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The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Got cash?

That is what dairy importers would be asked under legislation requiring them to help pay for “Got Milk” and other promotional campaigns.

U.S. dairy farmers already pay 15 cents per hundred pounds of milk sold to fund promotional efforts on behalf of the industry, which include celebrities wearing milk mustaches and commercials touting “Ahh, the power of cheese.”

The bill would extend those fees to dairy importers, under the argument that they get the same promotional benefits from the campaigns without paying for them.Boosting demandDairy importers counter that their biggest-selling items are specialized imported cheeses, which gain little from generic campaigns aimed at boosting demand for dairy products.

The National Milk Producers Federation estimates extending the fees to imports would bring in an additional $7 million to $8 million a year for the program.

It now receives $240 million a year from domestic dairy farmers.

Because it takes 10 pounds of milk to make a pound of cheese, imported cheeses would be assessed about 1.5 cents a pound for the U.S. promotions.

“Whether it’s cheese from France or nonfat powdered milk from New Zealand, importers receive free promotions for their products paid for by our dairy producers,” said Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.

But according to the U.S. Dairy Export Council, other countries do not require their importers to pay for promotional campaigns — giving American products the same free advertising overseas.

England, for example, uses the catch phrase “The White Stuff” to help stimulate demand for dairy products.Joining sponsorshipAlmost 20 House members from both parties have joined Baldwin in sponsoring the legislation. A similar measure is being pushed in the Senate by Sens. Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl, both D-Wis., and Larry Craig, R-Idaho.

If

on the web Information on the House bill, H.R. 2248, and the Senate bill, S. 1123, can be found at thomas.loc.gov

National Dairy Promotion and Research Program

Cheese Importers Association of America

Milk Promotion

Cheese Promotion

it passes, warned Richard Koby, director of the Cheese Importers Association of America, “Other countries would see we’re doing this, and will be emboldened to do the same to U.S. exports.”

Officials with the British Embassy and the European Union declined comment.

Baldwin said her goal is not to promote parity among countries but among agricultural products. She noted that U.S. promotions for beef, pork, cotton and other products assess fees on imports.

Koby countered that people seek out imported cheeses in a way that they do not shop for beef or pork.

“We’re selling the cachet of the Italian and French cheese,” Koby said. “That gets muddled when you do ads for domestic cheese.”

Philipe Surget, vice president of Lactalis USA, a French cheese company, said the fees would make little difference.

“A penny and a half on Roquefort or brie, I don’t think would hurt our business,” he said.

Last year, dairy imports totaled around $1.37 billion, mostly in cheese and milk protein products.

“With dairy struggling as much it is, to have our dairy producers shoulder the entire burden of promotion efforts strikes me as being very unfair,” Baldwin said.

The bill would allow the U.S. agriculture secretary to appoint two importer representatives to the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board, which oversees the promotions program.

Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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