Recently, i went to a mcdonald’s restaurant about a mile from my office and ordered milk to go with two hamburgers. Part of me was curious to see what the quality of milk served would be. Would it be sour, served warm or done exactly right?

Unfortunately, the experience left a bad taste in my mouth. I could tell immediately that something was wrong just by feeling the half-pint paperboard carton. When I pushed a finger into the side, it felt hard, like there was ice on the other side rather than fluid.  More curious than ever, I took the carton outside and opened it to find a semi-solid slush. Milk doesn’t taste very good that way!

Many restaurants, it would seem, need a nudge when it comes to serving milk the right way. That is where checkoff-funded groups like Dairy Management Inc. can do us a real service by getting better milk into restaurants and schools.

   DMI has been meeting with McDonald’s for a couple of years now, and those efforts are about to pay off. Starting June 11, all of the McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S. will begin featuring lowfat (1 percent) white and chocolate milk in attractive, 8-ounce plastic re-sealable containers. It should increase the odds of someone having a positive milk experience at McDonalds rather than a negative one.

It’s yet another example of why we need the dairy checkoff — especially now, when milk is poised to regain some of the market share it lost to soft drinks and bottled water during the past few years. Increasingly, the public is interested in diets that promote healthy lifestyles and weight-loss. Those trends bode well for milk.   

Yet, the dairy checkoff faces legal challenges. Already, a three-judge Circuit Court of Appeals panel in Pennsylvania has ruled against the checkoff, saying it violates producers’ First Amendment rights. And, court cases affecting other commodities and their checkoffs could have a spillover effect. In mid-May, the U.S. Supreme Court was about to decide if it would hear two cases challenging the beef and pork checkoffs.

So, what can be done if the cases are already working their way through the legal system?

Well, let’s establish one fact: The dairy checkoff is beneficial. Hopefully, the judges who hear the cases will weigh the greater good against the possible harm to a handful of producers.

In a report to Congress last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture outlined the “major impact” that checkoff-funded advertising has had on dairy consumption. Were it not for fluid milk advertising, and assuming that all other advertising reverted back to pre-checkoff levels, USDA projected that:

  • Fluid milk consumption would have been 4.3 percent lower, on average, during the years 1998-2002.
  • Cheese consumption would have been 1.2 percent lower, on average, during the same time period.
  • The price received by dairy farmers would have averaged 8.2 percent, or $1.14 per hundredweight, lower annually.

  We hope the dairy checkoff continues for many more years. Without a funded source of advertising and promotion, who else is going to do it?

I could have gone back and complained to the manager of that McDonald’s where I bought the frozen milk. But I would not have made much of an impression by myself.

It takes an organized effort to really get things done. Ironically, the judges in Pennsylvania who felt that the checkoff violated the First Amendment rights of a couple of people failed to consider that eliminating the checkoff would have a far more chilling effect: It would effectively silence tens of thousands of producers.