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Dairy seeks fortification against anti-animal ag attacks

Progressive Dairy Editor Dave Natzke Published on 13 November 2019
Lyng award

Dairy organization leaders took a more contentious tone toward ongoing attacks on the industry during the joint annual meeting of the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board (NDB)/National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF)/United Dairy Industry Association (UDIA), Nov. 4-6, in New Orleans, Louisiana.

With all the significant challenges facing the dairy industry, none are more critical than attacks from anti-animal agriculture activists, Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) CEO Tom Gallagher told more than 800 dairy farmers and industry representatives attending the meeting. Citing the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM), the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and others, he said the biggest activist challenge isn’t in the form of another animal abuse video, but rather its attempts divide the dairy and livestock industries.

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“They’re better funded than ever, they’re better organized than ever, and they’ve permeated or infiltrated into many organizations that really aren’t anti-animal agriculture, but they spearhead the agenda,” Gallagher said. “Make no mistake, they only have one goal: to eliminate all animal agriculture in this country. They are not your friend in any way, shape or form, no matter what they tell you.”

In addition to dividing dairy and other livestock farmers, activists target programs and organizations that promote and or defend animal agriculture, including checkoff programs, Gallagher said.

“They’ve co-opted other groups to further their agenda, including biased dairy media groups with anti-checkoff, anti-export agendas, consumer activist organizations, politicians and some small-farm advocates, all with the endgame of infiltrating consumer trust,” he said. “They’re on the [Capitol] Hill … against NMPF, against co-ops and against checkoffs, and they’re really zeroing in on large farms.

“The first step to eliminate you is to get rid of the checkoff,” said Gallagher, saying checkoff-funded organizations are a last line of defense between farmers and consumers with programs to deal with crisis management, dietary and nutrition research, exports and the environment. “When the checkoff goes away, so does consumer trust and your right to farm.”

While instrumental in seeking to drive dairy product demand and sales, Gallagher noted that the dairy checkoff cannot lobby on policy, pricing or other regulatory issues. For that reason, Gallagher called on grassroots dairy farmers to pick up the fight.

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“Lab-grown [meat] will come, and we’ll deal with it,” he said. “Plant-based beverages are here, and they’ll have a share, and we’ll deal with them.

“What we need you to do is push back on these activists,” Gallagher urged joint annual meeting delegates representing dairy co-ops and promotion organizations. “We need you to push back on people who are trying to divide to destroy your livelihood. We need unity and leadership. We’re done taking it. These anti-animal agriculture people aren’t going to beat you.”

DMI President Barb O’Brien said collective efforts to drive consumer sales and trust prove dairy remains a powerful category with more than $100 billion in annual retail sales and that household penetration of dairy is strong. She cited consumer research showing cheese is in 98% of U.S. homes and milk is in 94%.

“This puts to rest the naysayers’ claim that dairy is dead,” O’Brien said. “Dairy is alive and well and in households across the country.”

Randy Mooney, a Missouri dairy farmer and chair of NMPF, also urged more political and policy activity by grassroots dairy producers.

“I’m getting tired of people telling me I don’t take care of my land, that I don’t take care of my cows. I’m getting tired of being used as a pawn in global trade schemes. Dairy farmers play an important role in society. We help preserve communities,” he said. He issued an impassioned plea that dairy farmers can no longer be at the bottom of the food chain when “we are the food chain.”

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Looking at current and futures milk prices, Mooney said there was more optimism among dairy producers compared to the last three to four years.

“We’ve had a couple of months of good prices. It hasn’t fixed our balance sheets; that’s going to take a long time. But even though things are looking better, we live in a world where anything can change on a dime tomorrow,” he said, urging producers to participate in some form of risk management.

NMPF leadership restructuring has led to the addition of a 15-person executive committee, designed to be more nimble than the existing 53-member board to address changing policy issues, Mooney said.

Providing an overview of those issues, Mooney said 2018 represented the worst year ever on his dairy, not related to economics but rather due to labor. He urged fellow producers to get behind the recently introduced Farm Workforce Modernization Act. Read: Farm Workforce Modernization Act unveiled.

Mooney praised the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program, saying it will provide a much better safety net than the Margin Protection Program for Dairy (MPP-Dairy) implemented in the 2014 Farm Bill. He also expressed hope that trade talks would improve the export picture.

“Trade has been a killer,” Mooney said. Due to ongoing trade and tariff wars, dairy has lost about $1.5 billion per year in 2018 and 2019, but received about one-half billion dollars through federal trade mitigation programs, he said.

NMPF’s Cooperatives Working Together (CWT) helped fill some of the void in lost export markets. He said the program had returned $7.5 billion to dairy producers since its inception in 2003.

Mooney said U.S. dairy industry must be in position to take advantage of dairy consumption growth in China.

The future of dairy cooperatives will likely require more plant consolidation and upgrades to retain economic viability while addressing changing consumer demands.

“We need to commit to leading, to being leaders of the knowledge-based industry that is looking down the road and around the corner, and not just doing what we’ve always done."

Portions of Mooney’s presentation are available in NMPF’s Dairy Defined podcast.

Check back for other coverage of the NDB/NMPF/UDIA annual meeting.  end mark

PHOTO: The National Dairy Promotion and Research Board (NDB) honored William “Bill” Siebenborn (center), a dairy farmer from Trenton, Missouri, as the 2019 recipient of the Richard E. Lyng Award for his contributions and distinguished service to dairy promotion. Presenting the award during the joint NDB/NMPF/UDIA annual meeting were Brad Scott, California dairy farmer and chair of the NDB (left) and Randy Mooney, a Missouri dairy farmer and chair of the NMPF. Photo courtesy of Dairy Management Inc.

Dave Natzke
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