It’s Time to Cut the Cheese

Why is the U.S. bailing out another big polluter?

Big Cheese is getting $20 million of your taxpayer dollars. No, the feds aren’t attempting the world’s largest plate of nachos. The U.S. Department of Agriculture just announced it will bail out the dairy industry by using government funds to purchase 11 million pounds of surplus cheese; cheese nobody wanted. This is more serious than wasting our hard-earned dollars to satisfy Tex-Mex lovers — the federal government is actually spending our money to destroy the planet.

Dairy adds nearly 95 billion pounds of greenhouses gases to the atmosphere every year. That’s more than what a dozen coal-fired power plants spew in the same time.

Every glass of milk and every block of cheese consumed adds to climate change, habitat loss and other significant threats to wildlife. The Center for Biological Diversity, where I work, crunched the numbers on the environmental impact of dairy production for our Extinction Facts labels campaign, and it’s a pretty grim picture.

Americans eat about 36 pounds of cheese every year, 22.8 pounds of frozen dairy desserts, 14.9 pounds of yogurt, and 5.5 pounds of butter per person — about 90 pounds of dairy substances, including cheese. But wait, there’s more: On top of that, we consume nearly 300 cups of milk each year per person. So, where did this surplus — the highest in 30 years — come from?

Believe it or not, our consumption of dairy is declining. With healthy alternatives like rice, soy, almond and coconut milk readily available and new plant-based cheeses saturating the market, people are making smarter choices and the dairy industry is losing ground. Most other industries would have to adapt to market forces, but the USDA continues to keep animal agriculture afloat whether people want those products or not.

In 2015 the USDA refused to include recommendations from its own panel of experts for people to eat fewer animal-based products and more plant-based foods in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In that same year, 9.3 million dairy cows produced more than 208 billion pounds of milk, and the dairy surplus continued to grow.

Why is our government ignoring market demand and the advice of its own experts to prop up an unsustainable food system? A National Academy of Medicine committee is reviewing the procedures for producing the Dietary Guidelines in response to concerns over transparency and research standards.

But our planet can’t wait another five years, which is why we’re calling on the USDA to promote sustainable diets now and hold the meat and dairy industries responsible for the environmental harm they cause — instead of paying them to pollute.

It’s time for the feds to cut the cheese, acknowledge the importance of sustainability in American diets, and stop propping up industries that jeopardize our health and the health of the planet.

Jennifer Molidor is the senior food campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity.