Is now the time for a separate voluntary checkoff to divorce USDA, promote real U.S.-produced dairy, and take back the market value of consumer trust?
By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, January 22, 2021
BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — What has the mandatory dairy checkoff done for you its funders — the dairy farmers — lately? That’s a loaded question.
The short answer? Lots of herding.
One would believe mandatory checkoff promotion would be focused on herding consumers toward dairy products, but it may be more aptly described as herding producers toward certain global food transformation and marketing goals.
In various DMI phone conferences with producers, checkoff leaders have often repeated how they build relationships to ‘move milk’, work hard to ‘move milk’ and pivot through circumstances to ‘move milk’.
What has checkoff done for you lately? Apparently, they ‘move milk’.
Yes, there are several important and functional programs funded with checkoff dollars, mostly by state and regional checkoff organizations, including various ‘point of purchase’ and ‘tell your story’ programs aimed at connecting farmers with consumers. They help, and they also fit the agenda.
Survey after survey shows consumers trust farmers. They do not necessarily trust the global processors, retailers and chain restaurants that put farmers’ products in the consumer space.
This should come as no surprise. When it comes right down to it: Do farmers, themselves, even trust these consolidated globalized conglomerates?
Consumers trust farmers (88% up 4% since June according to AFBF survey), so ‘moving milk’ means connecting farmers with consumers. But the profit in that equation rests with the consolidated power structure – the global corporations – in the middle.
What has checkoff done for you lately? They’ve facilitated corporate use of farmers to dress their windows even as they participate in the World Economic Forum Great Reset for food transformation that seeks to dilute animal protein consumption, including dairy, through ‘sustainability’ definitions and goals.
Even the Edelman company, which receives $15 to $17 million annually in checkoff funds as the DMI public relations firm, is busy promoting a top oat-milk look-alike brand globally, serving as a sponsor and integrator of the EAT forum (EAT Lancet diets), and getting involved in several purpose-driven marketing efforts that dilute dairy around the marketing concept of climate.
Edelman knows consumers trust farmers. They do the annual global consumer ‘trust barometer’ where corporations are told consumers want purpose-driven marketing. They create prophecy and fulfill it.
What has checkoff done for you lately? They have taken what consumers love and trust about farmers and fund programs that make farmers earn what they already have. They tell farmers that consumers demand corporations show how they are improving climate, the environment and animal care. But do they tell farmers that consumers also want corporations to stand up for and improve how they care for the families who farm?
Along with producing the milk to make delicious, nutritious dairy products, dairy farmers possess the trust-commodity the global corporations covet.
One thing the national checkoff has done for you lately (especially since 2008) is to transfer that trust-commodity from farmers to global brands. They treat this trust-commodity as though it is a formless piece of clay they can mold to accomplish goals set by the pre-competitive roundtable of global conglomerates — via the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, formed by checkoff and funded with checkoff dollars since 2008.
DMI CEO Tom Gallagher has called this his job of ‘getting people to do things with your milk.’
While producers are being herded toward goals set by these corporations in concert with NGOs like World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for animal care, employee care and sustainability, consumers are also being herded toward prioritizing these same goals and messages.
Yes, consumers want to know where and how their food is produced. But they TRUST farmers. So farmers are being used to carry the purpose-driven messages of corporations. Shouldn’t these companies be paying farmers for this trust-commodity instead of farmers paying the freight for checkoff to transfer it?
What has checkoff done lately? How often do we hear that checkoff is “building trust”?
The trust is there. Checkoff is using that trust to build marketing, for who? You? The farmer?
Checkoff launched and funded – through its Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy – the Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) program. What about a Corporations Assuring Responsible Ethics (CARE) program for the treatment of dairy farmers? Shouldn’t there be something like that to balance the scales of power?
Isn’t that what checkoff was originally created for? According to statute, it is to be the producer’s voice in promoting their product.
Repeatedly, we see evidence that consumers care about how farmers are treated. They indicate preferences for locally-produced and U.S.-produced food. Why? Because they trust farmers and want them to be supported by their purchases. The more local or domestic the farms producing the food, the better they like it.
So here is a short and incomplete list of some things checkoff has done for you lately:
1_ Used your farmer-trust-commodity to market brands via the ‘pre-competitive’ work of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.
2_ Applauded USDA’s Dietary Guidelines every five years and carried the government-speech message on fat-free and low-fat dairy.
3_ Convinced farmers they must do x, y and z to ‘build trust and sales’ via the FARM program as determined by the pre-competitive collaboration of global corporations via the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.
The FARM program convinces farmers they (checkoff) is building trust by setting requirements for how farmers manage their dairy farms, cows, employees and land. These parameters are agreed to pre-competitively by global corporations via DMI’s Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy and then enforced on farms through their milk buyers with the equal weight of a contractual obligation.
The next wave for the FARM program is environmental to fulfill the new “sustainability” platform, the Net-Zero Initiative. Be appreciative, say checkoff leaders, FARM is farmer-led and the Net-Zero Initiative will be profitable.
4_ Used farmer checkoff funds to partner with global corporations buying breakfast carts – and influence – in schools to create ‘change agents’ through GENYOUth. A year ago, we reported that GENYOUth, in its newsletter, admitted using our nation’s schoolchildren and the climate change conversation as leverage for an emerging global vision for food transformation.
The pre-pandemic spring 2020 GENYOUth ‘Insights’ newsletter put it this way: “What youth know, care about and do might make or break the future for healthy, sustainable food and food systems. The future of sustainability – which includes the future of food and food systems – will benefit from youth leadership and voice.”
The GENYOUth Insights article bemoaned the Edelman-guided checkoff-funded survey revelation: “Youth are twice as likely to think about the (personal) healthfulness of their food over its environmental impact. Teens aren’t thinking too much about the connection between food and the health of the planet.”
That was PRE-pandemic. If anything, the pandemic has only reinforced the consumer focus on health, price and taste, while checkoff actively seeks to move the dietary goal posts and herd farmers and consumers toward marketing terms like: ‘sustainable nutrition’, ‘sustainable health’ and ‘good for you good for the planet.’ These terms will have definitions and requirements set by global corporations. Again, farmers will be told they must do x, y and z to build trust.
5_ Used checkoff funds to develop and promote products that dilute dairy and ultimately subtract value. A prime example is DFA’s ‘purely perfect’ blends, like Dairy-Plus-Almond, a 50/50 blend of almond beverage and low-fat ultrafiltered real milk – not to be confused with a better idea: why not almond-flavored 100% milk?
The rationale? DFA sold the concept for DMI investment as: “This product is not about pivoting away from dairy, instead we saw an opportunity to fulfill a need as people like almond or oat drinks for certain things and dairy for others. This product combines the two into a new, different-tasting drink that’s still ultimately rooted in real, wholesome dairy.”
This fits what CEO Gallagher has talked about in the past projecting the fluid milk future as being ‘milk-based’.
In terms of milk products in schools, Gallagher put it this way in his 2019 CEO address: “Schools represent just 7.7% of consumption, but… We have got to deal with the kids for a variety of reasons on sales and trust.” He went on to say that the fluid milk committee “asked DMI to put together a portfolio of products for kids inside of schools and outside of schools. What are the niches that need to be filled? What’s the right packaging? What needs to be in the bottle? And we can do that,” he said.
6_ Coached farmers on how to talk to consumers in a way that touches on the Net-Zero sustainability goals of these global corporations and links the farmer’s trust-commodity with global brands.
The bottom line is what the checkoff has done for farmers in the past 12 years is to establish a roundtable of global corporations that determine what dairy innovations to promote for the consumer level and what production practices to audit at the farm level, and then convinces you, the farmer, that they are doing these things to ‘build trust and sales’ and ‘move milk.’
While farmer checkoff funds are the financial side of this effort, farmers themselves are also being used to transfer that trust-commodity to the corporations, ostensibly so checkoff can keep convincing them to ‘do things with your milk.’
If a referendum on dairy checkoff is not possible, then perhaps a new voluntary checkoff is a way for dairy farmers to create an entity that stands apart from USDA government speech and MOUs, apart from global WEF Great Reset influence, apart from corporate decision-making, to stand with and for farmers, to take back their trust-commodity, to define who they are, what they already do, what it is worth to consumers, and create market value for the farmers’ milk and the consumers’ trust.
What has dairy checkoff done for you lately? Did you request checkoff materials or assistance with a project that was denied or approved? Did you participate in a checkoff program that was wonderful or not so much? Do you have examples of programs and ideas you started at the grassroots level that checkoff ‘took over’ and changed the message? Did you have a dairy donation event for whole milk that checkoff said could not be done at schools? Have your milk buyers ever paid you — or even thanked you — for the premium-consumer-trust-commodity they pick up every time they pick up your milk? Send your observations to email@example.com
To be continued
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