NMPF at work on "Real" seal, other efforts to address dairy issues
Top managers from the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) visited World Dairy Expo to talk about the various programs that are helping the dairy industry market more products, take better care of their animals and assure consumers that they are purchasing "real" dairy products.
Jim Tillison, chief operating officer of the CWT or Cooperatives Working Together program within NMPF, said that it is one of the "shining lights" of the association that is now concentrating on helping export dairy products.
"We've had other countries ask how we do it," he told Wisconsin State Farmer during an interview at Expo.
The CWT program has helped its member cooperatives with export assistance of 96 million pounds of cheese this year, he said, which was mostly Cheddar, Monterey Jack and Gouda.
The program also helped export 58 million pounds of butter and other products.
Tillison said if all the products that were exported were reduced to their milk equivalent, it amounted to 2.2 billion pounds of milk produced by U.S. farmers or the same as the annual milk production of 102,700 cows.
The idea of the export assistance program is to help reduce dairy product inventories that can "overhang" the marketplace, depressing cheese and butter prices.
The program also helps the NMPF's member cooperatives gain and maintain market share, expanding the demand for U.S. dairy products and the farmers' milk that produces them, he said.
This export assistance program is funded by voluntary contributions from dairy cooperatives and dairy farmers.
In another area, the association of dairy co-ops has taken on the role of protecting standards of identity for dairy products and assuring buyers of real, U.S.-produced dairy products.
National Milk has signed a five-year deal to take charge of the "Real" seal, a well-known product verification and consumer education program.
Jerry Kozak, president and CEO of NMPF, said his group was frustrated with the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) looking the other way when other commodities like soy and almond called their products "milk."
"We decided if we can't get the government agency to police this, then we would do it," he said.
The "Real" seal lets the dairy industry enhance the value of real American-made products and educate consumers about what real dairy is, he said.
Tillison said that the timing for this "Real" seal campaign is good since many industries are pushing their "made in America" products and consumers seem to be receptive to it.
The "Real" seal got started as a push-back to imitation cheese and continues today under the stewardship of NMPF, he said. There are 10,000 products being marketed with the "Real" seal and Tillison said the organization plans to expand its use to dairy ingredients.
Kozak said his organization wanted the "Real" seal program 10 years ago, and is pleased they have it now.
With American consumers increasingly concerned about the way their food is produced, even while they become further removed from farm production and food-producing practices, NMPF is involved in a program that assures animal welfare.
Kozak said that various perceptions exist in the marketplace and dairy farmers who are members of National Milk's member cooperatives didn't want "some outside organizations telling us how to treat our animals."
They now have "Farmers Assuring Responsible Management" or FARM. "We live in a different era. It's different than it was 10 years ago. There's a social consciousness. People want to know how animals are treated," he added.
Partly the issue arose because of tail docking, a dairy farm practice that has come to prominence through several high-profile cases. In California a law was passed to make it a misdemeanor to dock tails.
Kozak said the FARM program provides an alternative of switch trimming.
The program is also being driven by developments in corporate American like McDonalds dictating how hogs can be raised if their meat is to be sold in a McDonalds restaurant, Kozak said.
The FARM program includes guidelines and principles intended to educate farmers and utilizes the field staff of dairy co-ops and second-party evaluations recorded into a database.
"It's important to show that we're verifying farmers' participation," Kozak said.