On March 30, the International Dairy Foods Association and the Wisconsin Cheesemakers Association submitted proposals to amend make allowances in the Federal Milk Marketing Orders. Make allowances are the value attributed to converting raw milk into certain dairy products, and these allowances are used to establish minimum prices for milk used in the manufacturing process.
Now that the proposals are submitted, Melissa Bailey, associate administrator for the Agricultural Marketing Service, talks about the next steps.
“As a next step, once a formal proposal is received, the Secretary of Agricultural has 30 days, which is, in this case, April 29, to do one of three things. He or she can accept the proposal as presented and then begin the rulemaking process by issuing what we call an action plan or requesting additional information to consider whether to initiate rulemaking or deny the request. And if it’s denied, the secretary may delay consideration of any proposal containing a change to make allowances for up to 90 days.”
If the process moves forward, there may be a call for additional proposals. “If an action plan is issued, additional proposals would be requested related to the specific topics identified for consideration. Once additional proposals are received, an informational meeting may be held to provide the opportunity for stakeholders to explain how their proposals would operate. So, it all goes back to that involved and engaged stakeholder process. If the secretary decides to move forward, a notice of hearing announcing the proposals to be heard and the date and location of the hearing is published in the Federal Register.”
She talks about the hearing that has to take place before FMMOs can be changed. “That hearing must be completed within 120 days of issuance of the action plan. The hearing is overseen by an administrative law judge, who determines the evidence and testimony that then becomes a part of the official record. Anyone is permitted to provide testimony within the scope of the hearing as announced in the hearing notice. Witnesses are sworn in and subject to cross-examination by anyone present at the hearing. And the ALJ, or administrative law judge, sets the post-hearing briefing schedule, which then determines the time frame for the final stages of the rulemaking process.”
After that, it’s on to the final stages of the rulemaking process according to Bailey.
“The final stages of rulemaking include USDA issuing a decision based on the record, and parties and members of the public can then comment on the recommended decision. USDA will then consider the comments and publishes a final decision in the Federal Register. At this time, affected producers would vote as to whether they accept the entire Federal Milk Marketing Order with the proposed changes. It’s important to note that it is an all-or-nothing vote. A producer voting either supports the Federal Milk Marketing Order with all of the changes or does not support the Federal Milk Marketing Order with all the changes. Each producer does get a single vote in this process. A USDA Federal Milk Marketing Order Cooperative does have the opportunity to do a bloc vote for their members, and non-cooperative members do receive a ballot from USDA to participate in the voting process.”
Bailey talks about what happens if the changes are approved or voted down; “If it’s approved, USDA issues a final rule and implements the amended Federal Milk Marketing Order. If the changes are not approved, then USDA would terminate the Federal Milk Marketing Order. Of note, since there are 11 Federal Milk Marketing Orders, each would conduct an individual referendum on their order as amended, and that would determine their specific approval.