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CEO's Corner:

See You in Indiana!

August 1, 2023

Indianapolis, Indiana may be best known for its famous road race. And though our journey toward Federal Milk Marketing Order modernization may at times feel like it’s already taken 500 miles, in reality the critical stretch begins this month with the hearing USDA is granting, beginning Aug. 23.

Our engines are revving, we have an expert pit crew in place, and with the turbocharge of support we’ve received from our members and across the dairy producer community, we’re confident we’re in pole position and determined to take the checkered flag.

OK, enough with the auto-race metaphors. The point is, we’re ready. This is an exciting moment for the future of our industry – and exciting moments are difficult to achieve at a time of low producer margins – with high input costs and poor milk prices.

But even as today holds challenges, we can achieve a better tomorrow through FMMO modernization, which is, and always has been, an attempt to update milk pricing to current needs, reduce economic distortions, encourage orderly markets and put dairy producers on firmer, fairer ground as they provide high-quality products consumers want. This once-in-a-generation opportunity has come from the leadership of dairy farmers and the cooperatives they own, who together have assembled a deep, truly comprehensive case for modernization and how it can be done, one that embraces all regions, sizes and business models found in the diverse dairy sector.

That work has already paid off through the scope of the hearing itself. The proposal we sent to USDA in May is the basis from which the department is proceeding. And while we look forward to the discussion and examination of other proposals, in the end we feel confident we’re in the driver’s seat of change. (Sorry. Another auto-race analogy.) We will be involved in the full range of proceedings with a cast of experts who will assist us in our case during the hearing, which is expected to last 6-8 weeks.

And once that is done, it will be time for USDA to consider all the testimony, as we prepare to advocate for what we hope (and expect) will be a producer vote on a plan next year.

This has been a long process, but one that’s critical to dairy’s future. For more information on our proposal, please visit our FMMO page here. We also plan to offer regular updates on the process itself,  so stay tuned – and keep your engines revving.

Also, even as FMMO consumes much of our focus, we’re moving ahead in another area that’s important to the future of dairy farming and consumer support for true dairy products: The fight against lab-based imposters that are adopting the plant-based playbook and sow marketplace confusion over what “milk” actually is.

Following on a letter we sent in late June, we’re urging FDA to take action to stop the “Bored Cow” brand peddled by a New York City-based foodtech company as “animal-free dairy milk” from illegally calling their product “milk.”

Unlike with plant-based beverages that have no dairy ingredients, Bored Cow includes one synthetically produced whey protein. But as every responsible scientist, marketer – and regulator – knows, one protein doesn’t make it “milk,” a biological product that is a complex interaction of literally hundreds of components, the qualities and characteristics of which we frankly don’t fully understand.

FDA, and the food industry as a whole, will need to get away from simplistic and convenient ideas that “equivalency” can be manufactured in a lab when a dairy product – and other animal products as well – are the result of thousands of years of natural development. Should FDA choose not to enforce its own rules in a timely manner, we will escalate our fight – and hope you can join us as this initiative develops.

Our industry is dynamic and complex, with ever-changing challenges. In both FMMO modernization and lab-based “dairy,” we’re trying to meet both the nearer and longer-term needs of dairy farmers. That’s what keeps us all moving forward. And with that, on to Indiana!



Jim Mulhern

President & CEO, NMPF