If you’ve opened a magazine in the past
20 years, this is probably a familiar image. It’s easy to flip past these ads and
think, “Hey, great. Stars promoting a healthy alternative to sugary sodas and sports drinks,” awesome There’s this idea that we have to drink milk to be healthy. But where did that idea come from? There are plenty of foods with just as much calcium,
potassium and protein Willet: Individuals can be very healthy with
no dairy consumption at all. In fact, a quarter of Americans can’t even
digest milk! and researchers have found that people who
drink lots of milk aren’t any less likely to get fractures.
milk was a bad choice And yet… the federal dietary guidelines
recommend three servings of dairy a day. Why!? Willet: Our dairy industry has become a very
powerful economic force For most of human history, milk was a small
part of the lives of a small number of people. Willet: Milk was really a survival technology
for living in cold places where the long winters made it difficult to grow fruits and vegetables.
Then, around World War I, The US government sent huge amounts of canned and powdered milk
overseas, to fight malnutrition among soldiers. And farmers made huge changes in response.
Many got rid of their other crops to focus exclusively on dairy.
But when the war ended, demand dried up, and the country was left with a whole bunch of
milk it didn’t need. At this point, farmers and milk processors
had invested too much to shift away from large-scale, year-round milk production
So instead of making less milk, they convinced people to drink more.
“Milk education” campaigns in public schools encouraged students to drink four glasses
a day. And milk producers got a boost from legislation
that created the national school lunch program in 1946, and required those lunches to include
a glass of whole milk. Even with all this promotion, the U.S. still
saw huge milk surpluses in the 1940s and 50s. So the federal government started buying up
the extra. It sent some to schools, the military, and to other countries as food aid. But much
of the surplus sat unused in vast, underground storage caves.
By 1980s, the government was spending $2 billion a year on surplus milk. The Reagan Administration,
in its quest to cut government spending, put a stop to the buying program.
That didn’t sit well with dairy producers. They convinced Congress to change the rules
so that they could create something called a dairy checkoff. Dairy farmers would into the checkoff with a mandatory fee. That fee would go toward advertising campaigns aimed at making
people buy more milk. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture would approve those campaigns.
The “Got Milk?” Ads are one example. The fees also pay for partnerships with restaurants
like Domino’s, Taco Bell and Starbucks to develop dairy-heavy menu items, like a pizza with 40% more cheese.
This means the USDA, the same federal agency writes our dietary guidelines, is also in
charge of a multi-million dollar campaign to get us to eat a cheese pizza where one
piece has two-thirds of a day’s maximum recommended amount of saturated fat.
So, if we know milk isn’t necessary, then why not change the recommendation? Instead
of milk with every meal, why not tell people to drink water?
Willet:…I think it’s impossible at this point in time…because the political forces
would not allow the dietary guidelines to say antying about limiting red meat or dairy consumption.
The dairy industry gives millions to politicians, who protect their interests whenever the nutrition
guidelines come up for review Susan Del Bene: how do we continue to make
sure students have access to appealing and nutritious dairy products?
Glenn Thompson: what can we do to remove policies that are hindering milk consumption or promote
policies that enhance milk consumption? Milk and other dairy products can be a part
of a healthy diet, but the idea that they’re essential? That’s just marketing.
And it’s not like there’s broccoli trade groups giving money to politicians and running multi-million
dollar ad campaigns. If there were, our dinner tables might look a little different.