Get Your Glue Out of My Cheese!

The Cheesemonger

Let this post serve as warning for one of the more disturbing phenomena we've heard in awhile: MPC. It may sound like an acronym for the newest in digital music technology, but it actually translates to "milk protein concentrate." It's a powdered, manufactured product with a super-high protein content that increases yield in dairy production. It was originally developed to be a key component of glue and other non-digestible products.

For years, it's gone largely unnoticed, sneaking its way into all kinds of foods, from baby formula to snack foods. And what's more is that your tax dollars are supporting its existence.

Cheese-wise, this is significant because foods that are made with MPC can still be sold as dairy products. But thanks to New York State Senator Darrell J. Aubertine, a former dairy farmer, this practice may finally change. Legally, MPC is not a food product-- it's not even approved for human consumption--yet it somehow manages to be included in the ingredient list of over $10 billion worth of food, primarily fast food and junk food. Most caseophilically significant, perhaps, is that it's found in Kraft singles. How oh how did this happen? Since MPC was originally designed to be used in glue, it wasn't subject to the standard tests used for other imported foods. The FDA has yet to test it for safety.

With a content of anywhere from 50% to 90% pure protein, compared with 35% protein in real milk, MPC can significantly boost production and stretch a food producer's yield in a major way. What makes it even more attractive is its cost, which is about half the price of milk.

What's more is that under their dairy support program, the USDA must buy any surplus milk displaced by the MPC imports. This cost is largely defrayed to us, amounting to more than $100 million tax payer dollars each year!

There are many disconcerting elements to this situation, not the least of which is the impact that it's having on dairy farmers. Each year, MPC displaces about 5% of real milk, which translates to an annual loss of over $5 billion to the dairy industry. It's a matter of supply and demand; a surplus of actual, homegrown milk will necessarily drive the price of milk down. Low milk prices make it difficult for small dairy farmers to earn a decent living.

One potentially good thing that has come out of this is the increase in cheesemaking in small family farms. Farmers have realized that with the addition of rennet and salt (and lots of patience and luck), they can turn their cheap milk into more profitable cheese.

We'll keep an eye on Senator Aubertine's quest and keep you updated.

Related: Fresh Milk: What Kind do You Buy?

(Image: Ilan Rubin, bonappetit.com)

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