Dairy farmers say they're suddenly sitting on a surplus of product. Big buyers like restaurants and schools are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that's forced farmers to dump perfectly good milk.
California is a big dairy state, and does about $84 billion of business each year, according to Anja Raudabaugh, CEO of Western United Dairies. She says that the dumping is caused by a number of things:
“Fifty percent of all U.S. dairy products in the United States went to restaurant production. Another 27% of it went towards the demand in the school lunch program. And so having both of those baskets where we respectfully placed our eggs essentially being shut down or eliminated nearly overnight has created a surplus in the direction and distribution of our product,” she explains.
Raudabaugh says that farmers have been given instruction to reduce their production so that less product is wasted.
“All dairy is beef. At the end of the day, dairy cows become ground beef. In fact, 50% of all U.S. ground beef consumption comes from dairy cattle,” she says. “And so when I say dairy farmers are told to cut back, those cows are then beefed into the supply chain.”
But as milk is dumped, food banks across the state are struggling to keep up with increased demand. Farmers can’t donate their dairy products because federal regulations require that milk be processed first, and that costs money dairy farmers don’t have right now. Raudabaugh says that there is some progress being made.
“I am working on an arrangement with USDA to actually go out and make, at the grocery store level, purchases of mass product, and then on a voucher system, receive reimbursement for that. That's not the cheapest way to do things. But the food bank demand has quadrupled in some areas,” she says. “This is a terrible need and a terrible time to be talking about wasting food.