image edited by Web Investigator
Many people think of the USDA as a kind of FDA for farm products, dedicated to protecting the public’s health against sloppy or even sleazy practices. But actually the USDA, created when America was agrarian, primarily serves rural America and food producers, not consumers. Its mission is “helping rural America to thrive; to promote agriculture production that better nourishes Americans while also helping feed others throughout the world; and to preserve our Nation’s natural resources through conservation, restored forests, improved watersheds, and healthy private working lands.” Key word private.
More than $112 billion of the USDA’s yearly budget of $139.7 billion goes to Food and Nutrition Service programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP (formerly food stamps) which “support American agriculture by providing an outlet for surplus products and encouraging consumption of domestically produced foods” at schools, food banks and needy households, stabilizing prices. But more than $20 billion of the yearly USDA budget unashamedly serves private food producers with Federal Crop Insurance, animal and crop research, wildlife and predator elimination and even aggressive food product marketing, sometimes in conjunction with unhealthy fast food operations.
Here are some of the ways you are involuntarily supporting Big Meat.
1. Pushing more cheese.
The USDA and its food pyramids may caution people about eating too many high-fat foods that contribute to obesity, but that did not stop it from helping Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Burger King, Wendy’s and Domino’s to conspire to sell more high-fat foods that contribute to obesity. In fact, the USDA created an entity called Dairy Management, with 162 employees to help fast-food giants “cheesify” their menus, says the New York Times. “If every pizza included one more ounce of cheese, we would sell an additional 250 million pounds of cheese annually,” rhapsodized the Dairy Management chief executive in a trade publication.
Dairy Management, while mostly funded by farmers, received $5.3 million of our tax dollars from the USDA during one year, observes the Times—almost equal to the $6.5 million budget of USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, which tells the public to avoid fatty foods…like cheese.
It is also no secret that in providing outlets for “surplus products and encouraging consumption of domestically produced foods,” some of Big Ag’s least healthful and most fattening foods end up in FNS programs. Who can forget that the downer cows which became the biggest meat recall in U.S. history were going to the National School Lunch Program? Who can forget that “pink slime“—ground beef treated with ammonia puffs to retard the growth of E. coli—was also a National School Lunch Program mainstay?
In fact, during the recession of 2009, when Americans were eating fewer animal products, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture even tried to dump unwanted products on SNAP recipients by increasing their allotments if used for animal products. “Product purchases will quickly reduce the oversupply on the market while additional funding to SNAP for meat purchases will allow low-income families access to more nutritious meals,” said the NASDA proposal. “Through no fault of their own,” many dairy, pork and poultry producers were suffering from an “oversupply” of product and facing possible liquidations, said a NASDA letter to Congress proposing using $2 to $3 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment stimulus package for a “Meat the Need” program.
2. Pushing more milk.
Using our tax dollars to market food products its own pyramid says are unhealthful is not limited to cheese. The Got Milk mustache campaign, one of the most recognizable ad campaigns in history, represents the USDA’s most notorious marketing efforts in conjunction with the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board and the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board. Posters of milk mustache-wearing actors, sports figures and celebrities have appeared in 60,000 U.S. public elementary schools and 45,000 middle and high schools to help private industry. The milk lobby held an in-school “Healthiest Student Bodies” promotion in which students could win an iPod, a Fender guitar or sports gear by visiting the website.
The government has also allowed school contests in which students invented their own Got Milk campaigns to compete to win an all-expenses-paid trip to San Francisco to present their ideas to the milk ad agency.
Like NASDA’s dumping the least healthful foods on poor people, the Fluid Milk Board in yearly presentations to Congress admits that it “continues to spotlight the high incidence of high blood pressure among African Americans and to promote milk and milk products as a dietary solution as part of the DASH [Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension] diet,” despite little to no evidence of milk’s value in combating hypertension. The Fluid Milk Board also told Congress it was trying to dispel the myth that lactose intolerance—common in African Americans and other minorities—“should not be a barrier to including milk in the diet.” It even told Congress it touts milk’s value in “breast cancer,” though some researchers claim just the opposite…