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The U.S. Government Is Buying Tons of Eggs and Cheese

A Depression-Era program is helping bail out America’s egg and dairy farmers

(Lara604 via Flickr)
smithsonian.com

For the last few years, the United States government has been buying up billions of pounds of cheese. Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that it plans to buy nearly $12 million worth of eggs and egg-based products over the next year as well. But while this might sound like a recipe for the world’s largest breakfast sandwich, the massive amounts of food shopping have more to do with economics than eating.

Over the last few years, the American dairy and egg industries have both been feeling major crunches. The amount of cheese imported from Europe has risen at the same time that American dairies have increased their own production, flooding the market and causing prices to drop as supply outstrips demand. Further pressure is placed on the system with the outbreak of avian flu last year among American chicken stocks, boosting the price and driving down demand. And egg sales are still falling short, Nick Rose reports for Munchies. Now, in an effort to keep America’s chicken farmers and dairy producers afloat, the USDA is trying to bail them out.

"We understand that the nation's dairy producers are experiencing challenges due to market conditions and that food banks continue to see strong demand for assistance," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says in a statement.

Luckily, the food won’t go to waste. According to the USDA, the surplus eggs and cheese will go towards food banks and needy families. Meanwhile, the people whose animals produce these products won’t have to worry about it going bad in their storerooms, and the markets stay stable.

The reason the USDA can help goes back to the Agricultural Act of 1935. The Depression-era law allows the secretary of agriculture to buy up excess domestic products in order to stabilize markets and keep them competitive with foreign imports. But while this year marks the largest dollar amount that the USDA has spent under this program since the height of the 2009 Recession, it’s not necessarily out of the ordinary, Jeff Daniels reports for CNBC.

"It's not typical but we're having some issues in a lot of the commodity markets," Mykel Taylor, a professor in farm management at Kansas State University, tells Daniels. "Everybody is cycling down from big record incomes and now they're sitting on big supplies."

Dairy products aren’t the only commodities on the USDA’s shopping list. The federal government is also buying up tons of cranberries and blueberries as well. With those berries safely stocked away, it looks like food banks might have plenty of ingredients for a delicious breakfast on their hands.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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