Public Health attorney and author Michele Simon has issued a report titled “Whitewashed: How Industry and Government Promote Dairy Junk Foods.” According to Simon, dairy foods have gotten “a pass” as the public health community focuses on “obvious culprits such as soft drinks and fast food” to address the nation’s “public health epidemic due to poor diet.”
The report explains how plain liquid milk consumption has fallen in the United States and been replaced by its consumption as flavored milk, with cereal or in a drink. Simon claims that today half of the milk supply makes 9 billion pounds of cheese and 1.5 billion gallons of frozen desserts, such as ice cream, and 11 percent of all sugar is used in dairy product production. She refers to these products as “dairy junk foods” loaded with saturated fat, sugar and salt.
The report focuses on the government’s collection of industry fees for “checkoff programs” that are supposed to be used for “generic” marketing activities, but have apparently been used to ensure that fast-food restaurants increase their use of dairy products and promote the consumption of chocolate milk in schools, as well as in lobbying activity to promote U.S. dairy products overseas. Included in the report are statements by a registered dietitian countering health-related claims that have been made for dairy products, including that cheese can fit into almost any eating plan and contributes essential nutrients for good health to the U.S. diet. Simon contends that the International Dairy Foods Association “made sure that the USDA’s proposal to improve the nutrition of snack foods in schools included plenty of dairyfriendly language.” The result has apparently been that flavored milks, cheese, yogurt—with sugar allowed up to 35 percent by weight, and pizza are approved on school menus.
The report recommends doing away with the dairy checkoff program entirely or not allowing checkoff funding to promote (i) “dairy junk foods that conflict with federal dietary guidelines or public health programs,” (ii) name brands, (iii) sugary milk in schools, and (iv) the “Fuel up to Play 60” program in schools. It also calls for the federal government to more closely review checkoff recipients’ marketing and education materials, and conduct better oversight to ensure these funds are not used for lobbying. The report further urges that the federal government not allow “dairy junk foods to be approved as ‘Smart Snacks’ in schools,” sugary milk in schools, and the Women’s Infants and Children’s Program to be “further exploited by the dairy industry to allow sugary yogurts.” It urges state governments like New York to “stop subsidizing yogurt companies such as Chobani.”