"Domino's Pizza was hurting early last year. Domestic sales had fallen, and a survey of big pizza chain customers left the company tied for the worst tasting pies. Then help arrived from an organization called Dairy Management. It teamed up with Domino's to develop a new line of pizzas with 40 percent more cheese, and proceeded to devise and pay for a $12 million marketing campaign. Consumers devoured the cheesier pizza, and sales soared by double digits."
So begins an article by Michael Moss published two days ago in The New York Times. A few sentences later comes the shocker: Dairy Management is not a private business consultant, but "a marketing creation of the United States Department of Agriculture -- the same agency at the center of a federal anti-obesity drive that discourages over-consumption of some of the very foods Dairy Management is vigorously promoting."
Called the Wisconsin, Domino's new pie has six cheeses on top and two more in the crust. A laboratory test of the Wisconsin commissioned by The Times found that one-quarter of a medium thin-crust pie had 12 grams of saturated fat, more than three-quarters of the recommended daily maximum. It also has 430 calories, double the calories in pizza formulations that the chain bills as its "lighter options." One slice contains as much as two-thirds of a day's maximum recommended amount of saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease and is high in calories.
According to contract records released through the Freedom of Information Act, Dairy Management's role in helping to develop Domino's pizzas included generating and testing new pizza concepts.
Here are some of the other creative ways the US Department of Agriculture, through its Dairy Management arm, has been spending your tax dollars:
- Dairy Management's "Got Milk?" campaign succeeded at slowing the decline in milk consumption, particularly focusing on schoolchildren. It has also "relentlessly marketed cheese and pushed back against the Agriculture Department's suggestion that people eat only low-fat or fat-free varieties."
- Dairy Management and the Agriculture Department put together "The "Summer of Cheese" promotion, developed in cahoots with Pizza Hut in 2002. "It was judged a great success, generating the use of 102 million additional pounds of cheese," the department reported to Congress.
- Spent millions of dollars on research to support a national advertising campaign promoting the notion that people could lose weight by consuming more dairy products. "Great news for dieters," Dairy Management said in an advertisement in People magazine in 2005. "Clinical studies show that people on a reduced-calorie diet who consume three servings of milk, cheese or yogurt each day can lose significantly more weight and more body fat than those who just cut calories." According to The Times, the campaign didn't end until four years later, in 2007, "even though other researchers -- one paid by Dairy Management itself -- found no such weight-loss benefits."
(No one should be surprised that The Agriculture Department declined to make top officials available for interviews for The Times article, and Dairy Management would not comment at all).
*In 2007, Dairy Management helped promote Pizza Hut's Cheesy Bites pizza, Wendy's "dual Double Melt sandwich concept," and Burger King's Cheesy Angus Bacon cheeseburger and TenderCrisp chicken sandwich. "Both featured two slices of American cheese, a slice of pepper jack and a cheesy sauce," the department boasted. These efforts, it reported, helped generate a "cheese sales growth of nearly 30 million pounds.
This campaign lasted until 2007, when the Federal Trade Commission acted on a two-year-old petition by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, an advocacy group that challenged the campaign's claims. "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.
Dairy Management reported expenditures of $136 million last year, largely collected through levies imposed on farmers. Dairy Management also received $5.3 million from the Agriculture Department to promote dairy sales overseas. By comparison, the department's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, which promotes healthy diets, has a total budget of $6.5 million.