J. Mark Huffman

Bioterrorism Act Looms

Time is running short for dairy processors to meet new FDA rules under the Bioterrorism Act of 2002. Meeting the rules, which govern how food facilities are registered and how food imports are reported, is further complicated by the fact that their interpretation wasn't readily apparent. Even so, the 60-day FDA deadline must be met by December 12 of this year. Industry analysts say an initial review shows some beneficial changes in the rules, including a better definition of what constitutes food.

The facility registration rule requires domestic and foreign food facilities that manufacture, process, pack or hold food for consumption in the United States to register with FDA by December 12. FDA believes that the registration requirements will cover about 400,000 domestic and foreign facilities. The prior notice rule requires that, on or after December 12, importers send an electronic notice to FDA before bringing food into the United States.

Forward contracting

With bipartisan support, a bill that would give permanent authority for dairy producers and processors to use forward contracting as a way to help manage milk price fluctuations has been introduced in the House. The legislation would amend the Agricultural Marketing Agreements Act of 1937 in order to allow dairy producers and processors to enter into a voluntary agreement for the delivery of a specific amount of milk (for all classes except Class I) for a set price over a defined period of time. The bill would make permanent the authority for dairy forward contracting that was included in a pilot program approved by Congress in 1999. Set to expire at the end of 2004, this pilot program allows milk buyers and sellers to use forward contracting on milk for other than Class I use.

School milk

Rising criticism of the pervasive presence of sugared soft drinks in the nation's public schools, and concerns about youth nutrition, may provide a political opening for the dairy industry. Dairy state lawmakers have introduced legislation that could significantly increase the presence of milk in schools. The Child Nutrition Improvement Act of 2003 (H.R. 3250) would amend the National School Lunch Act to give school systems more flexibility in the variety of milk products used in schools and provide incentives for increased milk consumption. It would also prevent other beverage contracts from excluding milk sales at school events and in vending machines, as is often now the case. The legislation is co-sponsored by Reps. Tom Petri (R-WI), Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Ron Kind (D-WI), and Gil Gutknecht (R-MN).