I recently attended the 100 year anniversary celebration of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC). Located in Beltsville, Md. just outside of Washington, D.C., BARC occupies nearly 7000 acres and is "The World's Largest Most Diversified Agricultural Research Complex" according to its website. BARC researchers have been engaged in numerous efforts to maximize agricultural productivity and marketability. It was BARC scientists who genetically altered commercial turkeys to have white feathers instead of their natural dark feathers, creating a breed called “Beltsville whites.” Unlike their natural counterparts, white feathered turkeys don’t have dark splotches on their carcasses, so they are more attractive to consumers.
BARC, like other USDA operations, is too close to agribusiness, and it is used to promote and validate questionable industry practices and to support bad consumer habits. There were displays and materials promoting the dairy industry and the consumption of cows’ milk at the BARC event, including hand outs from the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association (MDA), which as part of its mission “builds demand for milk and dairy products and enhances the image of the dairy industry on behalf of dairy farmers.”
One of MDA’s brochures distributed at BARC was entitled “Milk & More.” It states, “Dairy foods like milk, cheese and yogurt are important throughout life. In childhood, the key words are ‘growth’ and ‘habits.’ Childhood is a period of growth, and dairy nutrients – especially calcium – are essential for growing bones. Childhood is also the time to form good dietary habits, such as the habit of getting enough dairy every day.” Actually, consuming too many animal products, including dairy, is a bad habit that afflicts most U.S. citizens, and our health is suffering as a result.
As most of us grow up and develop lifelong habits, we are indoctrinated to eat foods that make us sick. Tragically, a major contributor to this problem has been our nation’s school lunch program, which purchases agribusiness commodities and markets them to school kids at the expense of supporting good health. The dairy industry is very influential in our government so its products are heavily promoted. In fact, cow’s milk is given to every child receiving a federally funded meal, even those who are lactose intolerant. This contributes to bad eating habits, which can last a lifetime.
Animal agriculture is busy urging legislators and the USDA to continue promoting meat and dairy products in school lunches, but there is now a very important proposal, The Healthy School Meals Act, H.R. 4870, to promote plant-based alternatives. This bill, authored by Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) will go a long way toward instilling better eating habits in children and thereby improving our nation’s health.
Please contact your representative and urge him or her to co-sponsor H.R. 4870. Please also contact Representative George Miller (D-CA), chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor, to urge him to support H.R. 4870. The federal school lunch program is being discussed on Capitol Hill now, so please call today!