Boy, I didn’t realize people hated cheese so much (probably because they love it but know they shouldn’t eat too much). Michael Moss’ article in Sunday’s New York Times (read it here) about the USDA’s contradictory messages about cheese exploded into the blogosphere.
Michael Pollan tweeted: “The USDA’s conflict of interest problem in a nutshell: our tax dollars at work promoting Domino’s pizza.”
Nutritionist Marion Nestle lays out that conflict of interest on Huffington Post:
Why is USDA in bed with dairy lobbying groups? That’s its job. From its beginnings in the 1860s, USDA’s role was to promote U.S. agricultural production and sales, with the full support of what was then a largely agricultural Congress. Only in the 1970s, did USDA pick up all those pesky food assistance programs and capture the “lead federal agency” role in providing dietary advice to the public.
Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall calls it “the cheese-industrial complex“.
The Atlantic has a reader’s guide to the cheese-and-UDSA-bashing.
So, actually, it’s not that people hate cheese so much. It’s that they hate a government agency that pursues contradictory policies.
My two cents. I’ve had dairy farmers say numerous times, “want to help a dairy farmer? Buy more pizza.” The reality is most dairy farmers are selling a commodity, the price of which they cannot control. Whether it’s cheese fries or mozzarella sticks or pizza, the growth of these not-so-healthy fast foods provides demand for the whole-milk cheeses dairy farmers produce. But even though cheese consumption has increased three-fold since the 1970s, dairy farmers are still losing money!
Which brings me to my second point. As almost anyone will tell you, the federal milk pricing system is a mess. It will be revisited next year as a part of the debate over the Farm Bill. So will the whole range of contradictory messages that make up the U.S. farm subsidy system.
So even if the furor over the USDA’s cheese marketing program goes silent as the news cycle ticks ever forward, the issues the NYT article raises will certainly intensify as the 2012 Farm Bill looms.