Monday, July 09, 2012

Federal government says all sorts of things about soy milk

Mark Bittman this week describes how he overcame years of heartburn by giving up milk.  Though the NYT columnist agrees this experience hardly counts as a controlled experiment, it does point his critical attention toward USDA's dietary guidance message about dairy.
Today the Department of Agriculture’s recommendation for dairy is a mere three cups daily — still 1½ pounds by weight — for every man, woman and child over age 9. This in a country where as many as 50 million people are lactose intolerant, including 90 percent of all Asian-Americans and 75 percent of all African-Americans, Mexican-Americans and Jews. The site helpfully suggests that those people drink lactose-free beverages. (To its credit, it now counts soy milk as “dairy.”)
There’s no mention of water, which is truly nature’s perfect beverage; the site simply encourages us to switch to low-fat milk. 
Regarding MyPlate's inclusion of soy milk in the dairy group, however, not all federal government messaging seems to agree.

Soybean checkoff message

Like Bittman and MyPlate, the United Soybean Board also has high praise for soy milk. The board is a government-sponsored checkoff program, which has authority from Congress to issue federal government messages in favor of soybeans using money from a mandatory assessment on soybean producers. From the soybean checkoff website link we learn:
Soymilk is a great source of high-quality soy protein, frequently fortified with calcium and vitamin D for bone health, and an option for the lactose-intolerant.

Dairy checkoff message 

But the federal government's dairy checkoff program disagrees.  The program has authority from Congress to issue federal government messages in favor of dairy products using money from a mandatory assessment on dairy producers.  The dairy checkoff program has a bitterly sarcastic satirical flash-based interactive website, mocking soy milk for its sugar content, long ingredient list, and food science chemistry manipulations.

Mixed messages

By using checkoff programs to sponsor contradictory messages for different commodities -- while approving each message as "government speech" -- the federal government serves consumers poorly.  When will these programs be reformed?


Unknown said...

Loved the Bittman piece. Although I wish I was more optimistic, I don't think the policies will ever be reformed. Lobbyists have their hands so deep in Congress' wallets that our reps and senators have no incentive to make real change. The information that is provided by the check off programs are very confusing for most consumers but not much will be done in our favor until we make the nation's health a priority.

Ashley Colpaart said...

And not the Meatless Monday fiasco can be added to the USDA's double talk. Less meat?! Oh no! That's not what we meant.

Jerry Hingle said...

Wow I didn't know so many people were lactose intolerant. Interesting.