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Schumer eyes milk import limits

TIMES WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT
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WASHINGTON — Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., proposed Wednesday to further tighten restrictions on milk protein concentrate that food companies import into the United States for use in dairy products.


Mr. Schumer said in a conference call with New York reporters that he had introduced legislation to impose new tariffs on MPC that companies now may import in unlimited amounts to use in various dairy products.


That is a trade loophole that needs to be closed, he said, and he vowed to fight the expected opposition from milk processors.


"Milk protein concentrate is a huge problem for U.S. farmers," Mr. Schumer said. "We should do something about it, and do something now."


The issue of imported dairy proteins is several years old, and Mr. Schumer and other lawmakers have sought for several years to put restrictions on them.


Food companies such as Kraft and Dean Foods have fought such measures vigorously, arguing that MPC is a valuable ingredient and that the government should do more to build a domestic MPC industry. Very little MPC is made in this country, but industry sources say the amounts are climbing.


Imports peaked a few years ago, then tailed off as prices increased. Imports of MPC have been on the rise again this year, but imports of other dairy products are down, industry groups say.


Mr. Schumer introduced the bill on the same day that he and other senators met with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to urge more vigorous action to help farmers through a milk price crisis.


That could include bigger government subsidies or a higher purchase price for the excess dairy products the government buys through the price support program, he said.


Most of the measures being urged on the USDA by farmer advocates are opposed by dairy processors, although some more sharply than others. Mr. Schumer's bill revisits a familiar battleground, and he said he wants to push it despite opposition from processors.


"We want to ram it past them," he said.


The price squeeze for farmers this year gives the issue more momentum than in the past, when milk prices were much higher, he said.

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