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The Hypocrisy of the USDA's Dairy Policy

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Photo:notoriousjen/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Cheese is delicious. There's no bigger fan of cheese than the person writing this sentence. But at the same time, it's obvious eating large helpings of cheese isn't the healthiest thing. (Cheese-based calorie bombs are a big reason pizza joints took up many of the top spots on my Top Ten Worst Fast Food Chains list.) And don't just take my word for it. Take the advice of the esteemed USDA.

To help assist consumers in the department of calorie consumption, the USDA has a list of tips for how to approach eating dairy. They tend to generally recommend forgoing the whole milk version and instead switching to a low-fat or fat-free alternative. Certainly worth thinking about.

Which is why it's unnerving that the USDA is also helping create some of the worst calorie bombs in the fast food world.

The revelation comes as part of a new report by Michele Simon titled "Whitewashed: How Industry and Government Promote Dairy Junk Foods." A huge part of Simon's findings is how the USDA uses "checkoff programs." These are partnerships between the government and various food industries in order to promote the consumption of said food.

How do they work? The industry gives the USDA vast sums of money, and in turn they help create advertising slogans, programs, or new creations in order to further promote the product. (Ad campaigns like "Pork: The Other White Meat" and "Beef: It's What For Dinner" were created by these checkoff programs.)

Not only has the USDA been instrumental in the creation of a few of the fast food industry's new Frankenfoods -- including Taco Bell's double steak quesadilla, Pizza Hut's 3-Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza, Starbucks smoothies, and McDonald's McCafe drinks -- they were also partially responsible for the institution of Domino's "Smart Slice" school lunch program, which delivers a pizza to 3,000 lunchrooms in 38 different states.

While the pizzas are supposedly "healthier" than the average pie you'd find on their menus, they also provide kids with a hefty dose of brand-specific advertising:

Domino's delivers its pizzas directly to schools, and its trucks, employees, insulated boxes and lunch-line placards help imprint the company's red-and-blue logo on the brains of students. Indeed, in its marketing materials the company prepares school officials for the reaction: "Get ready to shout, 'No running in the halls!' as students line up -- excited for Domino's Smart Slice."
This raises the odds that when school gets out, students will head to a Domino's shop, nutrition and consumer advocates warn. But the company says it has no plans to sell the Smart Slice in shops -- just its regular fare, which pretty much looks the same to children.

Meaning, that when kids order their own pizzas after school, they'll believe it's the healthy version they've been used to eating. This strategy is not all that far removed from a drug dealer giving a new customer a free and potent product the first time, so they'll get hooked and have to come back again and again.

And that's not where the sordid efforts of the dairy checkoff programs end. McDonald's has six employees dedicated to sitting in on creative meetings to make sure dairy always finds its way onto the menus. The USDA siphoned off $2.1 million of the money reserved for checkoff programs to promote American dairy overseas. And a school ad campaign advises kids to "Fuel Up to Play" by drinking chocolate milk, which isn't exactly the greatest of health tips. (It should also be noted that 70 percent of milk consumed in American schools is flavored, the most popular brand containing 21 grams of sugar per serving.)

This is all like a doctor recommending that you stop smoking, and then spending their off-hours creating a more addictive cigarette. It's good the USDA is recommending we lessen our dairy consumption, but it sends mixed messages (to say the least) if they're also trying to trick us, and our children, into consuming more and more dairy.

The hypocrisy has basically turned them into a jerky older cousin holding you down and smacking you with your own hands, all the while telling you to stop hitting yourself.

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