U.S. Ag Secretary Perdue: Small farms face difficult times

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue (right) and Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture and Trade Brad Pfaff field questions and take in comments at dairy town hall meeting early Tuesday morning on the official first day of the 53rd World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin. Photo by Sherry Bunting

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, Oct. 4, 2019

MADISON, Wis. – Grabbing the headlines from a town hall meeting with U.S. Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue during the opening day of the 53rd World Dairy Expo, here in Madison, Wisconsin, was a comment the Secretary made about the viability of small family farms.

He was asked whether they will survive. To which he answered, “Yes, but they’ll have to adapt.”

In fact, the Secretary said that the capital needs and environmental regulations that impact farms today make it difficult for smaller farms to survive milking 50 to 100 cows.

“What we’ve seen is the number of dairy farms going down, but the number of dairy cows has not,” said Perdue. “Dairy farms are getting larger, and smaller farms are going out.”

But in additional discussion, Perdue said that consumers want local products. He said that marketing local, even without the buzzwords, can be done successfully to bring value to farms.

He noted two things about dairy farms. First, they can’t be sustainable without profitability and second, he described the dairy industry as prone to oversupply.

Picking up on these comments, recently retired northwest Wisconsin dairy producer Karen Schauf said Farm Bureau is looking at the Federal Milk Marketing Orders and how make some adjustments on the milk pricing.

“But what we really need to do is balance supply and demand of dairy products much closer,” she said. “I would ask if you would support a flexible mandatory supply management system to help producers keep that supply and demand in closer relationship.”

Perdue asked if she wanted the short answer or the long answer, stating that when his children want a quick answer, it’s always “no.”

Schauf replied, “Mr. Secretary, I just want you to think about it.” The subject went no further.

At another point in the questioning, a Wisconsin producer observed the disheartening price levels and said last year was a record high level of exports, while prices to farmers were worse than this year and worse than 2017.

He noted that exports hit 17.6% of milk produced, and settled out at 16% last year, which is a record, but his milk price averaged $14.60. He went on to say that, “our exports are off 2% this year, but I’ll probably come close to an average of $17 on my milk price.” He also noted that National Milk Producers Federation recently put out a press release stating 2015-18 as record years in domestic dairy consumption.

“This is all good,” the dairy farmer said, “but in Wisconsin we are losing 2.5 farms per day and I think the call centers are full with distressed farmers calling in, so beyond trade and some of these things you promote at the federal level, what can we be looking at so we never experience another five years like this?”

Perdue thanked the producer for his facts and said it is amazing that things “can be good and yet feel so bad.” He acknowledged that dairy has been under the most stress, and he said that the 2018 Farm Bill did “exactly the right thing” with the new Dairy Margin Coverage. He pointed out that this coverage is specifically in place for smaller dairy farms.

“Milk prices are cyclical, and I think we’ve met that trough, and things will improve for 2020,” said Perdue.

Referencing the 2% milk on the table in front of him, Perdue said: “You pretty much know what happened to milk in our schools, with the whole milk and the accusations about fat in milk. We hope to get some benefit, maybe, from the Dietary Guidelines this year, which drive a lot of this conversation.”

Noting that USDA “is leading” the Dietary Guidelines along with Health and Human Services, the Secretary said: “We have a great panel and they will bring together the best scientific facts about what is healthy, wholesome and nutritious for our young people and our older people  and all of us, so we’re looking forward to that.”

On trade, the Secretary was hopeful. He cited the recent trade agreement with Japan, but did not have exact numbers for dairy, just that it will be beneficial for dairy. On China, he was optimistic and said progress is being made, but that it has been important to take this stand because they have been “cheating” and are “toying with us.”

One area he mentioned in regard to trade with China is that U.S. agriculture has become too dependent on “what China will do.” He said the administration is really working on trade with other nations in the Pacific and elsewhere that do not represent such large chunks as to disrupt or distort markets as they come in and out of the game. This has held true for dairy exports from the U.S., which are rising in so many other parts of the world.

On the USMCA, Perdue said the outcome will depend on whether the Speaker of the House brings it to the floor for a vote. “It will pass both caucuses, but it has to come to the floor. We hope to see that happen by the end of the year, that distractions won’t get in the way,” said Perdue.

The town hall meeting covered a wide range of other questions and comments, and often, the answer to the toughest questions was “it’s complicated and we’ll be happy to look into it.”

On the Market Facilitation Program, several had questions about why alfalfa-grass is not included as a crop, just straight alfalfa. Perdue explained that alfalfa is a crop exported to China and that the crops in the eligible crops for MFP payments have to be “specifically enumerated.”

As with other questions, he emphasized the local FSA Committees who implement some of the more subjective pieces of these programs that farmers can appeal to their local committees if they’ve been denied.

In the prevent plant flexibilities for harvesting forage, Perdue said USDA is looking at this as perhaps something to be made permanent – the ability to harvest forage on prevent plant acres in September rather than waiting until Nov. 1.

Paul Bauer from Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery focused his comments on the spread between Cheddar blocks and barrels on the CME and how this is deflating the price paid to dairy farmers – especially in Wisconsin – but also across the U.S. because of how it affects the Class III pricing formula.

“For the last four years, the spread between blocks and barrels has been greater than 12 cents. Historically, the spread has been three cents or less per pound for the prior 50 years,” he said, noting that the spread at the end of the previous week stood at just shy of 35 cents per pound!

“The common thought is that this bounces back to a normal range, but it doesn’t,” said Bauer, noting that last year’s average spread cost dairy farmers 60 cents per hundredweight on their milk price. “Those farmers who ship to barrel plants, such as Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, were affected by $1.20/cwt on their milk price due to this wide spread.

He noted that last week’s 34 ¾ cent spread between blocks and barrels cost dairy farmers $3.40/cwt, which is 20% of their base price.

Acknowledging that this is a complex issue, Bauer asked the Secretary if USDA will take the first step and admit there is a problem instead of “rolling their eyes because of the complexity.”

“This is unfavorable to our farmers and unfair to our producers,” said Bauer, explaining that all dairy products are priced off the block-barrel on the CME, ultimately.

“It’s important to get it right,” said Bauer, explaining that it is a problem when the industry can build barrel inventory to create this divergence in block / barrel prices on the CME, which in turn suppresses the price they pay to producers for the milk used in a multitude of other “modern” products.

“Barrel production comes from 16 plants (nationwide), and represents 6% of the nation’s dairy supply, and yet has had a 58% of the impact on all producers’ milk checks,” said Bauer. “When the system is out of sync, that negative value affects us all.

“It’s time for USDA to formally take action and for the data to come to light that are influencing the market,” said Bauer. 

He explained that the system is there to protect farmers and local buyers but is now being influenced by foreign cooperatives that keep one product – barrels – in oversupply in order to keep milk prices lower for products that are priced off the higher blocks in short supply. 

Bauer said the secrecy of buyers and sellers on the CME protects this practice. “It’s time to update the system to keep up with modern times to protect our farmers and our food supply also in terms of quality and safety.” 

Secretary Perdue drew laughter when he asked Bauer: “Would you repeat the question?”  But he took it in and asked for a written copy of the question to look into it. Perdue said that concerns are often raised about the Federal Milk Marketing Orders.

“They are a fairly complex issue, but we’d be happy to investigate. The government’s role in general is to be the balance between the producer and the consumer and ensure no predatory pricing practices,” said Perdue, “while not interfering with commerce and contracts.”

He gave the example of the fire at the Tyson beef plant in Holcomb, Kansas and the staggering loss to cattle prices since that fire over a month ago that have resulted in packer margins at an unprecedented $600 per head.

“We saw a spike in the delta – the difference between the live cattle price and the boxed beef price at historic highs, and we are investigating that, to make sure there was no pricing collusion,” said Perdue. “I’ve asked those packers to come in and give me their side of the story. That’s the role of USDA.”

Pete Hardin of the Milkweed asked about the cell cultured meat, citing a publicized comment by the Secretary last summer pointing to the value of this science. Hardin asked if any studies have been done on the safety of this technology.

Perdue did not know if any specific studies have been done, and he confessed to trying an Impossible Burger, adding “There’s now one restaurant I no longer attend.”

He stressed that these products cater to people who aren’t eating meat anyway for whatever reason, and he said: “In the end, consumers will be the ones to choose.”

Picking up on this in a separate question about how dairy and livestock farms can remain viable with all of the imitation products competing for consumers, the Secretary observed that, “As farmers we are independent and like to sit behind the farm gate and produce the best, most nutritious food in the world at the lowest cost anywhere in the world, but we’ve never told the story.

“It’s up to every one of us to speak out locally and statewide and federally, nationally in that area and tell the story of what’s happening. No longer can we hide behind the curtain,” said Perdue. 

“There’s a growing movement about knowing how you do your job, what’s in the milk, how the animals are treated, and there’s no going back from that. We have to engage with consumers. We have to tell the story loudly and proudly.”

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Is mandatory dairy checkoff funding real milk’s demise?

Through futuristic lens: Is it time to end USDA control of dairy promotion?

No matter what innovations they come up with in the future, real dairy milk will always be the completely natural, minimally-processed, clean-label product with the superior combination of complete protein, healthy fat, and long list of essential natural nutrients, not additives. Treating real dairy milk like a cheap commodity must end. Innovative marketing may be more important in today’s times than innovative manufacturing processes. Government rules make it difficult to truly promote real dairy milk. It’s time to re-think the government oversight of the mandatorily farmer-funded milk promotion business so that truly competitive promotion can happen. (Istock photo).

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 29, 2019

“It’s not that the bad guy came and took it (fluid milk sales), it’s that us, the dairy industry collectively, did not keep growing and innovating and doing what we should do. Instead of getting in a lather about plant-based food companies, let’s do what we are supposed to be doing as an industry. Let’s do marketing. Let’s do innovation. Let’s have dairy-based protein in 3-D printers and whatever comes next. That’s where we need to be.”

These were the words of Tom Gallagher, CEO of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) to his dairy checkoff board recently as shared here, and in the March 20, 2019 edition of Farmshine from a video of his comments.

A glimpse into what that might mean was revealed at the IDFA (International Dairy Foods Association) convention in January, where DMI’s vice president of global innovation partnerships, Paul Ziemnisky told attendees that 95% of households have milk and buy milk, but that these households engage in “fewer consumption occasions”, according to a recent convention report in Dairy Foods magazine.

To increase ‘consumption occasions’, DMI has been investing checkoff dollars toward innovations in “milk-based” beverage growth, he said.

Through its Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, DMI has invested checkoff dollars in these types of “pre-competitive” innovations in the past — an example being fairlife.

It is interesting that in both Gallagher’s comments to the DMI board and in the presentation by DMI’s Ziemnisky’s to processors, the term dairy-based or milk-based is used.

As we’ve reported previously, the direction of dairy innovation over the past 10 to 20 years has not been lacking in its drive to pull out the components of milk for inclusion in a variety of products — taking milk apart and putting it back together again — in a way that is new and different or in a way that presents milk and dairy as a new product.

Expect to see this type of innovation increase via these investments of dairy checkoff dollars into developing combination beverages that include pieces of milk in entirely new beverages.

This is what is meant by innovation.

At the IDFA convention, DMI gave processors a glimpse into some of the innovations they are working on to address four consumer targets that DMI has identified:

1)      A milk- and nut-based combination beverage,

2)      A milk with lavender and melatonin to promote sleep,

3)      A yo-fir product (kefir plus yogurt) beverage,

4)      A milk beverage that provides just a hint of flavor,

5)      More concepts in high-protein milk-based beverages,

6)      A ‘plosh’ blend of tea, coffee and milk, and

7)      An all-natural concept of milk blended with fruit.

As the overall beverage sector is exploding with new beverages of all kinds every year — some winners and some losers — DMI is looking to do more in the re-creation of dairy in the beverage space with new combination beverages that include milk, or components of milk, but are not identified as milk. These beverages will compete with non-dairy beverages, but in a sense, this track would further compress real dairy milk into its age-old commodity posture. Of course, those who are engaged in promotion of real dairy milk can position it as the wholly natural choice in a beverage sector of further processed combinations and concoctions.

Something to watch and be aware of is that PepsiCo – a company the dairy checkoff organizations are forming stronger bonds with — is on the frontier of turning drink dispensing machines into a hybrid of 3-D printing and multi-source create-your-own beverage dispensers. On the CNBC’s early-morning Squawk Box business news a few months ago, this concept was discussed showing a prototype where consumers can create their own unique beverage by pushing buttons for a little of this and a little of that. Millennials look for unique and “personalized” foods and beverages — we are told. And we see this trend in the “craft beer” category, for example.

A caveat to follow in this trend is the importance of labeling by USDA and FDA as the new gene-edited cell-cultured animal-based proteins and genetically-altered vat-grown yeast-produced dairy-based proteins move from the lab to the market in the next 12 to 24 months via partnerships between the billionaire-funded food technology startup companies and the world’s largest agricultural supply-chain companies. 

While everyone is watching what happens in the cell-cultured fake-meat category and the partnerships there with Cargill, most of us do not realize how close the dairy versions are to scaling-for-market — since Perfect Day company partnered last fall with ADM (Archer Daniels Midland). That partnership is predicated on ADM providing the facilities and mechanisms to ramp up the production of ‘cow-less’ so-called dairy proteins, and USDA research labs do the gene-altering to provide the seed-source of yeast for the process.

As these other proteins are introduced into the food supply, it is yet unclear how – exactly – they will be identified and differentiated in the marketplace. While the dairy and livestock sectors pushed hard to soften the distinctions of proteins in food from animals that have been fed GMO crops, the downside of USDA’s new Bio-Engineered (BE) food labels is that these fake proteins that are on the horizon may not be labeled or differentiated when they are a part of the final food or beverage product.

On the bio-engineering side of animal-based cell-cultured fake-meat protein production (cell-blobs grown in bioreactors), USDA and FDA are still working out the details of their combined food safety requirements.

But on the bio-engineering side of the yeast that have been genetically-altered to possess bovine DNA snips to exude ‘milk’ protein and perhaps other components (grown to exude dairy protein and components in fermentation vats), there is far less discussion of inspection or oversight.

As for the labeling of both types of bio-engineered protein, there is little discussion of how foods containing them will be labeled.

Just three months ago, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the new National Bio-Engineered Food Disclosure Standard that will be implemented in January of 2020. It is the result of the July 2016 law passed by Congress that directed USDA to establish one national mandatory standard for disclosing foods that are – or may be – bio-engineered.

USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has developed the List of Bio-Engineered Foods to identify the crops – and foods – that are available in a bio-engineered form throughout the world and for which regulated entities must maintain records that inform whether or not they must make this bio-engineered food disclosure.

Some are voluntarily complying already, as I have seen this BE statement in very small print on small containers of some Kraft ‘cheese’ spreads.

The bottom line in this mandatory BE labeling requirement is that it only pertains to the main ingredient of the further-processed food or beverage and only if there is “detectable” genetically-altered material in that food. This means that the BE labeling may not apply to fake meat or fake dairy. In the case of the fake meat, the bio-engineering is the editing of DNA to grow muscle (boneless beef for example). In the case of fake dairy, the bio-engineering is yeast altered to include specific bovine DNA, but the resulting cow-less ‘dairy’ protein would have no detectable difference, its creators say.  

All animal protein checkoff programs have a tough road ahead. If farmers and ranchers continue to fund promotion of the foods and beverages that come from dairy and livestock farms, these fake iterations of the real thing will benefit unless promotion can be targeted to the real thing and consumers see the difference on a label in order to make a choice for the real thing.

This all sounds so futuristic and like science-fiction, but in foods today, this is where we are headed and our checkoff programs should be aware and should be able to stand up for the real thing. They should be allowed to lobby regulators for fair treatment and distinct labeling because the government requires farmers to pay these checkoff deductions to promote their products. Thus, if the government does not provide a clear path to distinguish fake from real, then the fairness of requiring a checkoff should no longer be considered valid.

As for dairy farmer checkoff funds, specifically, the future is here and DMI is already moving down that road to innovate dairy-based or milk-based products that dilute the meaning of dairy and milk in the marketplace – in effect paving the way to new innovations and products in which real dairy-farm-produced milk components can be replaced by fake-dairy components from genetically-altered yeast grown in ADM fermentation vats.

Perhaps checkoff funding should be directed in these difficult and changing times toward true promotion of what is real. We see that starting to happen with the “love what’s real” campaign, launched by the Milk Processors Promotion and Education Program (MilkPEP) and supported by DMI’s Undeniably Dairy social media campaign.

More than ever, the future of our dairy farms will rely upon promotion of what is REAL – moreso than using dairy farmer checkoff funds to find ways to put pieces of milk into other products or into 3-D Printers. Profile those components. Provide the benefits of real dairy components for the manufacturers that are moving into 3-D printing of personalized foods and beverages, but keep the powder dry for a full-out real dairy campaign. If USDA does not allow real dairy farmer checkoff funds to talk about why they are so much better than the fake stuff that is here and that is coming… then it is time to get the government out of the promotion business and return these funds to dairy farmers so they can voluntarily use them to promote their real products, their true dairy brands.

In a future of murky food sources – farmers must be able to stand up for what they produce. They must be able to promote Real Milk that is unfooled-around-with, that is from the cow they have fed and cared for.

With the food revolution here, dairy promotion will need a marketing revolution to welcome people back to what’s Real — especially as more household decisions are made by people growing up without knowing what Real Whole Milk tastes like.There’s an idea. Real Whole Milk is tastier, healthier, with a truly cleaner label than about anything else that is here or that is coming to compete with it in the beverage sector.

Ditto for Real Yogurt and Real Cheese, etc. in the food sector. Undeniably Dairy – the dairy checkoff program – has a nice ring to it. Love what’s Real has a great message to it. But if dairy farmers can’t use their mandatory funds to take the fake stuff head-on, then it’s time to stop taking mandatory checkoffs and allow farmers to use their money to promote their product – no holds barred.

When the competition is funded by Silicon Valley billionaires, has the backing of major food and agriculture supply-chain companies, is sourcing genetically-altered material from USDA, and does not have government requiring distinctive labeling – then dairy farmers need a level playing field to use their hard earned $350 million plus to put a stake in the ground to promote why Real is better. Checkoff staff often say the competition is doing brand advertising and “we can’t.”

That being the case, perhaps give the money back to the farmers so they can form voluntary promotion groups or voluntarily give the funds to the brand that receives their milk to get in the game of head-to-head advertising instead of, in essence, funding a path to their own substitution and demise.

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Should dairy farmers be forced to fund ‘government speech’?

Dietary Guidelines among the factors plunging us deeper.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, March 15, 2019

Many are confused about what the dairy checkoff organizations can and can’t do. There is nothing in the Order that says the checkoff programs must promote according to the USDA Dietary Guidelines.

So where did this idea come from and how does it look today and what might it look like tomorrow?

To stave off challenges brought by folks questioning the government’s authority to require farmers to fund private speech, USDA defended the checkoff programs as “government speech,” which is a protected form of speech. This was explained in more detail in part 6 of the GENYOUth series in the February 22, 2019 edition of Farmshine.

Here’s why it matters. Government speech on dietary concerns has become increasingly restrictive, and by the looks of the recently-named USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, it could get worse.

With so much control by USDA, how will dairy farmers fully defend their position — even when rigorous science is on their side? They can’t count on government speech because rigorous science is all too often ignored by government bureaucracies and the advisory committees with links to foundations and corporations that have other ideas for that money.

The proof is in the long trend of using mandatory farmer funds to promote the low-fat / fat-free government speech that has become their own undoing, not to mention detrimental to health, especially for our children.

Here’s a glimpse of where we are headed with this dairy-farmer-funded government speech.

Separation of Church and State, for example, seems to apply only when convenient for politicians. Could a religious doctrine of animal rights and vegan diets become even more embedded into the government Dietary Guidelines that dairy farmers are forced to promote?

I was told by more than a few people that Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue is a scientist and would not allow this to happen to his formation of the current committee, but the composition of this Dietary Guidelines Committee takes us further down this wrong road.

In fact, could the U.S. guidelines be on the brink of cowtowing even more toward the Adventist-funded EAT Lancet Global Food Transformation Agenda?

Some scoff, saying not to take this report seriously because it’s not gaining traction.

Unfortunately, they are not paying attention. This track has been laid and the wheels are in motion, and plenty of bargains with the devil have been made behind closed doors.

Our dietary choices are poised to be further corrupted. Just writing about these topics makes my blood boil and causes me to second-guess my own sanity. 

But folks, this is real. 

We can be proactive, or we can sit with our heads in the sand and be run over. This is happening, and our own leaders don’t want us to see it, hear it or speak of it. 

People can criticize the series of articles on this topic all they want, but the truth is that alliances formed — most notably over the past 10 years — are poised to plunge us even further into dietary guidelines, labeling, look-alikes and standards that have the potential to remove even more animal-based dietary choices from Americans — especially our children. 

As an ag journalist, I’m appalled. 

As a grandmother, watching the effect it is having and will have on our children, I am angry. 

What I see coming is a dietary future that will be a mix of fake proteins, grains, legumes, vitamin/pharmaceutical cocktails and high fructose corn syrup fashioned into whatever you want it to be or taste like from your 3-D printer.(Even the venerable Dr. Kohl talked about it at a farmer meeting and how much this “spooks” him out.)

In the beginning, these 3-D printer options may use dairy or meat proteins, but they are set up for not just plant-based proteins, and what some in the industry call “dairy-based” proteins. What does ‘dairy-based’ mean? (more on that later). The 3-D printer technology is the handmaiden of the gene-edited cell cultured fake-meat proteins and the gene-altered yeast sourced by USDA to a company growing them (with the commercial assistance of ADM) in fermentation vats to produce fake-dairy protein without the cow.

Here’s the deal: The co-author of the 2013 report favoring epidemiological studies of the vegan/vegetarian Adventist communities vs. rigorous scientific evidence was put on the USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee in the capacity of weighing the scientific credibility of evidence to be considered by the committee in shaping the 2020-25 guidelines.

His name is Dr. Joan Sabate, and he was placed on the committee in this role instead of Stanford professor John Ioannidis — despite over 1000 letters supporting Ioannidis being sent to Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue by the public that included medical doctors, dieticians, veterinarians and other experts, including specialists in oncology, heart disease and endocrinology (diabetes, etc).

Not only is Sabate Chair of the Nutrition Department at the Seventh Day Adventist institution, Loma Linda University, he also constructed the vegan food pyramid and co-authored a book on Adventist doctrine for global change, called “The Global Influence of the Seventh Day Adventist Church on Diet” where this playbook is well laid out.

It’s pretty clear that Sabate has been given an influential position and has spent his career promoting a religious-dietary-doctrine with undue influence now in a government dietary advisory capacity.

Also, an article co-authored by Sabate in 2011 talked of how the Adventists praised the 2010 dietary guidelines that took the destruction of school lunch under the Obama / Vilsack administration to new lows. That report said the 2010 Guidelines “confirmed” the findings of Sabate’s predecessor at Loma Linda University.

Last Friday, while doing a Rural Route Radio show as a guest of Trent Loos, I learned from him a piece I did not know — that the Wellcome Trust, which wrote the check for the EAT Lancet Commission, is the trust of Henry Wellcome. He passed away in the 1930s, and was the founder of what is today a Big Pharma player.

Remove whole milk, full-fat dairy and red meat from our diets and we’ll all need more drugs for a panacea of ills. Yes, the EAT Lancet report calls for just a little over one ounce of meat per day, the equivalent of one 8-oz cup of milk per day and 1 and ½ eggs per week. See the picture?

Our kids are already drinking fat free or 1% milk in school, eating fake butter, skim processed cheese, non-fat yogurt (if you can call it yogurt) and a host of other real-food-replacements when they should receive the best nature has to offer.

Yes, there it is: The religious doctrine. Mr. Wellcome was an avid Adventist, and his legacy lives on through the EAT forum and initiatives that have pulled-in not only governments across the globe (through their respective bureaucracies setting diet standards) but also 41 major corporations that are poised to profit — including the Edelman PR and marketing firm,which provided their Amsterdam account director to that effort until she went to work for the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and its EAT FReSH Initiative the very month that the EAT Lancet report was released (as detailed in part 8 in last week’s Farmshine).

Yes, Edelman is the same PR and Marketing firm that has worked for dairy checkoff for 20 years and increasingly in the past 10 years and was instrumental in the GENYOUth formation (2010), a non-profit with a pretty face that is also tied in with the Clinton Foundation of the same persuasion, and the Obama / Vilsack administration’s heavy hit to school milk and the school lunch program parameters, which also happened in 2010.

This really is one big thing connected, moving gradually to where we are today amid several key converging factors.

Call me “negative” or “unhinged” or whatever name you have for this investigative reporting, that is your choice. Meanwhile, some of our own organizations are tied in, and it is disturbing. 

The dairy and beef checkoff organizations — whose budgets are funded mandatorily by the farmers and ranchers whose livelihoods and contributions to human and planetary health are in jeopardy — have aligned on the sustainability side with the noted anti-animal organization World Wildlife Fund (WWF). This is detailed on website documents and power point slides bearing the WWF emblem.

The template is set for a sustainability footprint that is focused on streamlining the food industry with rapid consolidation to get the WWF stamp of approval for the largest and most vertically integrated animal food producers.

Recently, other organizations that challenge these institutions have put farmers on a new HSUS ag-advisory board to try to influence that particular anti-animal organization to get a similar stamp of approval for small farms and regional food supplies. 

Meanwhile, the anti-animal heavy-hitters are laughing all the way to the bank as their strategy as kindred NGOs is to divide and conquer — while raking in hundreds of millions of dollars. Their strategy is working because there is division. Not because I’m writing about it, but because none of our organizations and institutions have the backbone to stand up for what’s right.

The mode of operation is to work quietly through alliances and advisory boards and non-profits — to paint a pretty face on these alliances, hoping to come out of the internal fray with a few crumbs for a surviving streamlined industry.

If you dare question these alliances or dig into them, you are attacked.

You must remain politically correct at all costs! Don’t touch the third rail! Shame on anyone who dare question! If you question, dig, report, enlighten (all while said organizations refuse to answer interview questions), then you are “negative”, “unhinged”, “divisive”, “harming farmers” and a journalist who has “an agenda” or is just trying to “sell newspapers.”

Not in the least. I would much rather be spending all of my time writing the positive stories, and I have quite a few lined up! But I can’t discard the concern for the people whose stories I’ve written as I watch one after another sell their cows and/or their farms, and as I’m deeply concerned for the health and well-being of our children.

It’s time for Congress to revisit the law authorizing the dairy checkoff. I don’t say this lightly. The dairy checkoff budget dwarfs all others at $350 million a year. That’s a huge budget of dairy farmer funding under increasingly detrimental USDA control.

Maybe government speech is “protected” under the law, but the law  should no longer require dairy farmers to pay for it.

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Are we going to keep zigging? Or is it time to zag?

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 8, 2019

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — In Part 7 last week, we looked at some of the questions still unanswered by DMI regarding GENYOUth. As noted, a copy of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) created in 2009-10 and signed in 2011 by USDA, National Dairy Council and the NFL has not been provided.

Data requested on the “before” and “after” purchases of dairy by FUTP60 schools has also not been provided.

The question about total funds provided by DMI in addition to what appears on the GENYOUth 990 form has also not been answered. However, the 2016-17 DMI audit reflects amounts that are almost double what appears on the GENYOUth 990s.

And the question about Edelman’s role in the formation of GENYOUth and any knowledge or concern DMI may have about Edelman’s role in the EAT FReSH Initiative was simply not been acknowledged, let alone answered.

This is the concern that is perhaps most vexing, and here is the what the public record tells us.

Richard Edelman sits on the board of GENYOUth and as previously mentioned, he is credited with recruiting GENYOUth CEO Alexis Glick in a marketing publication’s story about her taking this position.

The Edelman firm is listed as a corporate sponsor of GENYOUth, including the board seat held by Richard Edelman, but the firm is not listed as a donor of funds on the GENYOUth IRS 990s, except that Richard Edelman, himself, is on record donating $25,000 in both 2016 and 2017.

Edelman is widely considered the world’s largest and leading public relations and marketing firm with offices worldwide. Based in Chicago, the firm, according to the writings of Richard Edelman himself, has been involved in work for DMI (Dairy Checkoff) for 20 years.

The firm is listed among the 41 corporate sponsors (logos pictured below) of the EAT FReSH Initiative. This Initiative is an extension of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

And, in Edelman’s own words in a May 2018 blog post, “Edelman has partnered with FReSH to help accelerate transformational change in global food systems.”

As reported in Part 6 of this series, Danone and PepsiCo are just two companies among the 41 corporate sponsors that are Edelman clients, and both companies planned new plant-based non-dairy “look-alike” product launches to coincide with the EAT Lancet Commission and EAT FReSH launch in the first quarter of 2019.

Edelman is best known for its annual Edelman Trust Barometer shared with the world’s leading business CEOs each year at the World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland.

Purpose driven marketing is their thing.

DMI will not acknowledge our question about Edelman’s role in the formation of GENYOUth. Our question about the link between Edelman and the marketing of the EAT FReSH Initiative was also not acknowledged.

However, on the secret Dairy Checkoff facebook page, we have received screenshot copies of answers given to farmers who have asked the checkoff staff questions about this. In those one-to-one facebook group replies, DMI staff are stating on the one hand that “Edelman is not involved in EAT Lancet.” On the other hand, stating that, “we should be glad we have someone representing us there.”

So which is it? And who is representing whom?

What we found in the public record is that Edelman is not, technically, on record as “the” marketing firm for EAT Lancet. The situation is far more subtle, and clever, because Edelman “loaned” their Amersterdam office account director, Lara Luten, to the EAT FReSH initiative for at least one year prior to 2019’s EAT FReSH launch.

This was confirmed in Richard Edelman’s blog post at the company website in May 2018 where he did a series of questions and answers about the work Luten was doing with the EAT FReSH Initiative during her second 6-month “secondment” with EAT FReSH.

A “secondment” is defined as the detachment of a person from his or her regular organization for temporary assignment elsewhere. 

In the blog post, Richard Edelman asks the firm’s Amsterdam account director on loan to the EAT FReSH Initiative what has been most interesting in her work with FReSH.

Her answer: “The current (2018) preparations for the EAT Stockholm Food Forum and the EAT Lancet Commission Report. But also: Setting a basis for communications for the FReSH team.”

That’s pretty clear, isn’t it?

He asks her what she has learned from this partnership that can be applied to other work, and Luten replies: “Working in a pre-competitive environment on a project (EAT FReSH) that is driving impact by leading the change. I’m also gaining in-depth knowledge about the food system (its topics and stakeholders) that will definitely be useful for other projects.”

So not only was the Edelman firm involved, but their involvement is “leading the change.”

In mid-January 2019, at precisely the point in time when the EAT Lancet Commission report was released and the EAT Forum and EAT FReSH Initiatives were launched, Luten left her employment with Edelman to take the job as manager of communications for the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

What is the WBCSD? It is described at its website as “ a CEO-led organization of forward-thinking companies that galvanizes the global business community to create a sustainable future for business.” It is made up of the 41 corporations, including the Edelman firm, that have launched the EAT FReSH Initiative.

In her new employment as WBCSD communications manager, Luten now carries on the public relations, social strategies and marketing she began planning, organizing and laying the groundwork for during the time that she was employed by Edelman “on secondment” to this 41-corporation group now launching the EAT FReSH Initiative.

It all fits together with how Edelman does business. This is not in any way a question of ethics. Plenty of marketing agencies work for competing accounts in the world of advertising and public relations. There’s nothing new about that.

There’s also nothing new about this concept of working in “pre-competitive” environments where products and marketing are developed in a way that all corporations involved can utilize in their own new product campaigns.

This is, in fact, a signature way that DMI has also functioned over the past 10 years. In addition to GENYOUth, the Sustainability and Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy began similarly with an MOU between DMI and the USDA, and it also includes the participation of dairy processors in a pre-competitive environment to develop and initiate innovations and sustainability measures. One example to come out of that pre-competitive environment is the innovation of ultrafiltered milk known as fairlife. Another example is the F.A.R.M program.

The goal of these pre-competitive collaborations is to give all corporate participants something they can use in a way that takes away a competitive edge.

What is concerning for dairy producers — who are mandatorily funding DMI — is that this has folded dairy promotion into a broader setting of corporations working in pre-competitive environments to pass back through the supply chain requirements about how things are done on the farm.

Toward that end, Edelman has actually played an even larger role in DMI projects over the past 20 years and especially in the past two years in coming up with the design of the Undeniably Dairy campaign. Again, purpose-driven marketing is an Edelman specialty.

And it seems noble to drive marketing with a social purpose. More companies today engage in purpose-driven social marketing, aiming to win consumers by showing what they are doing to address social concerns, such as the environment. In fact, they create problems to fit the solution they want to market.

In its own way, each corporate member of pre-competitive collaborations then capitalizes by introducing products that solve a real or “created” need in this realm of social purpose.

Here’s where it gets cloudy for dairy farmers. The government mandates that dairy farmers pay 15 cents per hundredweight for education, research and promotion. DMI administrates the use of the national portion of these funds and even sets the direction for regional funds — under the ever-more-micro-managing-oversight of USDA via two key MOU’s (GENYOUth and Innovation and Sustainability Center for U.S. Dairy).

DMI’s association with Edelman over 20 years has increased its alignment with purpose-driven marketing via pre-competitive environments with food supply chain corporations. On its surface, that doesn’t sound so bad.

But here’s another way to look at this trend. As one creative strategist, Zac Martin, stated recently in his opinion piece for an ad agency publication, “purpose” was 2018’s “most dangerous word.”

Martin defines “purpose” in marketing in the context of “brands aligning with and promoting social causes, almost always seemingly out of nowhere.”

This is most definitely the road we are on. We are being told that consumers don’t want to know what you know, they want to know that you care. We are told that consumers make brand choices based on the “why” not the “what.”

Some of this comes from the annual Edelman Trust Barometer and other research where consumers are surveyed about who they trust in their buying decisions.

But what information do consumers actually use when they buy? Price, flavor, freshness, perceived nutrition. 

Are we part of the problem? Are these alignments helping or hurting the promotion of actual milk?

Think about this. EAT FReSH is just the newest and most transformational example of how a “why” – climate change and the environment – are being used to sell new food products based on their fulfillment of a created “why”.  

What could be more perfect than to use unsubstantiated “science” to make untrue claims about certain food and agriculture impacts and then use that as a selling point for a whole new product answering the “why” that has first been created?

The EAT Foundation even has the new “planetary” diet patterns outlined (1 cup of dairy equivalent a day, a little over 1 ounce of meat/poultry/fish a day, and only 3 ounces of red meat per week, and 1 ½ eggs per week for examples). Within that context, the participating corporations are now coming out — simultaneously — with a whole bevy of new beverages, snacks and staples that do not contain any animal protein. Protein is played down and favors plant protein (incomplete proteins) and refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup is just fine.

They’ve created the “why” (planetary boundaries that they have set) and now they can sell consumers the products (fake meat and fake dairy) that fulfill that social planetary purpose that they themselves have convinced us we need!

Looking at this ‘social purpose’ trend in marketing, Zac Martin states the following: “The fad (of purpose-driven marketing) seems to driven by the likes of Simon Sinek, who notoriously said: ‘People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.’ But Simon is wrong. It’s a claim made without substantiation.”

In fact, Martin observes that purpose-driven marketing to is made up of “feel good” stuff that promotes and aligns with social causes while doing little as a sound marketing strategy.

Undeniably Dairy feels good. Telling our “why” feels good. Do consumers need to understand more about what happens on a dairy farm, why we do what we do? Of course! But this does not substitute for sound marketing of the dairy farmers’ product: Milk.

Martin says this trend amounts to “brand noise” that is “a sign of desperation”.

He defines purpose-driven social marketing as “fabricating an experiment, presenting pseudoscience disguised as research,” and all the while appearing “authentic.” (Think EAT FReSH).

He makes the point that when everyone is zigging, maybe it’s time to zag. I could not have said it better myself.

This series of articles is not meant to question the good intent of good people doing what they believe is good for their industry. Rather, the point is to show the direction dairy promotion dollars have taken since 2009 and some of the guiding principles that are not working.

Going back to part one, the graph showing fluid milk consumption trends could not be more clear. What we are doing is not working — unless the objective is to sell less fresh fluid milk, especially whole milk, that returns the highest value to farmers and keeps dairy farms relevant in communities, especially in the eastern states, while selling more global dairy commodities, at cheaper prices, fueling rapid expansion of more consolidated and integrated dairy structures in the western states.

Dairy Checkoff has been aligning more closely to USDA/HHS Dietary Guidelines when nothing in the Congressional Act establishing the Checkoff states that it must. Dairy Checkoff has been aligning in pre-competitive environments with corporations that turn around and push us right out of the dairy case with non-dairy alternatives that fill a social purpose of their own creation.

Dairy Checkoff has partnered with fast food chains that help sell more cheese, and yet one pre-emptive cheese company is a primary beneficiary, and rapid milk production expansion in certain states follows with that.

Dairy Checkoff has bought-in to the idea that rapid expansion of exports is a primary mission, when that actually lowers the farm-level milk price because the focus of those sales is the lower-value commodity dairy.

Meanwhile, the marketing largely ignores the best selling point we have: Nutrition and Flavor in the domestic market.

Now the pressure is on for Dairy Checkoff promotion to draw more farms into “telling our story.” As noble and wonderful as this may be, what’s the 15 cents doing to actually sell milk, to win back the milk market we’ve been losing in the process?

We have a simple product. It doesn’t have a list of additives to make it look, feel and sort of taste like milk, it IS milk.

We have a nutritious product. Nothing else on the market comes close.

We have a delicious product. But we have to market the tasteless version and train our children to dislike milk by doing so… because somehow we have ended up in a place where the government’s dietary police are in charge, and we either must obey, or we just think we must.

Telling consumers our ‘why’ can be a good thing, but with 15 cents per hundredweight forked over by farmers by government mandate, the question remains, what is being done to truly sell the “what” — the actual milk that comes out of the cow because of all the good things farmers do. 

Consumers don’t know squat about milk. That’s being proven over and over again, despite over $300 million a year in mandatory promotion funds deducted from farmer milk checks for promotion.

We’ve been zigging with the ziggers long enough.

Maybe it’s time to zag.

(The graph below shows us what has happened to per capita real fluid milk consumption since 2010 while we increased the amount of zigging, suggesting it is time to zag.)


This graph illustrates what has happened to fluid milk consumption and the steep drop-off since 2010 while the dairy industry has increased the amount of zigging with the ziggers. It may be time to zag, especially when we see that consumers — where given a choice — are CHOOSING whole milk more frequently since 2014 even though the checkoff message is still fat-free / low-fat.

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The need for more digging is even more obvious

Delays, diversions and disregard for specific questions keep the investigation rolling.

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, March 1, 2019

BROWNSTOWN, Pa.– The public record is clear on Dairy Checkoff alliances of the past decade through GENYOUth, and the financial side of the picture is coming into even sharper focus. 

Meanwhile, important questions were only partially answered last week while other questions were outright ignored.

This is especially true about the questions concerning the firm doing public relations and marketing for DMI over the past 20 years. 

Instead of answering those questions, we saw diversions. We saw DMI chairperson Marilyn Hershey, in her letter on page 17 of Farmshine last week (and at the end of the article at this link, here), give Dairy Checkoff the credit for changing the conversation on milk fat! Hard to believe!

While it is true that Dairy Checkoff has moved a bit in that direction since 2014, the change in the conversation can be attributed to independent science writer Nina Teicholz and her 10 years of exhaustive investigation that led to her book The Big Fat Surprise, which led to the interest of Time magazine on this topic.

As for our unanswered questions? We are still waiting.

Last week, we referenced some of the questions that had been sent to DMI three weeks ago. One being the MOU between USDA, Dairy Checkoff and NFL.

In previous installments of this series, we had mentioned the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by USDA and other government agencies, along with GENYOUth, National Dairy Council (NDC / DMI) and National Football League (NFL), and we included a photo of the original 2011 signing found on a Flickr photo stream link at a USDA blog post that year.

There had been no press release about this development at the time. But that’s water under the bridge.

After examining the public record, we reached out to DMI via chairperson Marilyn Hershey, and her letter, of course, was published on page 17 in the Feb 22 edition of Farmshine and at the end of the report at this link. Instead of answering each of our questions, she chose the option of writing a letter for publication, unedited, in Farmshine.

Most of the questions, however, remain unanswered. While there are vague glimpses here and there of something to hang a hat on, it is the outright silence on some questions that is so telling.

First and foremost, we have not received the requested full copy of the MOU. Our request to DMI was ignored. Our request to USDA has been referred to Public Affairs. And we wait.

Hershey maintained in an email response that the MOU is nonbinding and has nothing to do with how milk is promoted in school. In her letter, she said,“MilkPEP and DMI programs are limited to promoting school milk as governed by the Dietary Guidelines set by USDA.”

As mentioned last week, there is nothing in the Checkoff Order that requires this, just a progression in that direction over the past 10 years, and no sign of the MOU that was in development 10 years ago and officially signed eight years ago.

Another question we asked was: “What role did Edelman (the longtime public relations firm for DMI) play in the creation of GENYOUth as some public articles say Richard Edelman, on the GENYOUth board played a significant role?

This question was completely ignored in both the DMI letter published last week and in any other correspondence with Hershey or DMI staff. It was not even acknowledged. When pressed, it was ignored further.

We also asked: “What role does Edelman continue to play and are you at all concerned that Edelman and other aligned partners in GENYOUth are aligned with the EAT Forum, specifically the FReSH initiative which seeks to accelerate global transformation of the food system to plant-based diets for “healthy people and a healthy planet”?

This question was also completely ignored in both the DMI letter published last week and in any other correspondence with Hershey or DMI staff. It was not acknowledged.

Meanwhile, after these articles were published, the information has come under heavy criticism by DMI staff and board members in discussions with questioning farmers on the private facebook page where farmers can join to ask checkoff-related questions and DMI staff and board members engage in conversation. 

There, farmers who ask are told on the one hand that Edelman is “not involved” in the EAT Lancet Commission or EAT FReSH initiative, and on the other hand that it’s “good to have representation on the inside”. 

But again, no public statement or answers to these questions are forthcoming. This seems odd given that DMI is funded by dairy farmers through an Act of Congress and the questions are being asked by a dairy farming publication.

When asked if a particular statement made by DMI staff on the private Checkoff facebook page is considered an official public statement answering a question for which we have not yet received an answer, the staff reply by email was that these statements are only for the private facebook participants, not official public statements.

To this point, we have information from the public record,  questions for which we have received indirect answers, at best. Many questions that have been completely ignored. And we have a letter of response that contains plenty of diversions.

I find it puzzling that Hershey attempts to position DMI in the letter as the champion of changing the conversation on milk fat, that checkoff would be credited with the Time magazine “Eat Butter” cover in 2014, when that was through the independent work of science writer Nina Teicholz! 

I find it puzzling that I was promised a long list of all the whole milk and full-fat dairy research DMI has done for years to change the conversation, but I am still waiting for that list.

These are more diversions. Look over here, not over there. 

We’ll look at some of the other unanswered questions next week and see if we can press for more information about the Edelman PR firm regarding the EAT FReSH initiative.

As the public record is clear on some of the Dairy Checkoff alliances of the past decade, and as the financial side of the GENYOUth connection comes into sharper focus with additional documentation that is surfacing, and as specific important questions about the Edelman firm doing public relations and marketing for DMI over the past 20 years are ignored, it’s obvious to me that the digging needs to go further. 

And it will. 

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How did we get here?

OPINION

By Sherry Bunting, Farmshine, Friday, February 15, 2019

It’s like whack-a-mole. So many converging things are happening rapidly related to a ‘herding’ mechanism for the masses in terms of what we will eat in the future. 

Where did it all come from? How did we get here? Why is the science so flawed and against us?

What we see unfold via the EAT Lancet Commission and the Green New Deal over the past few weeks — not to mention the currently ongoing FDA and USDA deliberations on dietary guidelines and labeling for fake dairy and fake meat — has been a disaster gradually in the making. 

The wheels were set in motion 10 years ago, or more, and Dairy Checkoff was at the table in more ways than one.

Trouble is, until now, no one really knew about the seat at the table, the foundations, pre-competitive environments, memorandums of understanding and so forth. 

The connections, directions and alliances were unclear and clothed in happy talk about breakfast carts that put a half-pint of milk on every plate and maybe some fat-free yogurt and skim-processed cheese, excited talk about helping kids move more to lose weight, enthusiasm about putting farmers face-to-face with school children to teach them how they care for cows and environment (we all know that there are plenty of these efforts paid for by voluntary organizations and farmers themselves, FUTP60 can’t claim the ground on this part). 

What we did not see, due to lack of transparency, was the deeper layers of direction where dairy farmers have, in a sense, been funding their own demise.

This is not meant to attack people in the checkoff system working with good intention on behalf of dairy farmers or our nation’s young people. This series of articles I have been involved in has been a peeling of an onion that should have been diced on the table to pass the sniff test from the beginning — but it was not.

In part one of the GENYOUth series in January, we showed the steep nosedive in fluid milk sales from 2010 to the present. There is no shortage of experts who now point to the school milk changes as precipitating this decline and in fact costing dairy farmers a whole generation of beverage decision-makers who have and are now graduated into the New World Order on “healthy diets for a healthy planet” — despite the lack of rigorous science to support either in terms of milk and meat production.

There was no transparency in which primary dairy checkoff stakeholders could question the direction as the track was greased for where we are today. 

There was no transparency about alliances developed over the past 10 years — never mind the rather small detail of who paid whom for what and how many football players showed up to christen a school’s new breakfast cart. The IRS 990 figures reported in parts three and four of the GENYOUth series pale in comparison to the lack of transparency in Dairy Checkoff’s role as a participant educating and leading a whole generation of consumers, tied by an MOU to tote the government’s diet message.

There are two crossroads in front of us, and our dairy cows are standing in that intersection — mooing loudly for assistance, I might add.

Dairy Checkoff has taken the dairy industry down both roads — diet and sustainability — without transparency to its funding dairy farmers. 

Now, today, these two roads are converging at regulatory, legislative, corporate, media and cow-less protein innovation levels.

And the industry is splintering over what to do about it.

This conversation is at least 10 years past-due, and it is why farmers are fragmented, why they can’t come together.

You see, the template for the future is written for some, not all. 

It is written to be complicit in dietary goals that are not supported by rigorous science for our human health or our planetary health. 

It has been written, in part, with money taken mandatorily under USDA oversight from dairy farmers of all types and sizes to streamline “U.S. Dairy” into the New World Order of food choices that are on the cusp of substantial change with Silicon Valley in the picture with its billionaire-funded cell and yeast cultured startup companies needing this propaganda to launch their cattle-less dairy and beef protein. 

The FDA and USDA are poised to decide (and in the case of some labeling have already decided) how and IF consumers are going to be informed about what they are eating in the future.

As the deeper layers of the past 10 years of GENYOUth and Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy are revealed — with their separate memorandums of understanding (MOU’s) signed with USDA during the Obama/Vilsack era, and in ‘pre-competitive’ alliances with the world’s largest food and agriculture supply-chain companies — anyone publicly revealing or questioning the direction of checkoff on this road, is now cast as a character of division, a spoiler of profitability, a misinformed stakeholder reading the writings of a ‘yellow’ journalist.

In fact, DMI has created a secret facebook group for discussion of Dairy Checkoff questions and concerns. Participation is by invitation. Checkoff staff — hired by all dairy farmers through their mandatory checkoff dollars — are the gatekeepers, deciding who can join the group-think.

To understand where this is all leading, the crossover alliances between GENYOUth and the EAT Lancet Commission are known. (See related story here).

Dairy Checkoff is smack dab in the middle and has been for some time. That’s where you want to be if you want to influence a debate. But thus far, the direction of influence is questionable, naive and opaque at best, and has at worst created winners and losers among our nation’s dairy farmers, individually and regionally.

The global agenda unfolding right now has been years in the making. The deeper layers of the work at that table where Dairy Checkoff has had a seat — and its impact on the dairy farmers who collectively funded that seat — has been quietly pursued… until now.

Consumers have been telling us what they want: simple, flavorful, natural, real food. That’s what dairy and livestock producers do best!

But instead of marketing to that desire, instead of bolstering our consumer ranks by feeding that desire, the industry and checkoff have aligned us with government and corporate and special interests who want to shape and restrain those choices for future generations, by using our children as change agents for an agenda that has not been transparent, nor adequately discussed, by its funding stakeholders… until now.

Now, the global agenda has hit play in the public domain, and many of us are trying to find the rewind button.

Stay tuned. We’re not done.

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Who is empowering whom? PART ONE: Dairy check-off’s GENYOUth thin on milk.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: They call it “the dairy farmers’ youth wellness program” because it has been depicted as the brainchild of the National Dairy Council… But GENYOUth — including its flagship Fuel Up to Play 60 (FUTP60) — is thin on milk and threatens to steal even more demand as future milk drinkers are steered away from nutritious whole milk products. Meanwhile, the anti-animal and environmental NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) have been infiltrating new billionaire “sustainability” alliances poised to profit on the main course, while dairy farmers bow-down in hopes of crumbs. This is Part One of an investigative multi-part series.

Gala_Logo.png

Depicted above is the illustration used to promote and glorify the 2018 GENYOUth Gala that was held at the Ziegfeld Ballroom in New York City on Nov. 27. The “superheroes” sponsors are listed further down on the 2018 GENYOUth Gala website. PepsiCo was the “hero” sponsor at $150,000. Champion sponsors of $100,000 each were UnitedHealthcare, Corteva Agriscience, Inmar and fairlife. So-called “defender” sponsors included Domino’s, Ecolab, Jamba Juice, Land O’Lakes, NFLPA, SAP, Leprino Foods, Schreiber, Ameritrade, RBC Capital Markets and Omnicom Group, each of which gave $50,000.

By Sherry Bunting, from Farmshine, Friday, January 11, 2019

BROWNSTOWN, Pa. — How serious is the National Dairy Board about improving fluid milk sales? We see some renewed emphasis on this lately, but our most important sales — those to children in school — threaten to steal even more demand from the future as we lose future milk drinkers with the forced service of only fat-free and 1% low-fat milk in the school lunch and breakfast programs.

Recent studies show that children and teenagers in the poorest demographic of the U.S. population are leading the epidemic of obesity and diabetes. One study by University of Michigan Health System, for example, revealed that for every 1% increase in low-income status among school districts, there as a 1.17% increase in rates of overweight/obese students. Researchers used data collected from mandated screenings that began in Massachusetts schools in 2011, and the percentage of overweight/obese students was compared with the percentage of students in each district eligible for free and reduced school lunch, transitional aid or food stamps (SNAP).

The meals these students receive at school are their best two options for nutrition and satiety all day. There are few restrictions for cheap, high-carb, high-fructose-corn-syrup foods and beverages that can be purchased with SNAP cards, so what will they find at the end of the day for their hunger at home? Soda pop and Dollar Store snacks.

What role is the National Dairy Council and its GENYOUth program playing?

The GENYOUth collaboration is aimed at making “a lasting difference in the lives of children.” That sounds great, but what have been both the intended and unintended lasting consequences?

Certainly, there is a long list of dairy research projects funded by the NDC. That’s a good thing.

But where the rubber meets the road, GENYOUth and its flagship program Fuel Up to Play 60 (FUTP60) are aimed at promoting a “healthy lifestyle” that focuses on 60 minutes of physical activity daily and consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein “including low-fat and fat-free dairy.”

For nearly 10 years, the dairy checkoff has parroted the Dietary Guidelines on dairy service to children (and adults) when it comes to institutional feeding — the largest category of the food economy and the place where seeds are planted for lifelong choices based on nutrition education and flavor.

Let’s look at how GENYOUth was launched in 2010.

At the Nov. 27, 2018 gala in New York City, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stated that GENYOUth was the concept of Dairy Management Inc (DMI) CEO Tom Gallagher. Gallagher today serves as chairman of the GENYOUth board.

In a YouTube video of Goodell’s remarks — before handing the coveted 2018 Vanguard Award to PepsiCo CEO Albert Carey — Goodell stated that Gallagher came to him with the idea for GENYOUth 10 years ago, which was then “founded” in 2010 as a partnership between the National Dairy Council (NDC) and the National Football League (NFL).

In fact, in its 2014 Progress Report, GENYOUth’s beginning is described as making “cultural shifts” in school nutrition and exercise, stating further that, “Through signing a six-way Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the National Dairy Council, the National Football League, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Education, and Health and Human Services, we have created a productive synergy that has made the sky the limit for GENYOUth.”

According to a report at its website, genyouthnow.org, the foundation seeks to “convene leaders in a movement to empower America’s youth to create a healthier future.”

The 2018 GENYOUth Gala in New York City was billed as “honoring America’s everyday superheroes” and the Vanguard Award, as mentioned, went to PepsiCo.

But let’s go back to the second gala on Dec. 7, 2017 aboard the Intrepid in New York City. Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack — who now serves as CEO of dairy checkoff-funded U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) — was presented with the Vanguard Award that year.

The GENYOUth website cited “Vilsack’s accomplishments for dairy farmers” under President Obama — for having “legislated to improve the health of America’s kids.”

More specifically, the Vilsack accolades stated that he partnered with First Lady Michelle Obama on her “Let’s Move!” initiative — “alongside GENYOUth to improve the health of America’s children.”

These words show the partnership the NDC / DMI has had with the Obama / Vilsack administration on shared goals of promoting exercise and low-fat / high carb diets for children and youth.

According to the former GENYOUth foundation website before it was revamped to genyouthnow.org, the Vanguard Award presentation to Vilsack was described in January 2018 as follows:

“Sec. Vilsack helped pass and implement the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to help combat child hunger and obesity by making the most significant improvements to U.S. school meals in 30 years.”

What was included in these “significant improvements” in 2010?

For starters, America’s schools were forced to offer only fat-free flavored milk and only 1% or fat-free white milk, while the screws were tightened on the requirement that less than 10% of a school meal’s calories could come from saturated fat and by reducing the total number of calories in a meal served to children at school, while at the same time putting both program and promotion emphasis on plant-based meals containing scant lean protein.

This means that not only are dairy producers prohibited from putting their best and most nutritious foot forward with future milk drinkers at school, the schools are forced to serve butter substitutes and imitation cheese or cheeses that are diluted with starch to decrease the amount of calories the students receive from fat).

During the Pennsylvania Dairy Summit in February 2018, keynote speaker Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise — without realizing the significance of her statement — put these USDA / GENYOUth ideas to shame. She stated:

“The fat we eat is not the fat we get. The idea that 60 minutes of exercise can make up for a bad diet is disingenuous. You can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet.”

And Teicholz backed up her statement with facts, studies and charts.

Her 2014 book details her 10-years investigation, revealing the lack of sound science to support low-fat diets. Not only are new studies bearing this out, old studies were found to have been “buried” by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and American Heart Association, because they did not support the fat-heart hypothesis of Ancel Keys.

GENYOUth and FUTP60 not only dutifully “followed” these government guidelines but in reality worked alongside the Obama administration to develop them and further the reach of this low-fat dogma.

The implementation of those school milk rules have cost dairy farmers plenty in lost milk sales. Losses so steep that they drove the gradual declines in fluid milk consumption (see Fluid Milk Timeline chart below) plunging downward like a rock from 2010 through 2017 (most recent full-year figures)

FluidMilkTimeline-bunting.jpg

Timelines don’t lie. As we look at this fluid milk timeline, we can see the layered effects of government dietary policy, USDA requirements for fat-free milk (2010), that move occurring alongside the creation of GENYOUth (2010) and some reversal in whole milk trends moving higher after Nina Teicholz’s book Big Fat Surprise made the cover of Time magazine. Meanwhile, the past decade has also been one of FDA non-enforcement of milk’s standard of identity, allowing plant-based alternatives to take hold and proliferate. 

Bob Gray for the Northeast Association of Farm Cooperatives addressed these losses on a dairy policy forum panel in Washington exactly one year ago on January 8, 2018. Gray said: “For the last six years (2010 through 2016 data), we have not been able to sell 1% milk in the schools.”

He noted that in just the four years from 2012 to 2015, dairy producers had “lost 288 million half pints of sales to schoolchildren because of this move, alone.” And those losses continued through 2016 and 2017 and into 2018, despite the small move by the Trump administration to allow 1% flavored milk back into schools.

This is an uphill battle to turn around — what with all the fat-free and low-fat promotion and the fact that schools are already aligned with processors that prefer to keep the fat-free pipeline going.

In addition to GENYOUth honoring Secretary Vilsack with the 2017 Vanguard Award, the National Dairy Board provided him a checkoff-funded salaried position as CEO of USDEC, where his rallying cry has been to get export sales to 20% of expanding total milk production while Class I sales as a percentage of total milk production declined to below 20% by the end of 2017.

Remember, experts at various dairy market forums throughout 2018 have made the point that exports do not raise farm-level milk prices because they are “commodity clearing markets.”

But maybe that is the point.

If fluid milk consumption erodes as a percentage of milk production, the cost of milk to processors is reduced for the many other products competing globally for export sales to increase. Meanwhile, a pipeline for fat-free milk sales keeps the cost of milkfat for other products from accelerating in the farm milk check.

The highest-value class under the Federal Order pricing scheme is the shrinking piece of an expanding commodity-dairy-production-for-export pie.

Meanwhile, the past decade has been one of FDA non-enforcement of milk’s standard of identity, allowing plant-based alternatives to take hold and proliferate.

One can argue that the National Dairy Council — whether simply following USDA’s lead or by working alongside USDA to lead — has played right into the hands of GENYOUth ‘friend’ PepsiCo / Quaker.

Remember, Quaker was a company that DMI specifically partnered with a few years back, but the milk part of the Quaker Oatmeal promotion never really materialized, just like we don’t see the milk part promoted in any of the NFL’s Fuel Up to Play 60 spots. But the NFL is joined at the hip to PepsiCo with side-by-side logos during televised games.

Now, just six weeks after receiving the 2018 Vanguard award from GENYOUth, PepsiCo is launching its own Quaker Oat beverage.

In fact, PepsiCo CEO Albert Carey had the audacity to do a brief sales-pitch for what he called “our new oat milk” in his remarks after NFL commissioner Goodell handed him the highest GENYOUth award on behalf of the NFL and the National Dairy Council.

We’ll dig into that in future parts of this investigative series.

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