Beware of Big Butter?

It seems fitting that a couple of days after I post about the increased demand for cottage cheese, I spied another article about how the dairy industry is using social media partnerships to drive up their sales. It seems that people are not just rediscovering the joys of cottage cheese, they are being paid to promote cheese, butter, and other dairy products. The main driver of this is a marketing group called Dairy Management, “whose funding largely consists of legally mandated fees collected from farmers.”

Dairy Management spends millions of dollars each year to cook up new ways to promote milk, cream, butter, and cheese. It partners with influencers to get them to talk up a particular product or feature it in a new recipe. The group also works with large companies like McDonald’s, going so far as to fund food scientists to work at Mickey-Ds corporate offices to find new ways to incorporate dairy into the menu. This seems to have paid off, since about 80% of McDonald’s products now contain some form of dairy.

While it seems as though the marketing is working as intended, it doesn’t appear that all of this growth is helping small dairy farms succeed. The number of small to medium-sized dairy operations in the US has plummeted by 75% in the last 30 years. There’s an environmental cost as well: with increased demand comes an increased carbon footprint. A United Nations report indicated that over a ten year period, the dairy industry’s greenhouse gas emissions climbed by 18 percent.

Some farmers and environmentalists don’t think continuing this demand-side strategy is the best path to follow, and are looking to implement a supply-based solution, similar to the one that Canada uses. Using this method, the amount of dairy capacity is capped and farmers are guaranteed a steady price instead of seasonal fluctuations that can end up with farmers losing money. It also encourages smaller farmers to stay in business, ameliorating some of the environmental effects of mega-farms.

The Canadian system is not without issues, however. Critics say it stifles innovation and drives up dairy prices. Americans who travel across the border are usually shocked at the price of milk compared to what they pay in the US. Supporters of the supply-side system note that while supermarket prices may be lower, there are hidden costs that include environmental degradation.

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  • TeresaRenee  on  May 15, 2024

    Canadian here! There are many differences between US and Canadian dairy production. Canada’s quota system provides dairy farmers with a more predictable income which I can totally support. I don’t mind paying more for milk if it means our farmers make a decent living. It allows small farms to operate in a big market.

    One aspect of the quota system is that farmers have to “buy” quota. The price fluctuates depending on how much quota is available and how many buyers there are. It’s also illegal to move extra milk off your farm so there is no incentive to over-produce.

  • eliza  on  May 15, 2024

    Another Canadian here, and I definitely agree with TeresaRenee that I’m willing to pay a bit more for dairy products in return for our quota system. Dairy farmers here make a good living (according to my friend who is a dairy farmer) and I support that.

  • averythingcooks  on  May 16, 2024

    Another big difference is that our Canadian cows are not given rbST (recombinant bovine somatotropin – a synthetic growth hormone). I am also a supporter of the quota system which is what allows a small, generational family run dairy operation just out of town to continue to operate.

    For what it’s worth, I also think that most Americans would raise their eyes at the price of all our groceries…not just milk 🙂

  • Rinshin  on  May 17, 2024

    I do not believe rbst or antibiotics in American milk now.

    Regarding rbst:!

  • FuzzyChef  on  May 18, 2024

    Avery, you sure about that? Have you checked American grocery prices lately?

  • averythingcooks  on  May 18, 2024

    FuzzyChef – I absolutely could be wrong but I based my comments on anecdotal accounts/online threads (with contributors from both Canada & the US) plus news stories from our CBC (print & radio) re: people crossing the border to shop (regardless of gas prices and the value of our dollar). Obviously dairy is an example (made clear in the blog post) but the prices of meat & many other staples come up over and over again. Explanations include the one we are hearing about a lot up here right now is the lack of competition in the industry (more competition does serve to drive prices down). The federal government is currently working on getting the “BIG 5” to all agree to sign their “Grocery Code of Conduct” to help with the increasing concerns of consumers. But again…..I certainly could be wrong!

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