Leaders of the new Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives say they want a smaller federal government. President Barack Obama says he wants to encourage a healthier diet.
One place where these two sides could find common ground is through selective cuts in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Each year, this agency consumes about $26 billion, often on outdated programs that prop up big farm and dairy operations at the expense of other federal priorities, such as fighting childhood obesity.
The latest example was revealed Sunday by the New York Times, which reported on a program called Dairy Management, a marketing wing of the USDA.
Until 2007, Dairy Management spent millions of dollars on research that attempted to convince consumers they could lose weight by consuming more dairy products. The program went on for four years, even though researchers – including one hired by Dairy Management itself – concluded the obvious: There is no weight-loss benefit in consuming more cheese.
More recently, Dairy Management has been working with restaurant chains to get more cheese into their standard menu items. As a result, Dominos has a new line of pizzas that have 40 percent more cheese than before. Taco Bell has a steak quesadilla with a cheese sauce that has eight times more cheese than other items on its menu.
Why such a big cheese push? Because the U.S. dairy industry produces far more milk and dairy products than it can possibly sell, here or abroad. For that, we can thank not just the USDA, with its price supports and commitments to buy excess dairy products. We can also thank states such as California, which have aggressively attempted to expand the dairy industry, despite being a desert state that lacks the water needed for large-scale dairy operations.
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