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Should We Trust the USDA?

Lest we forget, the mandate of the USDA is to make US business profitable, not, as we might think, to safeguard the public health.

A recent Michael Moss article in the New York Times looked at the disconnect between government-led anti-saturated fat campaigns and Dairy Management, a marketing and public relations arm of the USDA designed to support and inflate the dairy industry.

Urged on by government warnings about saturated fat, Americans have been moving toward low-fat milk for decades, leaving a surplus of whole milk and milk fat. Yet the government, through Dairy Management, is engaged in an effort to find ways to get dairy back into Americans’ diets, primarily through cheese.

Americans now eat an average of 33 pounds of cheese a year, nearly triple the 1970 rate. Cheese has become the largest source of saturated fat; an ounce of many cheeses contains as much saturated fat as a glass of whole milk.

Dairy Management, whose annual budget approaches $140 million, is largely financed by a government-mandated fee on the dairy industry. But it also receives several million dollars a year from the Agriculture Department, which appoints some of its board members, approves its marketing campaigns and major contracts and periodically reports to Congress on its work.

It can make your head spin. As elections rise and fall on budget cuts in education and health care, we’re pouring taxpayer money into commercial campaigns designed to fill the coffers of private businesses at the expense of what we know to be good for us.

I hate it when I’m faced once again with the now-familiar realization that our collective health can be brushed aside when it comes to profits.

When Dairy Management teamed up with Domino’s to develop a new line of pizzas with 40 percent more cheese (and then paid for a $12 million marketing campaign,) Dominos sales soared by double digits.

Great for Dominos profits and shareholders, not so great for you the consumer when a single slice contains as much as two-thirds of a day’s maximum recommended amount of saturated fat.

Check out these numbers:

  • $5.3 million Amount that Dairy Management got last year from the Agriculture Department to promote dairy sales overseas
  • $6.5 million Total budget for the federal Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, which promotes healthy diets

Of course, no one is forcing us to down just one more slice of that double-stuffed pizza, but I’m tired of subsidizing big industries, particularly those that play fast and loose with our health. If Dominos can’t pay for its own marketing campaigns, then perhaps they should consider one fewer superbowl ad this winter.

Regardless of the ubiquitousness of the advertising, the final choice to eat or not to eat lies in each of our hands. Health is an individual choice. You are empowered.

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