Milk: A dramatic decline
A “staple” of American households is drying up, said David Yaffe-Bellany in The New York Times. Dean Foods, the country’s largest milk processor, filed for bankruptcy last week, following an 18 percent drop in U.S. milk consumption over the past decade and a decline of 47 percent since 1970. Gone are the days when children “dutifully” drank a glass with every meal, with parents believing milk was key to growth spurts and strong bones. Today, weight-conscious Americans eat less cereal, get calcium elsewhere, and whiten coffee with “trendy alternatives” such as oat, almond, and soy milk. Consumers also fear bovine growth hormones and cholesterol in milk, and the environmental cost of industrial farming. With sales falling by $1.1 billion in 2018 from the previous year, milk may never again be a cash cow.
We’re “better off” without milk, said Nikita Richardson in GrubStreet.com. “Milk is, and always has been, disgusting.” It was designed for calves, not humans, and often tastes “flat” or “sour,” leaving a “lingering aftertaste of rancidity.” Yet Americans of all ages were force-fed milk for decades. In contrast, yogurt, butter, and cheese are delicious “gifts,” and U.S. consumption of those dairy treats is on the rise. “It’s unclear whether milk is actually bad for you,” said Rebecca Fishbein in Jezebel.com. But people have figured out they can live without it. And for lactose-intolerant people like me, “mere drops of milk turn our intestines into knife-stabbing knots.” Good riddance.
There’s a valuable lesson about market forces in milk’s demise, said The Washington Post in an editorial. The U.S. government has fought desperately to prop up dairy production. Between 1995 and 2019, an estimated $6 billion went to protect producers “from volatile prices,” and the main dairy safety-net program cost nearly $254 million last year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and local governments boosted the iconic “Got Milk?” ad campaign, making milk mustaches famous nationwide. As milk fell out of favor, it’s understandable that the government tried to intervene, since even people who don’t enjoy milk value “stable and prosperous” rural communities. Despite those efforts, however, dairy herds have declined by 20 percent since 2013, and taxpayers have seen little return on their investment. When the government decides to intervene in markets to help a fading industry, it is only delaying the inevitable. ■