Wednesday, October 21, 2015

An Idaho farmer reflects on health, advertising, and the dairy checkoff


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.


Anonymous said...

This is a most bizarre and confused set of opinions coming from someone posing as a farmer.

We find Lampman Dairy listed as a farm CORPORATION registered in Idaho scaled at 250 cows, and as such identified as a medium CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) by EPA criteria.

Lampman Dairy is a corporate CAFO that, thanks to government protection and the Dairy Product Stabilization Act, enjoys a bonded market for every drop of milk its 250 cows can produce. Imagine an Idaho corporation with annual revenues of $250,000 quibbling over 15 cents per 100 lbs (less than 1% of gross receipts) to place unlimited volume of product reliably in a guaranteed market day in and day out.

More puzzling is CAFO Lampman Dairy, Inc.'s CEO publicly reviling other corporations like Domino's, McDonalds, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut for purchasing her product. General Motors had to be hauled in front of Congress before it would admit it was motivated by profit to risk customer's lives and here we have Lampman Dairy, Inc. voluntarily admitting it routinely profits from the sale of dairy products that are "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."

Simply baffling. Presumably there is a food policy moral to the story submerged somewhere in this corporate CAFO's strange press release. It makes me distrust corporate farms like Lampman Dairy.

usfoodpolicy said...

Thanks for your comment, Anonymous.

That's astonishing! Um ... 250 cows ... I never knew. Oh, wait, now I remember, I had learned about the number of cows from my introduction to the guest writer.

In all seriousness, the main impact of the EPA classification you mentioned is that it is accompanied by a requirement to have a plan for addressing pollution risk.

You are very welcome to comment here! But, Anonymous, if your comments will continue to include personal attacks on guest commentators here, it would be more sporting for you to sign in please.

Unknown said...

Dear Mr. or Mrs. Anonymous,

First of all, I'll have you know this: I AM a farmer. I raise calves, can and do herd, milk and sort cows and I can drive a tractor. My youngest daughter and I are raising two sows, and for the past 10 years I have raised a herd of meat goats. I also have over 20 free range laying hens of which I sell the eggs to friends and neighbors. I give tours of our farm on a regular basis and I manage the finances on our farm which much to your disappointment I will have you know is NOT a corporation.
I looked at your source and what it said- it must have meant that we were established in 2005 as a business as that is when my husband and I were given the rare opportunity to buy our farm, as most young people that get into farming have that opportunity only because they were born into it. As for being classified as a CAFO- yes, we are, but that doesn't mean that we aren't responsible about our manure. It also doesn't mean that my husband and I are operating our business without a conscience or that we don't care. AND just in case you were wondering, here is a bit of perspective on the number of milk cows that we have at Lampman Dairy, 250, which I explained that we had in the introduction of my article.
Twenty years ago when we came to our farm to work, there were 5 other dairies in the area that were our size or smaller. Now we are the only small farm left. I say "small" because since those dairies have gone out, we have gotten 4 new neighbors within 15 miles of us. None of these new dairies have less than 1,000 cows and the average size dairy farm in Idaho is almost 1400 cows, so with these sizes around me and these herd averages to compare our farm to, I feel we are a 'small' farm.
I am more than happy to have a conversation with anyone about our farm. I am open to questions. Conversations between intelligent caring people are what are needed in our world. However, I am not open to personal attacks, especially from someone that can only call themselves, "Anonymous".