The Cause of the Dairy Crisis — Fake Food

It’s been in all the papers, on all the major media network news: The U.S. dairy industry is in trouble. Farmers are pouring milk down drains and slaughtering their cows for beef. Why? Ostensibly, it’s because a surplus of milk has prices at an all time low.

But why has the demand for milk fallen off a cliff? Is it really that the average consumer is buying less of it?

Nope. Turns out it’s because of a new fake food hitting the market: milk protein concentrates (MPCs).

Okay, so maybe I’m oversimplifying. Last week the National Family Farm Coalition held a press conference outlining the real reasons behind the dairy crisis. John Bunting, the dairy farmer who wrote the press release, also shared his detailed analysis of the true cause of the crisis here.

Not surprisingly, he points the finger first at government policies which artificially inflate the retail cost of dairy products. All you liberty-loving Real Food enthusiasts reading his analysis will be armed with yet more stones to throw at our corrupt and failing federal government.

But the true shock to me came in the second half of his report, where he documented the flood of imported milk protein concentrates (MPCs) hitting the American marketplace since December of 2008.

MPCs are basically a cheaper, foreign alternative to non-fat dry milk (NFDM) usually coming from water buffalos or yaks in places like China, India, Poland, and Ukraine. MPCs are created when milk is ultra-filtered through a process which drains out the lactose and keeps the milk proteins and other large molecules intact. Unbelievably (or believably, depending on the level of your lack of trust in the FDA), MPCs are not in the FDA’s Generally Recognized As Safe category and are therefore not approved as a food ingredient in the US. (source)

But they are in everything.

A quick walk through the grocery store reading dairy labels, and you’ll note that most processed cheeses now contain MPCs, including Kraft Singles.

US dairy manufacturers are no longer relying on US-manufactured milk and NFDM and are instead turning to imported MPCs as a milk substitute.

Why?

They’re cheaper. End of story.

In one interesting turn of events after the National Family Farm Coalition’s press conference of March 4th, State Senator Darrel J. Aubertine of NY introduced legislation requiring a product to be made with milk — not MPCs — if it wants to be labled a “dairy product.”

So, what does this mean for you, my Real Food Lovin’ friends?

On the one hand, I feel a sense of relief. At least I don’t buy any of that fake milk. I buy my milk fresh and raw from a local farmer, and I know I’m doing my part to keep that particular small dairy operation in business.

But on the other hand, I feel disheartened by the state of things in the US. I’m saddened that our food supply is so far removed from producing Real Food that a degredation like this can happen. Once again, our insistence on finding the absolutely cheapest way to manufacture “food,” coupled with a healthy dose of government interference in the market, is causing farmers everywhere to watch their already meager incomes fall a dramatic 50% in the last quarter alone!

Now more than ever, we need to Fight Back! Please join me this week for Fight Back Fridays. Let’s make our collective voices known. Last week we had 21 contributors! I want to beat that. If you were thinking of joining in, but couldn’t get around to doing it, I urge you to consider taking the leap this Friday.


Come on, people, let’s change the way America (and the industrialized world) eats! We CAN do it.

(h/t to the Ethicurean for the news, Photo by Essjay)
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Comments

  1. Kyle says

    I was definitely wondering about that. Milk prices are dropping so much! I thought it was just where I lived. Were moving even further away from real food. On labels, does the ingredients list say MPC’s or does it say something else? And how can they sell something that isn’t approved?

  2. says

    Nice job reporting this Kristen. Lie you I generally avoid fake food, especially when it comes to dairy, but I still purchase some cheese products at the grocery, so I’m pleased to know about this little trick being played on the unsuspecting consumer.

    Thanks!

    Rod Newbound, RN

  3. says

    Kyle — On the ingredients label it says “milk protein concentrate.” And technically, they *can’t* sell something that isn’t approved. But, it’s no surprise to me that the amount of imported MPCs has gone up 300% since 2004, and jumped 40% in the last quarter of 2008 alone. The FDA can’t adequately do it’s job.

    Rod — You’re welcome. Really, all the reporting credit goes to The Ethicurean. Those guys are great at staying on top of food-related news.

  4. says

    Wow, that was news to me, but then again, like you, I’m don’t buy that sort of “edible food like substance” so I haven’t yet run across MPCs listed on the labels of my food purchases (those foods that even have label, most don’t!). Not surprised, though.

  5. says

    Let’s see if I have this right:

    1. Milk cow, enjoy fresh, raw milk.
    2. Homogenize milk so you don’t have to go to the “trouble” of shaking it up.
    3. Industrialize dairies so that one dairy can serve millions of customers instead of dozens.
    4. Begin feeding cows trash to keep feeding costs down.
    4. Subject milk to heat to kill pathogens that develop from improper care and treatment of dairy animals.
    5. Irradiate milk so it is shelf stable and needs no refrigeration.
    6. Treat all dairy animals with hormones so they can make more and more milk.
    7. Treat all dairy animals with prophylactic antibiotics, hopefully (cross your fingers) keeping them alive long enough to make enough milk to realize profit.
    8. Import fractionated milk products from other countries, further increasing profit.
    9. Realize, uh oh, at some point in the process we messed up and now you’re going broke.
    10. Throw away the “junk” milk you’ve produced and now can’t sell at a profit.
    11. Milk cow, enjoy fresh, raw milk.

    Yeah, that sounds about right.

    Local Nourishment

  6. says

    oxidized cholesterol is dangerous. The process of drying milk to create powdered milk creates oxidized cholesterols. Do these milk protein powders fall in the same category?

    Ed Bruske

  7. says

    Ed — From what I read, it sounds like the MPCs would also have oxidized cholesterol in them. The amount may be dependent on the size of the cholesterol molecules, which varies greatly. But all larger molecules are left (including bacteria and somatic cells) after the “filtering” process, and the resultant “milk protein” is then dehydrated.

  8. says

    Falling milk prices must be a regional thing, because they certainly are not falling here in SW Louisiana. I’m still paying the same price I was last year when gas was at 4.00/gallon.

    Speaking of sliced cheese, what brand do you recommend for sandwiches? My kids love sliced cheese, but I don’t want to buy the “cheese like” cheese. I bought Tillamook cheddar slices last week. (We can’t buy raw cheese here, it’s illegal).

    Motherhen68

  9. Julie says

    I accidentally bought “fake cheese” once. It was awful. I thought I was buying pre-shredded mozarella for a huge breakfast pizza I was making for my daughter and her friends. What a disappointment to have put so much time and effort into this pizza and then to have the awful fake cheese bring it down to a level so low that even the garbage can gagged. Anyway, learned the hard way that you got to know where the food comes from, and you got to read the labels.

  10. says

    Motherhen68 — If you can’t get a good raw cheese from local pastured cows, then the order of priority (for me) would be:

    1 — RBGH free (no growth hormones)
    2 — Antibiotic free
    3 — Grass-fed cows
    4 — Organic

    Tillamook is good b/c of all the usual suspects at the supermarket, it’s at least RBGH free. It’s what we buy when we can’t get a hold of cheese from our local dairy farmer. Many Amish cheeses are both hormone and antibiotic free, and their cows get grass. If you buy cheese that’s certified organic, you at least know it meets criteria 1, 2, & 4. Basically, you’ll just have to be a cheese detective. Read all the labels, visit websites, maybe even call the creameries making the cheese.

    Julie — “Even the garbage can gagged.” LOL! You are too funny!

  11. says

    Loved the garbage can line!

    There are lots of raw milk cheeses that are aged, but they tend to be pricier. Wedges of aged real Italian parmeggiano reggiano, for instance, not the green can stuff and some good cheddars. Probably won’t be in the same case as the generic dayglo fake cheese. Check the case with the “gourmet” or imported cheeses (though sadly, may of the imported cheese use pasteurized milk, too), aged longer than 6 months. Sometimes it doesn’t say raw in the ingredient list, but may say fresh cow’s milk, or just milk. You might find the case is located near the deli counter in the supermarket.

    You can freeze parmeggiano wedges, too.

    Or if you have wine shops, sometimes they sell good cheese or can recommend good cheese sources (you’ve hit pay dirt if you have a cheese shop, but I suspect those are few and far between outside of “foodie towns”. Yes, good cheese is usually more expensive, but these are so rich and flavorful, a little goes a long way as a garnish or snack.

  12. says

    Wowzers. Even though I’m not taking part in eating or buying this crap, it’s sad to see the structure around me failing…wait, no, actually it’s wonderful. I love that list Local Nourishment wrote up there, perfect :-)

    Michelle

  13. says

    Anna — My new favorite cheese is a raw, cave-aged gruyere from Switzerland by Kaltbach. It’s soooo good. And yes, a little goes a long way.

    Kimberly — Thanks! Like I wrote to Rod above, all the real reporting credit goes to The Ethicurean. They’re really great at staying on top of food politics/news.

    Michelle — I know. I don’t want to rejoice in other’s misfortunes, but I also feel like shouting out a big “I TOLD YOU SO.”

  14. says

    This is why I am so happy to have bought a share in “my very own cow” last summer — having milk (raw, fresh, whole, sweet) every week is amazing. I always got so stuffy/congested on pasteurized dairy — but that is no longer a problem!

  15. says

    Ughh. One more thing to keep my eye out for when label reading, I didn’t think I’d have to inspect my cheese! :) (I always buy real cheese, but not always organic, depending on our budget that week – and we eat a lot of cheese!!) Thank you for helping us other real foodies out!

    Thank you for such a great post!

    best,
    Sarah

    PS – Though you have to normally buy it in a larger quantity (therefore a higher price than at the grocery store, technically), I’ve found several great, good quality cheeses at Costco! Gruyere, Irish Cheddar, Parmesan, and I frequently buy the big white cheddar Tillamook blocks from there . . . keep your eye out!

    Sarah

  16. says

    I do not profess to be an expert on cheese but I am a great lover of cheese. (Hence, the name.)

    I have found (and regularly buy) giant blocks of Kerrygold cheese at Costco.

    It’s not raw but it is grass-fed and non-GMO.

    Loved all the comments on this post — Local Nourishments poem about milk and the garbage can gagging — we have such witty and smart friends!!!

    CHEESESLAVE

  17. Dana says

    Well… technically, Kraft and its store-brand equivalents are sort of real cheese. If you read the ingredients there’s cheese in it. When someone says “fake cheese” I think of that awful oil-based stuff they sell as “imitation cheese product” or similar. It’s horrible, and we had it at least a few times when I was a kid.

    Nevertheless, I wish I’d read this post sooner because I just looked at the two and a half packs of sandwich cheese in the fridge and yup, they have MPC in them. Dadgum it…

    It’s not that I don’t like “real” cheese–I do, and I enjoy my little girl’s dad bringing home odd varieties I’ve never had before. My particular use of sandwich cheese is either as a very fast and lazy snack, or as a cheese that melts well in grilled sandwiches. So now either I must find a sandwich cheese that doesn’t contain MPC, or I get to start experimenting to see which “real” cheese melts best. I wonder if there’s some way to combine a few types to produce “American style” cheese without all the extra crap added to it. Sigh. This’ll take a while.

  18. JB says

    Did any of you mention the DFA or Dean’s Foods? They have a strangle hold on the industry and are giving very small prices to farmers and turning around and selling the milk at an outrageous increase. Have you researched that? Yes, I know all about non-factory cows and raw milk, I grew up on the stuff. We used to buy milk from our friends’ whose cows we knew were vaccinated so we didn’t have any TB worries, etc. Otherwise it was pure with about 2″ of cream on top like milk should have.You can skim as much as you want then use it on wild strawberries. It was nice. The DFA and Dean’s Foods aren’t.

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