COVID-19 and the U.S. Government’s Relentless Partnership with “Dairy”
How Do They Make It Happen and How do They Get Public Approval?
◆ 6 Quick Facts
1. Pandemic or not: “dairy” can count on taxpayer funded government support. At the start of 2020, the “dairy” industry was stable and seeing profits. Just two months later sales plummeted due to COVID-19’s effect on demand. Regardless of “dairy” market profits or lack thereof, the U.S. government continues to directly support the industry in a variety of ways. In 2019, the USDA provided $305.9 million to dairy producers experiencing depressed milk prices. If every food industry received direct payments during market fluctuations, the economic system would grind to a halt due to lack of competition and over-saturation.
2. “Dairy” producers belong to organizations whose sole purpose is to lobby and influence legislation; federal food assistance programs are key. COVID-19 has caused supply chain issues because the demand for milk and animal products by the restaurant and hospitality industry has reduced significantly. Therefore, processors refused to take shipments from dairy farmers. Dairy farmers have been dumping surplus. Dairy organizations are lobbying for the federal government to purchase as much dairy as possible for COVID-19 crisis food programs. Animal agriculture organizations have been outspoken in their support of government funding. Michael Dykes, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) made a statement requesting the government purchase as much “dairy” as possible from animal agriculture: “We need to make sure that America’s food banks are replenished…. foods banks are buying 10 times as much food as they were on a six-month basis, from $50,000 to $500,000. They’re estimating they need $1.4 billion of food. So, we need to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make sure that food in the food banks is there. Our industry has it, and Americans needed it.” He also added that IDFA and other “dairy” organizations are lobbying to make this happen.
3. It’s not just federal funding, animal agriculture is also receiving a great deal of state support during the COVID-19 crisis. Take New York for example - the hardest hit by COVID-19 - Governor Cuomo issued the Nourish New York Initiative. The initiative designates the use of funds for vouchers to purchase dairy at supermarkets and food bank funding. Dairy is emphasized and specified. The initiative mentions “fruit and vegetable” distribution only once. The document clearly states: “The majority of the funding will be used to purchase dairy products… to purchase pre-packaged, consumer-ready products, such as milk, cheese, yogurt, sour cream, and cream cheese. The dairy cooperatives will use excess New York State milk to produce these products and are prepared to increase production to meet the rising demand.”
4. The USDA implemented policies to ensure insurance will adjust for dumped milk. But how do they influence an insurance agency’s decisions? The insurance industry is known for their strict guidelines and limited assistance. The answer: The USDA created their own insurance programs. The Dairy Revenue Protection program is specifically for the “dairy” industry. It is voluntary, government subsidized, and protects dairy producers against declines in quarterly milk revenue below a guaranteed coverage level. The USDA stated: “USDA’s Risk Management Agency is ensuring that milk producers who purchased insurance are not inappropriately penalized if their milk must be dumped because of recent market disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. For the 2020 calendar year, RMA is allowing Approved Insurance Providers (AIPs) to count dumped milk toward the milk marketings for the Dairy Revenue Protection…”
5. USDA states “dairy” consumption is needed daily and convinces the public by utilizing a common marketing strategy: consumer attraction to “science-based” product claims. Nutritional guidelines are based on studies the USDA conducts. It’s extremely convenient because they often use federal food assistance recipients as volunteers. Thus, taxpayer dollars will continue to bail out, subsidize, and maintain the supply channel that runs from farms to public institutions.
The USDA cites “dairy’s” calcium content as their reasoning behind its inclusion in the daily nutritional requirements. If they were not tasked with propping up the dairy industry, then foods high in calcium, and free of animal exploitation might have been included in the MyPlate chart in place of “dairy.” On their website they state: “What foods are included in the Dairy Group? All fluid milk products and many foods made from milk that retain their calcium content, such as yogurt and cheese, are part of the Dairy Group. Calcium-fortified soymilk (soy beverage) is also included. Foods made from milk that have little to no calcium, such as cream cheese, cream, and butter, are not part of the Dairy Group.”
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6. The USDA makes purchases from animal agriculture with our tax dollars by claiming dairy must be a daily staple in public institutions such as schools: a guaranteed supply chain. During the COVID-19 crisis federal assistance for school food programs have focused heavily on dairy. They will continue to provide school lunch programs to children even though school is not in session due to COVID-19. This is a necessary positive initiative and it should not be canceled. However, milk taken from cows is not necessary, especially in federal programs. The nationwide Special Milk Program for Children (SMP) does not provide a plant-based option.The USDA incentivizes schools with the Special Milk Program by partially reimbursing the school for the milk they sell. In many cases the school offers the milk free of charge and the program fully reimburses them. Schools want to ensure all students eat regularly because this increases academic performance and standardized test scores so they take full advantage of food programs. It’s unfortunate the government chooses to provide reimbursement for the “dairy” industry’s products. Consumer demand is up for non-dairy milks and there is a wide variety, but U.S. government agencies have been closely tied to “dairy” for decades.