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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Column: Dairy lobby milking the federal teat

    Got Milk? From 1994 to 2014, a chain of media campaigns were built upon that powerful theme created by Goodby Silverstein & Partners for the California Milk Processor Board.

    The campaign featured celebrities from across the spectrum and was used in advertising case studies across the country. But behind that entire idea, encapsulated in two words, was the all-powerful American “milk lobby.”

    According to DairyCo, the U.S. tops the world’s milk production charts, producing over 90 million tons of milk in 2012 alone.
    The production of milk in such excessive quantities has not been without government support. From 1995 to 2012, the government spent almost $6 billion on subsidies to the dairy sector. In 2012 alone, $222 million was spent on subsidies and incentives. Big dairy was the biggest beneficiary, with production levels rising to record highs despite the fact that Americans now consume less milk than they did in the 1980s. Small farmers did not share greatly in this largesse, and in the economic downturn of 2008, they were easy casualties. In fact, the milk lobby is gradually creating a monopoly.

    The milk lobby has been active since the 1930s. In the 1940s, the Department of Agriculture’s Dairy Division started to market milk as a preventive cure for a varied amount of bone and health conditions, primarily targeting educational institutions. In recent times, the campaign has taken even more varied forms, the “Got Milk?” campaign only one of them. 

    Americans already consume way too much dairy in milk, cheese and other byproducts, but the milk lobby, acting in concert with the federal government, continues to seek ways to force-feed the public. Wondering who you should thank for that wonderful double-cheese pizza that helps you maintain that excess weight? Thank the milk lobby’s checkoff ingenuity. These programs are basically a government-mandated collection of industry fees to promote dairy, which industry players can access for use in research and marketing. 

    Suddenly, one doesn’t need a crystal ball to see why America has huge obesity issues.

    Maintaining an artificially high price for milk at the expense of farmers and consumers, too, is only in the interests of the milk lobby. 

    With high production and less consumption, economic theories say the price of a product should fall. The use of Congress to prop up the price is a testament to the power of entrenched lobby groups on Capitol Hill. In 2003, when Hein Hettinga, the Arizona-based owner of Sarah Farms in nearby Yuma, tried to sell milk outside the set price, Capitol Hill enacted new rules that forced him to pay compensation for unfair competition. Keeping Hettinga in check cost over $5 million in lobbying fees.

    “I had an awakening,” Hettinga said. “It’s not totally free enterprise in the United States.”

    The milk lobby justifies its actions by contending that milk prevents almost all calcium-related ills and should receive government support to keep Americans healthy. But the University of Arizona Medical Center in its article “Is Milk Your Friend or Foe?” cites a Swedish study that found that increased consumption of milk doesn’t necessarily protect men and women from bone fractures or osteoporosis, but rather is associated with an overall higher risk of death.

    Contrary to the oft-quoted advice that three glasses of milk should be consumed daily, the study showed that women who drank three glasses of milk or more a day had a doubled risk of death and cardiovascular disease. It also found that such women had a 44 percent higher risk of cancer. The study did warn, though, that its results should be read with caution.

    Even more disturbing is the fact that little is said of the high levels of lactose intolerance among African-American men or Asians. For many people of color, consuming milk is not a good idea as their body systems are unable to break down lactose. Very few ads show this. In fact, most “Got Milk?” campaigns failed to mention this. The reason was simple: Milk had to be portrayed in the best light possible.

    The war to keep milk at the top of Capitol Hill debates and protection will probably continue for a long time to come. But it’s important to ensure that American consumers get a good deal, that customers are rightly informed and that competition is fair and open, even to small farmers. Getting milk should not equal sponsoring waste.

    Got it?


    Chikezie Anachu is an international trade and business law student. Follow him on Twitter.

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