Puerto Rico dairy industry denounces ‘favoritism’ of imported UHT milk
SAN JUAN — Last week, the president of Puerto Rico Milk Producers Coop (Coople by its Spanish acronym), Juan Carlos Rivera, denounced the local Agriculture Department’s alleged favoritism toward ultra-high-temperature (UHT) milk imports over production from the island. Coople is affiliated with the Puerto Rico Farmers Association (AAPR by its Spanish initials).
Rivera said there is sufficient supply in Puerto Rico to meet local demand, even during the post-hurricane emergency, when hundreds of thousands of homes lacked electricity service and, thus, increased their consumption of this type of milk, which does not require refrigeration until the carton is opened.
“While the AAPR and Coople are working to recover production, which decreased by 50 percent, unfortunately, the Agriculture Department has been promoting milk carton imports. Agriculture must have its reasons; it can raise the argument that interstate laws can’t be violated, but we must remind the Agriculture secretary that his name and title are specific. We need an Agriculture secretary who protects this country’s farmers and agriculture,” said the spokesman for local dairy farmers.
“We denounced that the Tres Monjitas dairy company, which also has dairy farms, recently brought UHT milk from the United States, when there is an agreement between Indulac [Industria Lechera de Puerto Rico Inc.] and them to produce that milk here, but the company took the easy route by importing. We hope and urge Tres Monjitas to fulfill their end of that agreement and process that milk here in Puerto Rico,” he added.
Rivera indicated that in the aftermath of Hurricane María, Agriculture and the Milk Industry Regulation Office (ORIL by its Spanish acronym) have granted 46 importation licenses, while Puerto Rico’s overall agricultural sector requires support to overcome the emergency.
The dairy farmers’ spokesman also urged ORIL and Agriculture to establish a more rigorous issuing process for these licenses because Puerto Rico’s dairy industry has the capacity to package the milk and meet consumer demand.
“It is an embarrassment for our country that there are 46 importation licenses in Puerto Rico when farmers here are going through difficult times with our farms as production continues to be reduced because we do not have the sales but do have people consuming. Thus, one way or another, Agriculture must immediately halt these importations,” he denounced.
Rivera stressed that the local industry sustains about 20,000 jobs, but they could be in peril unless the Agriculture Department stops providing importation licenses. He also urged Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, “who has always given us a hand,” to focus on the Agriculture secretary, “who is taking another path that I believe is not the right one to develop agriculture in our country.”
As informed at a press conference, the Puerto Rico dairy sector produces about $400 million annually, which could be drastically reduced if dairy importations increase.
Likewise, Rivera revealed, due to excess UHT milk importations, that the local industry has had to remove from the market thousands of quarts of the product because they do not have an outlet in the local market.
“In 2017, 18 million quarts of milk entered the island, and to this day, Puerto Rico’s farmers are decommissioning milk because it isn’t being sold. It seems incredible that we have a large import market, and we have to be decommissioning that milk. We demand the secretary to do his job,” he added.