Monday, November 08, 2010

Dairy Management, Cheese, and a Lousy USDA Web Effort

The Times has an article pointing out the contradiction between USDA urging a low-fat diet and "Dairy Management's" promotion of cheese usage, particularly in the form of cheese pizzas, working with Dominos. Dairy Management turns out to be the umbrella organization for dairy research and promotion efforts, thus receiving the checkoff fees from dairy producers. Although the article notes the bulk of the money the organization spends ($140 million) comes from fees, it claims it also gets several million from USDA.  It calls it a "creation" of USDA. It doesn't go into the details of how research and promotion efforts are approved (via a referendum of producers) and funded. 

The article was, for a while, the most emailed article on the Times website. According to this Treehugger post Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle are outraged.  Given the article's tone and content, I'm not surprised.  Even knowing more of the background and growing up on a dairy farm I'm bothered by the conflict.  As an ex-bureaucrat, I'm more distressed by USDA's website for failing to provide good information. The Agricultural Marketing Service, which administers the research and promotion efforts for the various commodities, all of which are authorized by Congress, doesn't have a good, short explanation of such things in general, or dairy in particular.  Do a search for "Dairy Management" , using quotes, on the website and the first page gives you no hits for the promotion organization. 

The best response I could find on the site was a generic statement that  the programs are fully funded by the assessment fees, which might mean the federal money the article refers to must be that used for oversight. But trying to troll through the reports to Congress seemed to indicate USDA was reimbursed for its oversight expenses.  So the "several million dollars" the article refers to might be research money funneled through ARS, but who knows.  I'd hope after the people in the ivory tower (USDA Administration Building) get through scrambling around to respond there will be a big improvement in the USDA/AMS site.  I hope, but I'm skeptical.

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