Federal Government Fights Obesity, Pushes Cheese

I love cheese.  I really do.  But I recognize that it, like many things, is best enjoyed in moderation.  This is also a message pushed by the federal government — or at least one part of it — as part of efforts to encourage healthy eating and fight obesity.  Yet another part of the federal government is pushing cheese, lots of it.

The NYT reports on Dairy Management, a federally created organization that uses fees paid by the dairy industry (and some tax dollars) to encourage increased dairy consumption.  Among other things, it helped Domino’s redesign their pizzas (to use more cheese) and encouraged Taco Bell to sell a cheese-laden steak quesadilla with over 75 percent of the daily recommended allowance of sodium and saturated fat.

in a series of confidential agreements approved by agriculture secretaries in both the Bush and Obama administrations, Dairy Management has worked with restaurants to expand their menus with cheese-laden products. . . .

Dairy Management, whose annual budget approaches $140 million, is largely financed by a government-mandated fee on the dairy industry. But it also receives several million dollars a year from the Agriculture Department, which appoints some of its board members, approves its marketing campaigns and major contracts and periodically reports to Congress on its work.

The organization’s activities, revealed through interviews and records, provide a stark example of inherent conflicts in the Agriculture Department’s historical roles as both marketer of agriculture products and America’s nutrition police.

In one instance, Dairy Management spent millions of dollars on research to support a national advertising campaign promoting the notion that people could lose weight by consuming more dairy products, records and interviews show. The campaign went on for four years, ending in 2007, even though other researchers — one paid by Dairy Management itself — found no such weight-loss benefits.

When the campaign was challenged as false, government lawyers defended it, saying the Agriculture Department “reviewed, approved and continually oversaw” the effort.

If Republicans are looking for budget items to cut, this would seem to be an obvious choice.  It’s not much, but every little bit helps.

UPDATE: Lifted from the comments:

How could you link to this article and not include the absolute kicker:

… For years, the federal government bought the industry’s excess cheese and butter, an outgrowth of a Depression-era commitment to use price supports and other tools to maintain the dairy industry as a vital national resource. This stockpile, packed away in cool caves in Missouri, grew to a value of more than $4 billion by 1983 …

There are caves in Missouri with $4 billion worth of cheese!