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Mixed signals: Why is the USDA promoting nutrition and pushing cheese?

This week on The Watch List: Why would an agency launch a campaign to get Americans to eat less saturated fat, and — at the same time — promote one of the single greatest sources of it?

Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that an organization called Dairy Management — which reports to the U.S. Department of Agriculture — gave Domino’s Pizza millions of dollars to develop and market a new line of extra-cheesy pizzas. Nutrition experts howled that the new pies were nearly the opposite of the low-fat food that the USDA usually promotes.

We wanted to know whether there are other examples of the USDA working at cross purposes with … the USDA. Sure enough, Need to Know correspondent Rick Karr found that the example cited by The Times isn’t the only case of the government sending mixed messages when it comes to the food we eat.

David A. Kessler, who appears in this segment, is the author of “The End of Overreating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite.”



  • M Schmalz

    I just watched your segment on USDA and ag. in general. I was stunned by this. I am a farmer/rancher in ND. Every time I sell an beef animal-I pay a $1.00 of which the money goes to promote beef. None of this goes to USDA!!! This is no different than ” the yam coliation promoting their product” just kidding. I feel that I produce a healthy product for everyone.I feel that you are being mean to agriculture in general. I have watched your show for a long time and thought that you showed both sides fairly in the past. I’m really not sure now and don’t believe I am getting the full picture on other subjects now. Please do your research and talk to some of us on the farm. We do the absolute best that we can to put good quality food on your table.

  • Connoisseurodg

    I think there is a more informed public aware of the quality big chains like McDonald’s, and/or one of the main meat-packing companies demand. Since watching Food Inc., I buy organic, mostly local, homegrown foods. Once you cut a deal with the “big boys”, quality goes out the door in place of quantity. If you raise healthy cattle (ie. grass-fed diet, no hormones), then more power to you. I might even be interested in some responsibly-raised beef.

  • Ziusudra

    It’s called conscience and commitment to honor thyself first then all others, it’s gone now replaced by honor thy dollar bill! ……and we think there is still hope? think again…..people are getting smarter but the internet and PBS won’t always share information free………the day is coming when that too will be an extra charge on your bill!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Ziusudra

    i appreciate your comment, and also your loyalty to your commitment but sometimes your leaders are misleading you -believe half of what you see and none of what you hear…….

  • Marlinpf

    Your wasting your money if your paying more for organic. They charge more but cannot grow enough of their products economically to feed the the mass population. This segment of Need to Know needs to show both sides of this issue and not just look at food production from an academic point of view. The farmers and ranchers that supply our food are the hardest working people in this country. We Need to Know their side of this story also.

  • kdghantous

    I’m confused. What does the low volume characteristics of organic food have to do with its nutritional quality? I am only guessing, but the reason why it costs more is precisely because it’s low volume.

    Awareness of organic food has been around for along time. I suggest there’s a damned good reason for that.

  • kdghantous

    Anything milk derived should be minimized if it’s overly processed (pasteurized, homogenized). At least one can buy non-homogenized milk in some places. Processed milk is a main cause of congestion and some medical problems. It basically clogs your intestines. I am not interested in the opinions of dairy lobby groups. Others are welcome to their own perspective.

  • Rick Karr

    Dear Mr or Ms Schmalz —

    We didn’t report that the dollar a head that you pay goes to the USDA. We did, however, report that everything the Beef Checkoff does with regard to advertising — or collaboration with fast-food chains like Quizno’s — has to be approved by the USDA. And that’s where the tension comes in — that many of those collaborations between checkoff programs and fast-food retailers, according to nutrition experts, seem to run counter to the healthy eating guidelines that the USDA promotes. What’s more, we reported that, in the case of the Pork Checkoff and McDonald’s McRib, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the meat — it’s the other stuff that McDonald’s adds to the sandwich (or that Quizno’s adds to the sandwiches it developed with the Beef Checkoff) that nutrition experts say undercut the health benefits of the meat.

    We didn’t speak to a single critic of checkoff programs who had anything bad to say about farmers and ranchers. Their criticisms were reserved for the USDA, which they claim is undercutting its own healthy eating message by approving marketing campaigns for what they call unhealthy processed foods.

    Thanks for watching,
    Rick Karr

  • Mysterjay

    My father has farmed for the last 60 years. Working hard to put food on his table. To know that the usda has this double standard is upsetting. It is understandable that they have a job to do, but when will commons sense play a part in our every day lives. Farmers should be promoted in there business and not given the finger. Cheese is no more important then the fruits , vegtables, ect and should be given the same attention or it may appear that the usda has a special interest in the dairy(Domino). Could it be that dairy(Domino) is paying more to promote this product? Money as everything to do with these promotions of products. The usda should work for All farmers as well as the people who are supporting farmers(tax payers). All farmers pay money for these promotions and all should benefit the same. Thank-you for this report, sometimes it takes a slap in the face for us to wake-up and see what’s really going on!

  • Stacey Hughes

    M Schmalz, as a rancher who breeds beef animal, could you please explain to us how depositing a $3.00 slow-release antibotic in the ear of the cattle – a standard industry practise – can be summarized as “We do the absolute best that we can to put good quality food on your table.” ? You get about $20 more per animal, but in the long term this “quality food” makes viruses immune to antibiotics at the cost to society far exceeding additional profits to the meat industry. We all do “absolute best” to profit at the expense of others. That includes you…

  • Mschmalz

    Obviously you know little about antibiotics. The purpose of antibiotics is to treat bacterial infections (not viral). For example, if you were to go to the doctor to treat the common cold, he would give you an antibiotic. He would not give you an antibiotic to treat to a viral infection such as influenza. Most farmers and ranchers do not use antibiotics unless their animals are sick. Would you like to eat an animal that is sick? If you consume an animal that is sick, would you feel safe? There is a chance that this is what you are eating in organic products.

  • Santafebites

    How did we go from talking about cheese to beef? I just wanted to add that when I was pregnant I was on W.I.C. and they provide big blocks of cheese for us poor folk, and it landed up getting stuck in my gut. I was very uncomfortable, and hardly the most nutritious thing to eat when pregnant. I think the government does endorse cheese and dairy products. When my son was born lactose intolerant, they had a really hard time understanding that I needed soy formula.

  • kari_marie

    Most farmers and ranchers may not, but feedlots give antibiotics as a preventative measure.

  • JS

    accurate. Everyone needs to eat a lot less meat and more beans, grain, and veggies $$$.