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Rebecca Lampman lives and works with her husband and three children on their 250 cow dairy farm in Bruneau, Idaho. In addition to the cows, the family has an assortment of other farm animals that they enjoy. Rebecca also writes regularly for The Progressive Dairyman. Her published articles and a link to the farm's Facebook page can be found at the Feminist Farmer.
All That I Have I Owe to Udders: Checking Out the Checkoff
By Rebecca Lampman
Our dairy is forced to participate in the porking of the populous. I regularly find articles in the local farm paper with titles such as, “Dairymen’s Check Off Dollars Do Double Duty”. These articles are fed to farmers to explain how partnerships between fast food and the dairy checkoff program have fattened our wallet, causing some to smile. As a dairywoman and mother, however, I frown, knowing that our farm participates in America’s obesity crisis. I love dairy products and believe they can be part of a healthy diet. What I don’t love is being forced to pay an assessment that is used to encourage Americans to over-consume dairy products that are a major ingredient in many processed foods.
Despite having farmed for 20 years, it wasn’t until attending an industry meeting that I began to understand how this mandatory dairy checkoff program started. In the early 1980s, America was swimming in milk, so Congress passed the Dairy Product Stabilization Act -- a federal program to encourage consumption of dairy in an effort to deal with over production -- paid for by the farmer in the form of a mandatory assessment or tax.
I learned the “Got Milk” ads that the checkoff program used to sponsor are yesterday’s news. The dairy industry now invests our checkoff dollars in partnerships with food companies like Domino’s, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut -- all restaurants I avoid out of concern for my family’s health. I realized that good news for the industry was bad news for our nation’s waistline.
After the meeting I couldn’t help but think, “Wait a minute. How can we as an industry tout the health benefits of dairy on one hand, and on the other, partner with fast food to produce some of the unhealthiest foods, in order to promote increased sales of our product?”
I have since been more acutely aware of the many ways in which my product is used and marketed with my money. A bizarre partnership with Coca Cola has been announced. McDonald’s is switching from margarine to butter.
And what about those articles telling us how grateful we should be for the checkoff program? Why is our support courted so heavily? Is someone concerned that farmers will begin to see that we are part of an industrial food and marketing system that is contributing to the obesity crisis in America, a crisis that touches so many of our families in personal ways in the form of diseases like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease?
Industry leaders may dismiss my concerns with the argument that people have the freedom to make any food choices they want, and that the dairy industry and its partners are simply supplying the public with the kind of food that they demand.
If it is all about personal choice and marketing has no influence on what is consumed, then why must I pay 15 cents for every 100 pounds of milk our cows give for dairy product promotion? If personal choice is what is so vital to protect and preserve, then I would like the freedom as a dairy farm to choose not to participate in a dairy checkoff program that contributes to obesity.
Our dairy farm is our life. My family believes that I am worrying about something that I cannot change. My husband and I have spent twenty years working with our children to build our farm. We enjoy dairy products and hope to continue to provide them for those that would like to enjoy dairy in healthy forms and amounts.
The sign on our barn says, “All that we have we owe to udders.” It is true. Our farm is about animals and people. I owe it to others to share the misgivings I have about the system of which I am a part. Our food system doesn’t have to remain stagnant or entrenched in its practices. We can make this better.