November 9th, 2010
An excellent view of the nature of our society and its complete capture by corporate forces comes from a New York Times article this past weekend which reported that the Department of Agriculture, while spending pennies promoting good nutrition, including reduced high-fat cheese consumption, was simultaneously aiding the spending of vast sums to promote cheese consumption. These marketing efforts have helped Americans triple their cheese consumption in recent years, all the while the government talks about improving nutrition and lower fat consumption.
[Note: There may be controversy regarding the role of saturated fats in obesity and illness, but that is irrelevant. It is government policy to discourage saturated fat consumption for health reasons. This marketing campaign is in no sense driven by a reevaluation of nutritional science. Further, those, such as Gary Taubes, who question the harmfulness of saturated fat attribute major health problems -- such as rising obesity and diabetes -- to refined carbohydrates, which are plentiful in the pizza being promoted by the Agriculture Department program.]
Derrick Z. Jackson has a Boston Globe op ed on this all too familiar scandal:
Got too much cheese?
By Derrick Z. Jackson
When first Lady Michelle Obama this year announced voluntary efforts by commercial food companies to cut 1.5 trillion calories from their offerings by 2015, she proclaimed, “This is precisely the kind of real private-sector commitment that we need.’’
The announcement was dubious since it was never clear who would count the calories and whether the number had any meaning. Now we know that the commitment meant nothing — because of the duplicity of the public sector.
The New York Times reported this week how the Department of Agriculture, despite its stated push for healthier school lunches and farmers markets to combat our obesity crisis, is helping the trash-food industry pile more cheese on our plates. Americans today consume 33 pounds of cheese a year, a near three-fold increase from 1970.
Both the Obama and the prior Bush administrations had confidential agreements with the trash-food industry to promote the cheesiest and most fattening products as possible. Not only did they have agreements, but the USDA and its marketing arm, Dairy Management, bragged about the amount of cheese in products put out by Domino’s Pizza, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, and Burger King. In one case, the Agriculture Department noted how the Taco Bell steak quesadilla “used an average of eight times more cheese than other items on their menu.’’
While the USDA budgets $6.5 million to promote nutrition policy, Dairy Management had more than $140 million to play with last year, mostly through government fees on the dairy industry, but also with $5.3 million from USDA itself to promote overseas exports. The chief executive of Dairy Management, Thomas Gallagher, was paid $633,475 in 2008. Dairy Management used its cash to spread unproven claims that dairy products can help people lose significantly more weight and more body fat than consumers who “just cut calories.’’
Despite no evidence, the organization promoted the claim from 2003 to 2007. One researcher who was paid by Dairy Management but found no connection of dairy to weight loss, Jean Harvey-Berino of the University of Vermont, told the Times, “I thought they were crazy and that eventually somebody would catch up to them.’’
Dairy Management dropped the claim under pressure from physicians, but not the effort to administer a cheese intravenous line to America. In 2007 it boasted that its promotion efforts spiked cheese sales by 30 million additional pounds. The USDA reports cheese snack sale increases of up to 16 percent in grocery stores that Dairy Management consulted with on their aisle displays. Dairy Management spent $12 million — nearly twice as much as the USDA’s entire nutrition promotion budget — to help Domino’s develop pizzas with so much cheese that merely one slice delivers as much as two-thirds the daily maximum recommended amount of saturated fat.
Gallagher declined to be interviewed by the Times, but in a column last year in a trade publication, he wrote, “More cheese on pizza equals more cheese sales. In fact, if every pizza included one more ounce of cheese, we would see an additional 250 million pounds of cheese annually.’’
Emboldened by its success with cheese, Dairy Management is now reportedly working on bamboozling the public that chocolate milk is a sports recovery drink and persuading children to eat green beans by slathering them with cheese.
A year ago, at a joint press conference held by the USDA, the National Dairy Council and the National Football League to promote exercise, Gallagher said, “Child nutrition, particularly in schools, has been a cornerstone of the National Dairy Council for nearly a century. The program centers on youth taking the lead in changing the school environment.’’
The truth makes this a galling proclamation. Despite all the nutrition initiatives launched by the Obama administration, the cornerstone of federal policy continues to clog the nation’s arteries, making a mockery of programs boasting how youth can take the lead. What is a cornerstone for the USDA is a gravestone for nutrition.
Derrick Z. Jackson, a columnist for the Boston Globe, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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