U.S. Dairy Farmers are Leading the Global Food Waste Epidemic

U.S. Dairy Farmers are Leading the Global Food Waste Epidemic

Food waste is practically a four-letter word these days. But that hasn’t stopped U.S. dairy farmers from dumping tens of millions of gallons of milk this year—some 66 Olympic swimming pools worth–as dairy prices continue to drop.

The “excess” milk is reportedly the most that’s been wasted in nearly two decades; and the USDA also just committed to purchase $20 million worth of cheddar cheese excess as dairy prices have plunged 36 percent since 2014.

U.S. dairy and meat farmers expanded production beginning in 2014 because of global shortages. But now, as commodity prices continue to drop, farmers are left with more milk products than they can sell.

“The USDA wants to demonstrate that it’s there for dairy,” Marion Bozic, an economist at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, told the Chicago Tribune.

And the dairy industry is scrambling to find more uses for dairy in everything from subsidized school lunches to fast processed foods.

“Dairy Management Inc., a de facto marketing firm that is paid for by America’s 43,000 dairy farmers, has invested tens of millions of dollars in the past year to develop new milk-heavy menu items with McDonald’s Corp., Yum Brands Inc.’s Taco Bell, Domino’s Pizza Inc. and about 10 other companies it calls ‘dairy partners,’ ” explains the Wall Street Journal.

But it’s still not enough. Some farmers say the cost to transport raw milk is even too costly right now, so they’re just dumping it.

If there’s a worst kind of wasted food, it’s wasted animal products. Nevermind that animals raised for food make the ultimate sacrifice—especially dairy cows–but animal agriculture is also highly damaging to the environment, unsustainable, and incredibly dangerous for farm and slaughterhouse workers. Add to that the increasing demand for plant-based alternatives to meat, eggs, and dairy– the dairy alternatives market alone is expected to surpass $35 billion by 2024–and the future appears to be even more unstable for America’s livestock farmers.

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image via USDA

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.