Dick Groves
Editor, Cheese Reporter


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Hunger Remains A Huge Problem; Dairy Industry Can Help

The United States celebrates Thanksgiving in less than a week, and for most people that holiday provides an opportunity to participate in one of the great American pastimes: overeating.

But not everyone overeats on Thanksgiving Day, or on any other day, for that matter. That’s because, despite record crops being harvested this fall, not to mention record-high milk production, tens of millions of Americans are still food insecure.

This might come as somewhat of a surprise, since the food-related issue that has actually garnered the bulk of headlines in recent years has been obesity, which would seem to indicate that eating too much is more of a problem than eating too little.

But according to a recent report from USDA’s Economic Research Service, while 85.7 percent of US households were food secure throughout 2013, the remaining 14.3 percent (17.5 million households) were food insecure. Food-insecure households (those with low and very low food security) had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources.

Last year, ERS reported, 5.6 percent of US households (some 6.8 million households) had very low food security. In this more severe range of food insecurity, the food intake of some household members was reduced and normal eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year due to limited resources.

Feeding America also studies hunger in America. In case you aren’t familiar with that organization, Feeding America (formerly known as Second Harvest) is a nationwide network of 200 food banks that helps lead the fight against hunger in the US.

Feeding America recently released a report, entitled Hunger in America 2014, which the organization described as the largest and most comprehensive study of people seeking charitable food assistance in the US ever conducted.

Among the study’s findings:
• Forty percent of US households report that, in the past year, they have watered down food or drinks to make them last longer, in an effort to have enough food to feed everyone in the home. This rate rises to 45 percent among households with children in the home.
• Sixty-nine percent of households report choosing between paying for utilities and paying for food in the past year. And 34 percent report making this choice every month.
• Fifty-seven percent of households report choosing between paying their housing costs and buying food in the past year. Some 27 percent report making this choice every month.

That’s how the food insecurity issue looks from a US perspective. Internationally, according to a recent report from the United Nations, about 805 million people suffer from hunger.

The UN report confirmed a positive trend which has seen the number of hungry people decline globally by more than 100 million over the last decade and by 209 million since 1990-92. Over the same period, the prevalence of undernourishment fell from 18.7 percent to 11.3 percent globally and from 23.4 percent to 13.5 percent for the developing countries.

The ongoing problem of hunger both in the US and around the world begs the question: What can be done to reduce food insecurity and undernourishment?

One possibility, although remote at this point in time, is the new Dairy Product Donation Program, which was established under the 2014 farm bill. Under the DPDP, USDA will buy dairy products when the dairy production margin falls below a certain level, and will distribute those products to individuals in low-income groups through public and private non-profit organizations.

But given how high farm milk prices are right now, and how low feed prices are, the likelihood of dairy production margins falling enough to trigger the DPDP in the near future is mighty slim.

A better place to start is with the aforementioned Feeding America. Earlier this year, that organization, along with the Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP) and National Dairy Council, launched the Great American Milk Drive, which is described as the first-ever national program to help deliver gallons of milk to hungry families who need it most.

Milk (in its fluid form) is one of the items most frequently requested by food bank clients, yet there is a nationwide shortage because it is rarely donated, according to Feeding America. Canned goods and other non-perishable items are more likely to be donated.

The goal of the campaign, which was launched last spring (for more details, please see “Great American Milk Drive Launched; Aim Is To Help Deliver Gallons Of Milk To Hungry,” on page 8 of our April 4, 2014 issue), is to deliver two million gallons of milk to food banks across the US. As of this week, under 200,000 gallons of milk have been donated nationwide.

To learn more about this program, or to donate, visit www.milklife.com/give.

Beyond fluid milk, Feeding America can also help. Feeding America is a leading “waste diversion partner” across the food supply chain, partnering with industry groups and companies in the retail, manufacturing and produce spaces.

Network members enable Feeding America to acquire and distribute more than 3 billion pounds of food and grocery products needed to help struggling Americans. Feeding America provides liability protection and tax benefits for its corporate partners.

For information about how to partner with this organization, visit www.feedingamerica.org. DG

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