Saturday, April 12, 2014

Moo Juice in America

Last year, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)  released a report decrying the decline of dairy product consumption in the United States.

The title was "Why Are Americans Consuming Less Fluid Milk?  A Look at Generational Differences in Intake Frequency."

The conclusion was that "Since 1970 per capita fluid milk consumption fell from 0.96 cup equivalents to 0.61 cup equivalents daily."

As of 2010, the USDA was recommending dietary guidelines as follows:
       2 cup-equivalents of dairy milk daily for children aged 2 to 3 years,
      2.5 cup-equivalents of dairy milk daily for children aged 4 to 8 years
      and 3 cup-equivalents of dairy milk daily for everyone over the age of 8.

We seem to have been failing the USDA in our milk consumption, seriously, for more than 40 years.

I look at these numbers and remember USDA's food group pyramid, which recommended these allocations for American diets:

This pyramid, released in 1992, encouraged Americans to get most of their calories from bread, cereal, rice and pasta.  Lesser amounts, respectively, were to come from fruits and vegetables, dairy products and meat, and, at the top and worst of all, oils.

The food pyramid has been thought for many years to have contributed to the increase in obesity in the United States.  It was replaced in 2005 with a new "pyramid" that runs in streaks, top to bottom, of wedges that still include generous portions of carbohydrates.

It has been many years since I turned to the USDA for dietary guidance.

But, as regards milk, the USDA continues to proceed on a frankly schizophrenic course.

On the one hand, noted above, it encourages vastly greater levels of milk consumption than have been the case since before 1970 when the trend line started moving in the opposite direction. At this point, no one expects people to start drinking more milk.

On the other hand, the Agriculture Act of 2014 contained provisions to guarantee dairy farmer profits when the cost of feed goes up and also, to step in and pay farmers to leave the market when supply increases and the price of milk threatens to go down.  As the bill moved through Congress, a Washington Post editorial called it a "federally sponsored cartel," and added, "The industry's real problem is that it has become phenomenally efficient at producing huge quantities of a  substance Americans no longer want as much as they used to."

Meanwhile, the biggest portion of the act's spending provides Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) payments for 47 million poor people, more than ever before.  SNAP recipients use these payments to buy groceries, including price-protected dairy products.

So here it is:  The government encourages milk consumption while holding up dairy prices, in part by paying farmers to limit production and also by paying poor people to pay for basic groceries including government-protected, high-priced dairy products.

Am I the only person who sees a problem here?

Next up:  A Visit to the Dairy Aisle

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