The History of the Milk Industry: The Heavy Promotion of Milk as Healthy

milk pouring on glass

Over the years, dairy farmers have made various efforts to take care of their livestock and farmlands. Their dairy farm business has grown significantly to meet the growing consumer demand for dairy products. According to the American Dairy Association, around 98% of U.S. dairy farms remained family-owned and operated.

Today, these farmers have become active members of the U.S. economy, with an estimated 900,000 jobs in the U.S. alone. This includes dairy protein manufacturers that provide the highest quality dairy products on the market.

Whether the farm is large or small, these farmers remain committed to producing high-quality dairy products while taking care of their animals and farmlands. That is why it is not surprising why milk production has become one of the most successful food industries in the U.S. People have become used to drinking milk that it has become commonplace.

In this article, we will delve deeper into the early developments of the American dairy industry. We will unravel its history and learn the reason behind its unrivaled success.

Early history

The history of the milk industry is incredibly short, yet it is truly fascinating. From greed, power, corruption, and mass manipulation, all these things are present throughout the evolution of the milk industry.

In the European regions, millions of people died from milk-borne illnesses before the discovery of pasteurization and glass milk bottles. Meanwhile, a fourth of food-borne illnesses in the U.S. were associated with cow’s milk before the early 1900s. By 1922, the government decided to pass the Capper-Volstead Act.

The bill permitted agricultural industries to work together, create organizations, and market dairy products. While the industry was too reliant on small farms back in the day, the bill paved the way for massive dairy conglomerates and marketing campaigns to dominate the milk market.

Before the 1930s, families had only one option for their dairy food – whole milk. In fact, instant milk was all the rage back then. Meanwhile, skim milk existed only as a byproduct or ‘waste’ of the butter-making process. Manufacturers often disregard this byproduct by dumping it into rivers. But because of the horrific smell of spoiled milk that filled the surrounding areas, the government decided to end it.

The skim milk

By the 1950s, manufacturers transformed skim milk into a dry, powdered mix, leading to its popularity. Besides the whole milk, families now have other options of drinking milk by mixing skim milk powder with water.

The invention of skim milk helped the dairy industry make good use of leftovers, including the dry milk powder used as relief food during World War II. But in reality, dairy farmers just needed a way to get rid of and profit from the skim milk they produced during the war.

As the milk surplus grew, dairy manufacturers hired skilled marketers to position skim milk as great weight-loss food. Meanwhile, physicians supported milk dealers by promoting skim milk as a healthy food. Within a few years, skim milk transformed from a waste byproduct to a fashionable weight-loss drink patronized by the affluent society.

As the world war catapulted America’s milk surplus, the US government began sending powdered and canned milk to soldiers while farmers responded by increasing their production. They invested in manufacturing equipment and abandoned traditional farming methods to focus on the war effort.

milk and cookies

The milk industry today

When the war ended, milk production led to a massive surplus, leading to low milk prices. Farmers, in turn, formed unions and strikes, demanding fair pricing. To soothe the farmers, the government established federal programs to drive milk demand. These programs include the 1940 Federal Milk Program and subsidized milk advertising. In 1946, President Truman enacted the National School Lunch Act to include whole milk in school lunches.

Despite the continuous campaigns to convince more Americans to consume more milk, the surplus went on for decades. The government spent millions of dollars to support the dairy subsidy by funneling more budget to heavy marketing. This includes the Dairy Checkoff Program and National Dairy Promotion that aims to promote dairy products through marketing and nutritional education.

Modern marketing and pro-dairy slogans have since led milk and other dairy products to become fully ingrained in our food culture. All these things started from a century-long problem – to get rid of milk surplus.

Looking back at history, we can see how milk has become a well-marketed product. But for many of us, milk has become a staple and essential health food. Today, life without dairy products is almost unimaginable.

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