by Marion Nestle
Jun 11 2014

Michele Simon’s latest report: “Whitewashed” (she means dairy foods)

I always am interested in Michele Simon’s provocative reports.  Her latest, Whitewashed, is no exception.  It’s about how the government promotes dairy foods, no matter what kind or where they appear.

New Picture

Read her blog post here.

Download the full report here.

Read the executive summary here.

Here’s are some of the surprising (to me) findings detailed in the report:

  • About half of all milk is consumed either as flavored milk, with cereal, or in a drink;
  • Nearly half of the milk supply goes to make about 9 billion pounds of cheese and 1.5 billion gallons of frozen desserts–two-thirds of which is ice cream;
  • 11 percent of all sugar goes into the production of dairy products.

Where the government enters the picture is through the “checkoff programs” for promoting milk and dairy.  These are USDA-Sponsored programs, paid for by dairy farmers through checkoff fees, but run by the USDA.

U.S. Department of Agriculture employees attend checkoff meetings, monitor activities, and are responsible for evaluation of the programs. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the legality of the checkoff programs as “government speech”, finding: “the message … is controlled by the Federal Government.”

The report has some interesting findings about the checkoff.  Although checkoff funds are supposed to be used for generic marketing, the dairy checkoff helped:

  • McDonald’s make sure that dairy foods play an important role in product development.
  • Taco Bell introduce its double steak quesadillas and cheese shreds.
  • Pizza Hut develop its 3-Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza and “Summer of Cheese” ad campaign.
  • Dominos add more cheese to its pizzas as a result of a $35 million partnership.
  • Domino’s “Smart Slice” program introduce its pizza to more than 2,000 schools in 2011.
  • Promote “Chocolate Milk Has Muscle” and “Raise Your Hand for Chocolate Milk.”

I like dairy foods, but should the government be doing this?


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  • j.h.

    The “generic” here concerns lifting the dairy category as a whole, as opposed to any specific producer. And so long as Americans spend so many of their food dollars at fast food restaurants, getting those restaurants to increase their use of dairy products is exactly what the check-off programs are supposed to do. They’re supporting dairy farmers by increasing demand. There is a much bigger issue here, but it’s not one that the dairy industry is causing or could even begin to address.

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  • pawpaw

    Accurate naming would help here. If “chocolate milk” was labeled as “sweetened milk”, or “added sugars” therein were labeled more prominently, would perhaps help parents in choosing what their kids drink. I’m biased, but the milk I’m drinking now with unsweetened cocoa is mighty good! Unsweetened whole milk may be a better choice than skim or 2%, esp. if the latter is sweetened.
    Also, more prominent display of calories in the entire package of ice cream would help. My students complete food diaries, and one was shocked last term to discover how small the assumed “serving size” was from their container of ice cream. They assumed it applied to the whole container, hence their calorie tally was grossly under-estimated, and their intake goal for the day far exceeded.
    Our local farm store has a trade publication; the recipe contest this month was ‘based’ on dairy, for June is dairy month in TN, and June 26 is “National Chocolate Pudding Day”. They noted that puddings historically were savory, until advances in food science. Winning recipe: “Chocolate Pudding Pizza”, whose crust is peanut butter cookie dough. It does contain 8 oz cream cheese and ~1 cup milk, so it’s dairy!

  • Stephanie

    I agree to the point that since so much of the food dollar is spent on fast food restaurants then to increase consumption of dairy this is where promotion of dairy can be key. I feel this is also an area however where regulations regarding the nutritional value of the food should be in place to determine if funding is valid for that item. If sugar is on the label before milk are you really getting the intending benefit?

  • Thank you White Washed for highlighting the facts. Here’s a simple question to the article’s point.

    Why can a child “choose” three types of cow’s milk – including chocolate candy in a carton – but not bottled water in the school cafeteria lunch line or as a menu “choice?” Yep! Our daughter was forced to choose one of the cow’s milk products but not water. “Water costs extra,” she was told. So, she’d have to “choose” a milk carton and throw it away. (Talk about waste.)

    Now, why can’t a child “choose” water as a beverage choice without paying extra? Simple, “the federal government sees no nutritional value in water and won’t reimburse your local school district if it’s offered as a beverage choice.” Huh? Now, which industry to do you think got chocolate candy in a carton to be a “choice” and water banned?

    (p.s. I’m not encouraging bottled water that is “enhanced” either and “manufactured” by the soda companies.)

    Common sense is not so common. – Voltaire

    Best health always,

  • TR

    As much as I love yogurt, dairy gives me acne even in small quantities. I hate how whey gets slipped into stuff so discretely. Its sooo hard to avoid.

  • Michele_Simon

    Hi j.h. I agree that’s the goal, however, IMO, the type of dairy that’s being promoted and consumed matters. At the fast food companies like Domino’s and McDonald’s, it’s the least healthy, highly processed, and laden with salt and sugar and other additives, and surrounded by other unhealthy menu items like soda, etc.

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