Thursday, November 17, 2011

USDA posts the 2010 dairy checkoff report

The federal government's dairy checkoff program just today released the July 2010 Report to Congress, which was the subject of my earlier Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

The report, 16 months overdue, says that $108 million were collected in 2009 for fluid milk promotions, and another $283 million were collected for other dairy products (principally cheese).  The checkoff programs use the federal government's power of taxation to collect mandatory assessments, essentially taxes, from producers.  All the advertising and promotion messages count as "government speech."  The expenditures vastly outweigh anything the federal government does to promote healthy eating.

The introduction emphasizes the controversial Domino's campaign:
The Dairy Board continued to develop and implement programs to expand the human consumption of dairy products by focusing on partnerships and innovation, product positioning with consumers, and new places for dairy product consumption. One such endeavor was accomplished through a partnership with Domino’s Pizza and the creation of the American Legends pizza line.
The report later explains in greater detail:
The pizza industry plays an important role in the dairy industry. Twenty–five percent of all cheese manufactured in the U.S. is used on pizza, and Mozzarella comprises 49 percent of all cheese volume in the foodservice industry. Research showed that negative pizza cheese volume trends were having an impact on the dairy industry. As a result, dairy producers partnered with Domino’s to reinvigorate the pizza category and launch American Legends, a line of six specialty pizzas that use up to 40 percent more cheese than a regular Domino’s pizza.
The report shows that a large fraction of affiliated advertising expenditure goes toward cheese.

Professor Harry Kaiser at Cornell University wrote the accompanying economic analysis, showing the great effectiveness of the checkoff program in expanding dairy consumption on both a nonfat and fat basis (increasing intake of milkfat).  Professor Kaiser (a good colleague for whom I was a teaching assistant at Cornell) has previously written U.S. food policy to explain his view of the nutritional impact of the checkoff programs:
[W]e continue to believe that the nutritional state of consumers in the United States would be worse without generic food advertising programs. 
I am not convinced.  The checkoff programs should rein in the fast food collaborations and bring the promotions in line with the dietary guidelines, or they should let free markets work on their own and let producers contribute voluntarily to the checkoff programs.  The status quo, with the federal government promoting Domino's Pizza, is terrible.

The July 2011 report has not yet been released.  It is not clear whether USDA simply didn't submit the report to Congress as required, or instead whether USDA submitted that report but is not yet willing to share it with the public.

1 comment:

Neilesh Patel – Loving the Food Industry! said...

I came across your blog today and enjoyed it. Is it ok if we re-post some of your entries in our newsletter? I just think a lot of the food and beverage people who visit our community would like reading some of your posts, even though they are mainly industry professionals, they are still ‘foodies’. Let me know. :)