"Get rid of the gouda" isn't something you'd expect from a government directive, but that's the gist of what the Department of Agriculture is doing to ease the country's cheese crisis. By "crisis," we mean there's more cheese stockpiled and languishing in the US than there has been in three decades, per CNNMoney, and the USDA announced Tuesday it will spend $20 million to scoop up 11 million pounds of the excess dairy product from private inventories and distribute it to food banks and pantries nationwide. "This commodity purchase is part of a robust, comprehensive safety net that will help reduce a cheese surplus that is at a 30-year high while, at the same time, moving a high-protein food to the tables of those most in need," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says.
To put the surplus in context, the Wall Street Journal noted in May that every American would have to scarf down an extra 3 pounds of cheese in 2016 to get rid of the excess. "The US is sitting on more butter and cheese than it knows what to do with," Bloomberg lamented in April, noting half of the US cheese inventory is American, 2% is Swiss, and the rest falls under "other." The USDA says it decided to act after receiving pleas from farmers groups, Congress, and the National Milk Producers Federation to help pull them out of the cheese mire, a result of low prices worldwide, plentiful milk inventories (and ample European exports), and slowed demand, among other factors. The consequence of this sluggish market: Dairy farmers have seen their revenues plummet 35% over the past two years, the USDA notes. (Thank donkeys for the world's most expensive cheese.)