WASHINGTON - February 8 - U.S. Senator Russ Feingold is raising questions
about the President’s proposed plan to jeopardize the Milk Income
Loss Contract (MILC) program during fiscal year 2007. Feingold, a member
of the Senate Budget Committee, questioned Office of Management and
Budget Director Rob Portman about the future of the MILC program since
its current extension expires one month shy of the end of the current
Farm Bill. Currently, the President’s budget does not fill this
gap, putting the program and dairy farmers at a disadvantage in the
upcoming Farm Bill. Moreover, the President’s Farm Bill proposal
would cut funding by 62% for MILC through FY2013 when the new Farm Bill
“I am concerned that dairy farmers are being treated very unfairly,
both in Congress and in the administration,” Feingold said.
“Given the President’s support for extending the MILC
program, I had hoped he would have proposed to provide this full extension.
Wisconsin’s dairy farmers feel misled and let down, especially
amid press reports that the President’s proposals will provide
assistance to other industries.”
The MILC program provides an important safety net for dairy farmers
when the price of milk falls to low levels. During a period of historically
low prices in 2002 and much of 2003, the program made the difference
between dairy farmers staying on the farm and going out of business.
During campaign visits to Wausau, WI and Cuba City, WI in 2004, the
President supported extending the program.
Feingold is also continuing his “Rural Communities Week”
to address issues facing rural America with the reintroduction of
a series of bills. Feingold’s bills address inequities in the
Federal Milk Marketing System that hurt farmers in Wisconsin and the
Upper Midwest; protect consumers and provide support to America’s
dairy farmers by protecting the integrity of cheese; and prohibit
dairy marketing co-ops from denying individual dairy farmers the option
to cast their vote independently on dairy policy.
Federal Milk Marketing Order Distance Reform:
The Federal Milk Marketing Reform Act of 2007 would prohibit
the Secretary of Agriculture from using distance or transportation costs
from any location outside the region as the basis for pricing milk,
unless there is proof that a significant amount of milk is traded between
the regions. This bill also requires the Secretary to report to Congress
on specifically which criteria are used to set milk prices, and the
Secretary will also have to certify to Congress that the criteria used
by the Department do not in any way attempt to circumvent the prohibition
on using distance or transportation cost as basis for pricing milk.
Under the current archaic law, the price farmers receive for milk increases
depends on the distance from the area around Eau Claire -- hurting Wisconsin
The Quality Cheese Act:
The Quality Cheese Act, co-sponsored by Senator Charles Schumer
(D-NY), would prevent the Food and Drug Administration from making changes
to the official definition of “milk” used in natural cheese
products without thorough review and consideration of the impact on
U.S. dairy farmers. If the federal government creates a loophole for
imitation cheese ingredients such as milk protein concentrates to be
used in cheese vats, some cheese labels saying “domestic”
and “natural” will no longer be truly accurate. Feingold’s
legislation will prevent the FDA from allowing any standard cheese or
cheese products from including these ingredients and will ensure they
are made from truly natural ingredients.
Democracy for Dairy Producers:
Through “bloc voting,” dairy marketing cooperatives
cast votes on behalf of all cooperative members in the interest of saving
time, even though it means that individual farmers have no chance to
make their differing voices heard. The Democracy for Dairy Producers
Act provides that a cooperative cannot deny any of its members a ballot
if the individual farmers choose to vote differently than the cooperative’s
board of directors. Feingold’s bill requires cooperatives to provide
their members with important information to help them determine whether
they wish to exercise their option to vote independently of the cooperative.