Monday, November 8, 2010

Cheese scandal rocks USDA

Image: Tom Mason
What a silly headline, but it is true. The New York Times' Michael Moss recently exposed some rather backwards happenings in the US Department of Agriculture. An entity called Dairy Management Inc. has been created as a marketing program within the USDA with the goal to promote and sell cheese products. Lots of people like extra cheese, so what's the problem? 

Well the problem is that cheese is often high in saturated fat and calories which can contribute to heart disease and obesity, and these promotions are happening along side the First Lady and the USDA's federal campaign to reduce obesity and promote healthy eating. In addition to this federal funding is being spent on these multi-million dollar corporations for product development and for ad campaigns. In the USDA's Path to Personal Health brochure they even specifically suggest ordering pizza with half the cheese. 

Image: Nutri-Shun Corp Comics
Dairy Management has been in cahoots with both Pizza Hut and Domino's (and Taco Bell, and Wendy's )  to sell products with more cheese. According to Moss' research, Dairy Marketing recently partnered with Domino's Pizza to create new pies with up to 40% more cheese. This line of extra cheesy pies was promoted with a $12M marketing campaing that Dairy Managment (a part of the USDA) paid for. The new pies, (which include menu items from the American Legends(r) and Feasts(r) series such as the Wisconsin Six Cheese, Philly Cheese Steak, Bacon Cheeseburger Feast, and ExtravaganZZa Feast) and the promotion of Domino's "new and improved" recipe have sky rocketed sales... for Domino's... a corporation... that doesn't share profit with the USDA...

In a 1999 memo to Gita Gale, Manager of Cheese Marketing for  Dairy Marketing Inc, Derek Correia,(former Director of Product Innovation, Pizza Hut) and Lisken Lawler (Director of Concept Development, Pizza Hut),  wrote how excited they were about Gale's presentation and  wrote ‘Let’s sell more pizza and more cheese!’ They also signed  the memo as Lord and Lady of Cheese rather than include their actual job titles. Cute. These meetings resulted in Pizza Hut's Cheesy Bites Crust Pizza and 2002's six-week "Summer of Cheese" campaign, which resulted in the use of 102 million additional pounds of cheese, by Pizza Hut.

This extra cheese phenomenon might seem like a delicious idea but it can actually be very unhealthy. Chemical analysis of a medium Wisconsin Six Cheese pizza from Domino's reveled some hard truths about extra cheese.  One slice contains 12g of saturated fat which is more that three quarters of the recommended daily amount. and 430 calories People are average are eating more cheese.
 Moss wrote "Americans now eat an average of 33 pounds of cheese a year, nearly triple the 1970 rate. Cheese has become the largest source of saturated fat; an ounce of many cheeses contains as much saturated fat as a glass of whole milk."
Mozzarella Consumption
Cheese Consumption

Despite criticism from nutritional experts this extra cheese push doesn't show signs of slowing. Dairy Management  Inc. has an annual budget of nearly $140M from fees the government collects from the dairy industry. DMI receives an additional several million dollars from the USDA. They are standing by their extra cheese pizzas by claiming it supports rural framing/dairy communities and that cheese is an important source of calcium.

It is important to mention that the pizzas discussed in this article/cheese scandal are specialty pizzas that have up to 40% more cheese than usual. Right now for a large (14") pizza Domino's uses 7 oz of cheese and Pizza Hut and Little Caesars both use 8oz.

Read more about this cheesy scandal.

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