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A food glut means lower grocery prices, but at what cost?

October 26, 2016
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer , Estherville News

An article from the Associated Press cites a study indicating grocery prices will fall two percent this year, and the deflation could persist up to six months.

Ground beef is down nine percent, roasted coffee is down 4.3 percent, and fresh fruit is up 1.7 percent.

Earlier this week, a meme slid across my Facebook feed about a surplus of a billion pounds of cheese.

With visions of extra pizza and nachos dancing in my head, I responded, "[heads out to buy an extra fridge]"?going for the laughs.

Then I read the article.

Just over 1.2 billion pounds of cheese sits in cold storage units across the nation. it would make a mountain of 777,240 cubic yards of cheese.

Every man, woman and child in the U.S., would have to eat three pounds of cheese over and above the already Munster-ous 35 pounds we already eat, on average.

The surplus has been really coolea and grate for cheese lovers, but a disaster for dairy producers.

Dairy farmers in the U.S. have suffered from incomes falling by as much as 35 percent in the last few years. To help ease the pain, the US Department of Agriculture offered this week to buy up $20 million worth of cheddar cheese and distribute it to food banks. This is the second such purchase in three months.

Unfortunately, this doesn't solve the bigger problem of dairy prices staying out of whack.

It's China's fault

In 2014, China was buying increasing amounts of milk, particularly the shipment-friendly powdered milk, from the U.S. With soaring profits, farmers expanded, buying more cows and churning out more milk to meet what they hoped would be ever-skyrocketing demand. This seems like a reasonable prediction, given China's population, relatively stable at a billion slurpers.

China's economy, unfortunately, slowed in the last year, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Europoean Union lifted caps on milk production, Russia slapped on sanctions on foreign cheese, and a stronger U.S. dollar meant that American dairy farmers had a tougher time with exports.

At their current rate, American dairy farms will produce 212 billion pounds of milk this year. There are not nearly enough customers to consume it all. Cheesemakers buy a Stichelton ton of it, and they're storing it up and hoping for the best. But we all know they can't wait forever. Time will make their cheddar quite bleu.

Tom Vilsack, our own?Iowa-grown secretary of agriculture, is invoking an obscure policy, Sec. 32 of the Agriculture Act of 1935, that allows the federal government to buy up surplus and donate the food to food banks. Food banks across the nation already use shelf-stable formulas of milk, powdered milk, and have routinely given out blocks of cheese with their fresh meat or frozen vegetable allotments. This will provide 90 million pounds of cheese to needy Americans.

The Dairy industry is no slouch at self-promotion

Obviously, here in Iowa, we would feel the pain of dairy farmers simply being allowed to go out of business, because there are not enough markets for their product. We don't want that.

Enter DMI, Dairy Management, Inc., a USDA subsidized marketing initiative. DMI?has supported McDonald's switch from margerine to butter, the additional slice of cheese on its burgers, new, cheesier pizza lines for Domino's, and ad campaigns on the nutritional benefits of milk.

Dare we cut out dairy?

All of this has made me feel guilty about drinking almond milk. I?already felt a little squiggy about it, because after all, nuts don't have udders, so how is it milk. Also, some brands of supposed almond milk have a trace of almond and are mostly water. I can also drink water with no nuts just fine.

Per capita milk consumption has been declining in recent years.

I grew up always having at least an 8 ounce glass of milk with dinner, and another glass at bedtime with a cookie or toast with jam.

With my kids, I was more worried about keeping them hydrated. There was a trope on when they were tiny, "What's the best summer drink for kids??Water, water, water!"?We always have homemade fresh lemonade around, and I think they do have a lot of ice water. I wonder if some of the decline comes from the push to drink skim milk, and the fact that skim milk, to me, tastes like, water with cardboard in it.

The French maffra their way through 57 pounds of fromage every year. Perhaps if we got our moonglo on like the French, we could take a bica de Queijo out of this cheese montasio.

Certainly, concerns about fat content are a factor, as well as the news that milk's benefit to our bones and ability to ward off scoliosis and osteoporosis might be overrated.

In case you're wondering, cheddar and mozzarella cheese probably account for most of the cheese stockpile. They are by far the most-consumed types of cheese in America.

 
 
 

 

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