The United States government has been stockpiling cheese for decades. But why are they storing 1.4 billion pounds of cheese in a cave underneath the city of Springfield, Missouri?
You may wonder why the government has such a massive cheese stockpile. According to The Washington Post, it all started in the 1970s, during former President Jimmy Carter’s era and his promise of giving farmers a break. Since then, the U.S. government has amassed the largest domestic reserve of cheese of all varieties, including cheddar, Swiss, and American.
According to Pacific Standard Magazine, Carter wanted to raise the price of milk, but the government couldn’t just buy and store it, so it started buying as much cheese as people wanted to sell. Of course, this government intervention in the market resulted in people making too much cheese, so to alleviate the problem, former President Ronald Reagan started food assistance programs to distribute 30 million pounds of cheese.
“People talk about food assistance programs as if they were created to help poor people out,” said Andrew Novakovic, professor of agricultural economics at Cornell University, per CNBC. “Yes, that’s true, but almost all of the major food assistance programs were ideas that came from agriculture because we had too much of something.”
The United States government created a problem, a false demand for cheese, and then tried to come up with a solution to it.
In order to further liquidate the cheese stockpile, in the 1990s, the government started making deals with fast-food restaurants to help sell the surplus. The National Dairy Promotion Board, a semi-public marketing branch, was also created, which created campaigns like “Got Milk?” and a range of popular fast-food menu items like Domino’s seven-cheese pizza or Taco Bell’s very cheesy Quesalupa, according to WBUR.
This did little to diminish the stockpile. The problem of overproduced cheese stayed consistent throughout the years, with lower dairy consumption. The government offered, again, to buy more cheese worth $20 million in 2016, according to Vox.
The Department of Agriculture has not stopped buying cheese just yet either. In August of last year, the agency announced the Cheese Purchase Program to buy Mozzarella, processed and natural American cheddar cheese for the National School Lunch Program and other federal food nutrition assistance programs.
According to The Guardian, it’s safe to say that American dairy farmers will continue to look for ways to offload their cheese supplies as the demand for it decreases with a rise in veganism and sustainable eating.
That creates an even bigger problem too. If the majority of the population switches to a vegan diet, how will the government unload all of the cheese? Would it be destroyed?
What is clear is that the demand is falling behind the supply. When everything else seems to be flying off the shelves, the government has a massive stockpile of cheese that could simply be released to grocery stores to help alleviate the food insecurity plaguing the country because of supply chain issues and rampant inflation.
“It’s normal to have some cheese in warehouses, to make sure there’s enough in the pipeline,” Lucas Fuess, the director of dairy market intelligence at HighGround Dairy, a consulting firm, said. “The amount that’s in there currently is, if not a record, very close to record high.”
Since 2008, milk production has surged by 13%, but domestic demand for milk has dropped sharply. As demand decreases, the price of milk drops and farmers receive less per gallon produced. This appears to have pushed farmers to produce even more milk to make up for the shortfalls in their income, exacerbating the problem. And nothing makes a problem worse than when the government decides to intervene with a “solution.”