The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that a vote on a California Federal Milk Marketing Order (FFMO) is expected to occur later this year. The FMMO had recently encountered a delay that could have potentially reset the entire process.
In early February, the USDA stated it would not be moving forward on the California FMMO until after the U.S. Supreme Court decides on a case involving the Securities and Exchange Commission. The major issue centered on whether administrative law judges (ALJ), like the one who presided over a 2015 California FMMO hearing, are federal agency employees.
A conference call was organized by USDA to address the issue. The call was hosted by Stephen Vaden from the Office of General Counsel at USDA, who described the possible course of action for the agency citing several legal cases and opinions. The main concern was that if the Supreme Court ruled that ALJ appointments were unconstitutional, the California FMMO would likely be voided, potentially delaying a final decision for an additional three years.
To avoid further delay in the process, USDA will hire a judicial officer to review the whole record which consists of 40 days of transcripts and exhibits. The record will be ratified if the judicial officer determines the record is complete after reviewing it word-for-word. If the record is determined to be incomplete, the officer will seek additional feedback.
There is a lot of material that must be reviewed, and the USDA believes this new development will delay the overall process by one to four months. The California dairy industry is relieved that the FMMO is still making progress and no longer threatened to be negated. If the judicial officer reaches an agreement with the decision as-is, implementation could potentially begin by November 2018 pending a vote on a California Federal Milk Marketing Order. The alternative would require a comment period from stakeholders, which USDA anticipates could put off implementation until February 2019.