Nutrition programs, climate change, and trade will likely be high priorities for both the House and Senate agriculture leaders in this new Congress, panelists discussed on the January 20 Hoard’s Dairyman DairyLivestream.
Dave Carlin, senior vice president of legislative affairs and economic policy for the International Dairy Foods Association, and Paul Bleiberg, senior vice president of government relations with the National Milk Producers Federation, shared their take on how those issues might shake out for dairy and agriculture as a whole.
One matter of business the Senate will likely take care of is the reauthorization of child nutrition programs, which should’ve happened a few years ago, Carlin said. “These programs include the school meals program, the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) feeding program, and other meal programs that affect multiple populations,” he explained. “They’re overdue for that review and then reauthorization.
“There are some opportunities there for dairy in terms of expanding, potentially, some of the milk options that are available in the WIC program, some of the flexibilities for yogurt and some other products that are also in that program, and for preserving our ability to continue to serve 1% flavored milk in schools,” he predicted.
“That [flavored milk] is something that Paul and I have worked very hard on for the last few years. We’re going to need to really focus on child nutrition reauthorization to lock that ability in,” Carlin said. “We can’t do more than that because of the dietary guidelines, that’s something we’re going to have to work on in five years, but at least we’ve got to protect that with the new administration.”
Though child nutrition does not fall under the agriculture committee in the House and instead is handled by the education and labor committee, Bleiberg explained that both ag committee chairman David Scott of Georgia and ranking member G.T. Thompson of Pennsylvania have shown support for many dairy initiatives including low-fat flavored milk and will serve as champions for dairy efforts in the chamber as a whole.
The Biden administration has been clear that climate change is one of its top priorities, and this will be reflected in the Senate, Carlin said. “For too long, I think we in the rural community have viewed climate change as something we need to be scared of, as something we needed to be worried about,” he admitted.
“I think the new administration has a vision where rural America can take a leading role in a positive campaign that will help rural America continue the good work it’s already doing,” Carlin said, mentioning the often-cited example of carbon banks.
Bleiberg predicted a similar focus in the House, even though Representatives Scott and Thompson are both new to their positions as committee leaders. “I think they’re going to have some shared priorities. One of those is going to be in the climate space,” he said. “They’ve indicated a strong interest in holding early hearings in that space; both staffs have people on their teams that are well-equipped in this topic, so we look forward to working with them and educating all of them and their new members.”
Finding new markets and expanding current overseas opportunities are also on the minds of congressional agriculture leaders. “We’re going to have 33 billion more pounds of milk between now and 2028. Where is that milk going to go if it’s not going to go to overseas markets?” Carlin asked.
While the administration will rightly be more focused on COVID-19 relief and some other areas more immediately, Carlin and Bleiberg expect there will be more focus on multilateral agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, with multiple countries once trade is brought up. Comparatively, the Trump administration had used more tariffs to control trade; though, Biden is expected to maintain tariffs on China.
“One of the things as an industry we’re going to have to continue to do is push the new administration to focus on trade opportunities and make sure that we re-engage, because every day that we don’t, we fall further behind our competitors in the global marketplace,” Carlin stated.
An important piece of staying competitive is enforcing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). “We’re very focused on holding Canada’s feet to the fire in terms of their implementation obligations under the USMCA. We’re going to be very closely working with USDA and U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) on that front,” said Carlin.
Bleiberg echoed that NMPF is taking similar action on USMCA. Under the last administration, “We were able to get about a quarter of the House and a quarter of the Senate to put significant pressure on USTR and USDA,” he said. “They did announce initial enforcement action in December, which was hailed by both Democrats and Republicans.”
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