like ricotta or feta. Penn State’s Ken Bailey said cheeses with a Code of Federal Regulations’ “standard of identity,” which is most natural cheese product in the United States, don’t allow the use of MPC outside of the starter culture.
FDA definition. Lawmakers, producers and processors have all come out of the woodwork to speak out on the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed changes to “standard of identity” regulations for certain dairy products.
The FDA is considering changing regs to allow the use of dry milk protein concentrate, among numerous other standards.
Existing standards are “incomplete, unclear and outdated,” says the National Yogurt Association, which support changes.
The existing Codex general cheese standard and U.S. cheese standards do not have any reference to protein levels, adds the International Dairy Foods Association.
But 18 senators who opposed broadening MPC imports under a new definition wrote acting FDA administrator Lester Crawford last month.
“The last thing we need right now would be to have FDA open the doors for wholesale changes in the definition of cheese,” said Wisconsin’s U.S. senator, Herb Kohl.
The senators said unless tariff treatment is given to MPC imports, allowing increased use of dry MPC in certain dairy products would hurt the domestic dairy industry.
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