The anti-cheese upheaval

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.

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4 Comments on “The anti-cheese upheaval”

  1. Mervel says:

    Its the United States Department of Agriculture, not the Department of Health, not the NIH not the national nutrition association.

    Agriculture is a huge industry in the US employing hundreds of thousands of people. We have a vested national interest in promoting and protecting this highly efficient industry. That should be the number one job of the USDA.

    On this board we often talk about the need to nurture industries to help industries grow and that this is a good role for government. Maybe the government should tell buyers of Boeing jets that they are not that good, that they should consider other more fuel efficient options?

    If the Chinese were good at making Cheese or Wheat or Corn do you think their government would not promote that industry?

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  2. Bret4207 says:

    Well, here we are at the point I’ve been making all along. Artificial supports and limits, gov’t interference on one end of and issue and advocacy on the other, what a mess. And there’s no simple fix to it.

    Just remember, the next time you buy that $8.00 half pound block of cheap cheddar or shell out $15-18.00 for some Mozzarella that the farmer that produced it is still getting a price for his milk that often approaches 1975-1980 levels. But nothing he buys is at that price. Even with the supports and credits I really don’t know why or how any dairy farmers do it.

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  3. Pete Klein says:

    Blah, blah, blah. The New York Times? Who cares?
    They just want to take all the fun out of life. They remind me of that old fight song sung by the cheerleaders at Norfolk University. “We don’t drink. We don’t smoke. Norfolk! Norfolk!”
    By the way. Much more important. I read where you might not be able to get cell phone service when hiking in the Adirondacks but you can get cell phone service if you want to hike up Mt. Everest!
    Also read in Time magazine a good reason to like John Boehner. He breaks every hour from the hard work of being stuck in Congress to have a cigarette.

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  4. Mervel says:

    Now the interesting thing is will the USDA promote pot in the same way when it it legalized?

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