Tuesday, October 17, 2006

New report to Congress from USDA's fluid milk and dairy promotion programs

USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service recently posted to its website its long-awaited 2005 annual report, dated July 1, describing the operation of the government's fluid milk and dairy promotion programs, sponsor of the Milk Mustache and similar campaigns to increase American cheese and butter consumption.

According to the new report, these checkoff programs collected mandatory payments from producers, in 2005, of $280 million for dairy promotion and another $100 million for fluid milk promotion. The programs have traditionally been considered semi-private producer organizations, but following litigation in recent years, the promotions are now recognized legally as "government speech" in their entirety. The fluid milk and dairy campaigns are larger than similar checkoff programs for beef and pork and far larger than any government support for promoting fruits or vegetables or other nutrition messages.

Like last year's report, the new report describes the program's use of dairy weight loss claims, which are controversial in nutrition science circles and are not consistent with the federal government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans, as a "central theme and focus point" for the campaigns. Here is the first paragraph of the first chapter:
In 2005, the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board (Dairy Board) and the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board (Fluid Milk Board) continued to develop and implement programs to expand the human consumption of fluid milk and dairy products. Each promotion program has many unique activities. In 2005, the Fluid Milk Board continued to use the role of calcium-rich fluid milk products in successful weight management as a central theme and focal point for its activities. The Dairy Board focused on the away-from-home market to promote the expansion of flavors and a greater range of packaging in foodservice and restaurants.
The report describes continued collaborations with fast-food restaurants to drive sales of new products such as yogurt and flavored single-serving milk, and older products such as the cheese in pizza:
Also, DMI helped increase cheese use by partnering with national restaurant chains to introduce cheese-friendly items and drive innovation. Pizza Hut (R), the Nation's top pizza chain, featured three new cheese-friendly items that DMI helped to develop and promote. During the four-week promotion of the new product "Dippin' Strips," Pizza Hut(R)'s cheese usage was up 3 million pounds over the previous 4 weeks.
The checkoff programs argue that they require government assistance to collect the contributions for such campaigns, because advertising levels for these products would be sub-optimal without government assistance.

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