Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cutting government

While newly elected Republicans and Tea Party representatives struggle to name some government programs they would cut, I have an idea that will at least get the ball rolling: how about we identify government programs that effectively work against each other, and choose the one we want the government to work for? Today's NYT focuses on Dairy Management, an advocacy group funded by the dairy industry that is part of the USDA. While the marketing arm is out pushing increased consumption of dairy products, the Department's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion is pushing decreased consumption. The money quote in the piece is this:

“If you want to look at why people are fat today, it’s pretty hard to identify a contributor more significant than this meteoric rise in cheese consumption,” Dr. Neal D. Barnard, president of the physicians’ group, said in an interview.

Generally choices about consumption are made by the individual, and we give advertisers free reign to push people to consume most any product. Does that change as soon as the government gets involved as advertisers? Should the government be required to do all it can to promote healthy consumers? If so, it would be unethical for a government program to advocate for increased cheese consumption, but then dairy farmers would be abandoned by their government.

I think that a lot of this would be solved if government marketing boards were made private. Right now a number of crops including beef, blueberries, cotton, eggs, avocados, honey, lamb, mangos, mushrooms, peanuts, popcorn, pork, potatoes, sorghum, and soy all do some of their marketing through boards set up by the government. While I don't think anyone objects to the the marketing of most fruits and vegetables, many of these products should not be a large part of a healthy diet. (Especially cotton- I really don't recommend eating much cotton at all.) Historically, the government has been part of the process, but I'm not sure why they need to continue to be. That said, these marketing orders are fully funded by the industry- it's not an issue of taxpayer dollars being used against taxpayers. If we are looking to save money and make the government speak with one voice, the only way to do that is to cut nutrition programs. I personally support research and the spread of information about how to live a healthy life, so I guess that's why I'm not a Tea Partier!


  1. If a scientist mentions that we have had a meteoric rise in consumption and wants to pin obesity there, fine, but he ought to have good science behind it, and from what I know about the current state of nutrition science, he does not (I am partial to good saturated fats as a much better alternative to sugars/cheap carbs). So I agree that we don't want the government promoting health - not that its a bad thing to do, but I believe they will overstep and say something wrong which may really hurt someone (the dairy industry for example).

    So are you in favor of cutting nutrition spending? It wasn't clear at the end there. And these marketing boards - if they are entirely industry funded, then why are they even associated with the USDA? What are they getting from that relationship?

  2. I'm not as quick to condemn government involvement, and I'm not in favor of cutting nutrition spending. Without government investment in research and in disseminating information, people can't make informed decisions; the article in question points out the problem with having the USDA run industry checkoffs, not the problem with having the government advocate proper nutrition. I'm not sure why the marketing boards are run out of the government: I've forgotten what I learned from Perloff back in the day. I'll see what I can find....