The Ethicurean has a terrific blog post today on one of the many facets of the dairy crisis: The importation by the US of foreign Milk Protein Concentrate (MPC).
What are MPCs? Well, you've probably eaten many of them without even knowing it, in processed foods like cheese slices, snack foods, coffee creamer and candy. As Elanor of The Ethicurean explains, "Milk protein concentrates are created when milk is ultra-filtered, a process that drains out the lactose and keeps the milk protein and other large molecules. The protein components are then dried and become a powder. That all sounds relatively benign - until we learn that those “other large molecules” can include bacteria and somatic cells; that virtually all MPCs come from other countries, most of them with very poor food safety records (China, India, Poland, the Ukraine); and that the milk used to make MPCs is usually not cows’ milk. More often, it is from water buffalo, yaks, or other animals common to the countries where MPCs are manufactured."
And if that doesn't sound sketchy enough... MPCs are not approved by the FDA as a food ingredient!
So what are MPCs doing in our food? Good question... we're not sure what the FDA's excuse is but those big food processors? They're using untested, foreign MPCs to save a few bucks instead of paying the higher price for real milk from U.S. family farmers! And in doing so they're helping to put American dairy farmers out of business. With the current price for milk at less than half what it costs farmers to produce, it's estimated that by the end of this year we could lose 20,000 of our nation's 60,000 by the end of the year*.
What can you do? Learn more, buy direct from your local dairy farmer, and contact your local representatives to ask them to protect dairy farmers. Many congresspeople are pushing for reform but they'll push harder if they hear from you!
To read about other aspects of the dairy crisis, including price manipulation by dairy processors, check out this month's Ask Hilde.
To read the letter to the USDA from 35 US Senators urging an examination of dairy pricing, click here (PDF).
To get even more technical, visit Farm Aid-partner The National Family Farm Coalition at www.nffc.net.
* This statistic has been updated to reflect current projections as of July 2009.