Politics

What Will the U.S. Government Do With 1.4 Billion Pounds of Cheese?

The USDA’s support of the dairy industry has changed the American diet and welfare state forever.

The United States’ dairy surplus has reached a record high, rounding out at 1.4 billion pounds of cheese. Reports attempting to quantify this astonishing amount have deferred to metrics like “enough to wrap around the U.S. Capitol.” Suffice to say, nobody’s suggesting we could consume it all.

The nation eating this much cheese is not only mind-boggling: It’s growing less and less likely. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, Americans have cut their milk consumption down from 35 pounds to an average of 15 per person annually. The excess is turned into cheese for storage and longevity (and the enjoyment of delicious cheese products). At the same time, government subsidies have continued to support dairy production, buying up surplus to keep prices steady. That leaves us with more cheese than anyone, even the experts, knows what to do with.

“What has changed—and changed fairly noticeably and fairly recently—is people are turning away from processed cheese,” Cornell University agriculture economist Andrew Novakovic said in an interview with NPR. “It’s the same as it is for everything else: If you’ve got too much of something, the price has to go down until consumption rises.”

In the past, the U.S. government has supported dairy farmers through various programs and agencies, accumulating a staggering surplus with policies unique to this industry. What it’s done with that surplus has changed the American welfare state and diet forever.


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