USDA says to eat more cheese while also supposedly working to fight obesity

Friday, November 12, 2010 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
Tags: USDA, cheese, health news

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(NaturalNews) The government often has an interesting way of contradicting its own efforts and wasting money in the process. Marketers at an organization called Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), which is run and partially funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), have been working in overdrive to promote higher cheese consumption in the U.S. But while they do this, the USDA itself and other government officials are simultaneously urging people to be cautious of fatty products like cheese because they say these foods promote obesity.

With a $140 million annual budget, DMI's sole purpose is to devise ways to get people to eat more dairy products. Last year, the organization worked with flailing Domino's Pizza to improve the company's image and pizza quality. DMI helped Domino's create a new pizza concept that includes 40 percent more cheese, and spent $12 million in the process to help market it. The result? Massive new sales for Domino's and a significant increase in cheese consumption. Mission accomplished.

But how can the same government agency that discourages people from eating fatty foods have an organization within its ranks that works specifically to promote higher cheese consumption? And what is the purpose of these contradictory agendas? Nobody really knows for sure.

According to a recent New York Times piece, agriculture secretaries in both the Obama and Bush administrations have been working to push restaurants to use more cheese in food dishes. This, of course, has been taking place at the same time that other government agencies are trying to curb cheese consumption. And oddly enough, Michelle Obama was urging restaurant owners back in September to "offer healthy menu options" that include less cheese. So which is it, more cheese or less cheese?

DMI spends millions on false marketing campaigns

Besides using taxpayer dollars to help corporate giants like Domino's and Pizza Hut improve sales, DMI has spent millions promoting false ideas about the health benefits of eating conventional cheese, in order to increase cheese sales.

In 2003, DMI launched a massive marketing campaign promoting dairy products as the key to weight loss. The group licensed research from Dr. Michael Zemel, a nutritionist at the University of Tennessee, that claimed dairy products help promote weight loss. It also spent millions of dollars on additional research into the project as well.

The campaign lasted for four years until some groups challenged its validity. Reports indicate that government attorneys quickly defended DMI's cheese weight loss claims, insisting that the USDA "reviewed, approved, and continually oversaw" the entire campaign. But the campaign eventually ended in 2007.

According to the DMI website, the organization uses "sound science to support dairy's role as part of a healthy and active lifestyle," but a New York Times investigation seems to suggest otherwise. DMI allegedly hired on researchers to verify Zemel's claims concerning dairy, but several of them -- including dairy proponent Jean Harvey-Berino from the University of Vermont -- could not find a legitimate scientific link between eating dairy and losing weight.

Harvey-Berino presented her findings to DMI, but the organization rejected them and threatened to audit her work in retaliation. It also decided at the time to proceed with the campaign anyway. Meanwhile, the USDA's nutrition committee was distributing brochures urging people to improve their health by cutting cheese consumption.

Conventional cheese is not a health food

No matter how you slice it (or shred it), eating lots of cheese is hardly the best route to good health. Regardless of what DMI may say to the contrary, conventional dairy cattle are loaded with artificial growth hormones like genetically engineered recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), which is linked to causing mastitis in cows and cancer in humans.

Conventional dairy cows typically eat feed rations composed of things like genetically-modified (GM) corn and soy, which studies have shown can cause digestive and other health problems in mammals. They also spend much of their lives in filthy feedlots, rather than grazing on open pastures like they were made to do, which changes the composition of their milk and meat.

Raw milk products from grass-fed, organically-raised cows and goats, on the other hand, can be beneficial to health, especially when fermented. But these types of dairy products are far different from the generic dairy products being promoted by DMI, which is why consumers must be cautious when evaluating any health claims about "dairy". As it stands, DMI's claims that conventional cheese promotes health and encourages weight loss are unsubstantiated.

If you are looking for some natural alternatives to dairy cheeses, by the way, you might want to check out Daiya, a soy-free vegan cheese alternative (, and Parma!, a vegan alternative to Parmesan cheese (

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