Legislators in both houses of Congress are lining up behind the Milk Import Tariff Equity Act.

Introduced by Sens. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, Mark Dayton, D-Minn., and Reps. Don Sherwood, R-Pa., and David Obey D-Wis., the bill would impose Tariff-Rate Quotas on imports of milk protein concentrate and casein products intended for use in the food and animal feed industries. The Senate version of the bill already has more than 15 cosponsors, while the House’s identical version of the bill has more than 55 cosponsors.

Under current U.S. trade law, virtually no tariffs are imposed on these products. However, the U.S. does use tariff-rate quotas to limit the entrance of nonfat dry milk and cheese. 

The National Milk Producers Federation and several other farm organizations support the bill. These groups contend that the unrestricted flow of milk protein products displaces domestically produced nonfat dry milk (NDM) powder in the manufacture of cheese and other foods. That in turn leads to lower farm-level prices and the buildup of surplus stocks of NDM powder.

“Poorly-constructed U.S. trade laws have left open our back door to these imports, which are entering our country and taking money out of the pockets of America’s dairy producers,” said Jerry Kozak, President and CEO of NMPF.  “This legislation is not the only way to address crushingly-low milk prices, but any recovery in milk prices will be hampered unless Congress does something about these imports.”  Current farm-level prices are the lowest in 25 years, leading to enormous economic duress for dairy producers of all sizes in all regions of the country.

However, the U.S. Coalition for Nutritional Ingredients, a group of more than 50 associations, taxpayer and consumer organizations, and food companies and their employees opposes legislation. The group contends that these dairy proteins are wholesome and safe ingredients incorporated into a wide array of consumer foods. And that if the bills pass it could increase the cost of these ingredients by approximately $150 million and that cost would be passed on to consumers. In addition, the group says the move would violate current U.S. international trade commitments.

“We can’t turn back the clock to 1994 when MPC imports were barely a trickle, but we can turn back the tide and prevent continued unrestricted access to our markets in the future,” Kozak said. “This legislation will save taxpayers money, improve the economic outlook for dairy farmers, and send a signal to foreign dairy interests that the U.S. is willing to take steps to level the playing field for its producers,” he said.

The bill number in the Senate is S560 and in the House it is H1160. Be sure to contact your congressional representative and urge them to support both bills. You can also track their progress through Congress at this Web site: http://thomas.loc.gov/

NMPF press release, www.agriculturelaw.com