The information which I found most striking while researching for Dairy Day were the extent of the power of dairy lobbies, the adverse environmental effects of industrial dairy farming, and how so much of our country’s dairy is owned by so few companies. I knew that lobbies held a lot of power in our food system, but I had always heard of this in terms of beef and agricultural giants. As a staple of the food system, dairy is no exception to that trend.
Pasteurization of milk in the United States began at the industrial level in 1895, and was mandated by 1917. The first milk marketing orders were put into place 20 years later, in 1937. Milk advertising was subsidized by the government in the 1940s, and in 1946, milk became a staple of the new National School Lunch Act, currently the NSLP. Nutritional labeling of milk began in 1974, and in 1992, the first food pyramid was released by the USDA, giving dairy a prominent position near the top of the pyramid.
All the while, dairy lobbies have been pushing lawmakers to emphasize the nutritious benefits of milk and milk products. Dairy lobbyists push for initiatives relating to school programs, farm bills, and other programs in which dairy plays an important role. Milk is an excellent source of calcium, potassium, protein as well as amino acids, which is why it is partially why it is emphasized in nutrition programs. However, the dairy industries are also huge stakeholders in national programs such as the NSLP, which is why it is essential to them to lobby their interests to the USDA.
Currently, dairy lobbies are trying to remove the special labels needed for milk with artificial sweeteners. The dairy industries are trying to establish flavored milk as a healthy alternative to sweet soft drinks. These industries believe that sales would improve significantly if their products were labeled, for example, as “strawberry milk” rather than the “low calorie strawberry milk” labels which we would see today. There is much opposition to this because it involves deregulation of a controversial chemical, aspartame, in order to increase milk consumption among our country’s children.
When we stress the negative environmental impacts of factory farming, large scale operations like pork and beef production come to mind before processes such as dairy farming. Dairy cows produce large amounts of methane and manure which contribute to environmental and health issues. Water pollution is a huge concern with dairy farming, as manure and nutrients can spread to and contaminate water supplies. These cows also require a large amount of feed, which is typically genetically modified except in organic operations. In addition to modified feed, many dairy cows, just like other animals raised for consumption, are fed or injected with antibiotics and hormones. There is little transparency in these issues, and much is still unknown about the effects of these drugs.
Another controversial aspect of the dairy industry is the ownership. While dairy farms exist in every state, and local, organic options are available for some consumers, many of our nation’s dairy farms remain under the ownership of a handful of powerful companies. When researching Garelick Farms, where tufts gets their milk, I was surprised to learn that this family farming business is actually owned by Dean Foods, a Texas based food and beverage company. Dean Foods is by far the largest dairy processor in the United States. Dean Foods had been criticized for holding a monopoly on the US dairy industry.
The figures on dairy usage were interesting as well – and some were far more surprising than others. For example, research by the International Dairy Foods Association reported that 20.3 gallons of milk were consumed, on average, per person in 2011. For comparison, in 2011 Americans consumed 44 gallons of soda in and 2.68 gallons (13 bottles) of wine. I live in a house with 8 other “dairy consumers” and we go through about 2.5 gallons of milk per week, so between the all of us that would be about 14 gallons of milk per person, per year. Few of us use milk for reasons other than cereal or baking. I assume that our cohort differs from the rest of the nation because we are not typically consuming milk as a beverage.
Some other statistics we gathered were that Americans consume 46 slices of pizza year, and 48 quarts of ice cream. Considering the amount of pizza I see consumed on this college campus, I’m less surprised by this fact than I am by the ice cream figures. Overall, I found planning Dairy Day to be an incredibly educational and rewarding experience. The idea behind Campus Food Day is to get students to think critically about where their food comes from, and what processes are involved as it makes it’s way from farm to table. I hope that students who attended the event were inspired, or provoked by the information posted throughout the dining halls, and that the event served as a catalyst for change in food related behaviors at Tufts.
Communications Team Member