Chuck Schumer and the great Greek-yogurt grift

posted at 11:41 am on August 1, 2013 by Erika Johnsen

Why the federal government feels compelled to occupy itself with top-down dictates for public-school lunchroom standards, rather than allowing individual states to find the most efficient solutions for their particular needs, I’m sure I don’t know — but I have a funny feeling that shameless crony capitalism flying beneath the convenient banner of “for the children!” do-goodism and using the convenient regulatory framework of the overbearing nanny-state to a particular advantage… might have at least a little something to do with it.

In any event, most recently thanks to the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the feds do have a role in school lunches nationwide — and some wily lobbyists and the lawmakers who love them are playing those regulations like a damn fiddle.

Chobani Greek yogurt will be served in school lunches as part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture pilot program, federal lawmakers announced Friday.

U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Richard Hanna, R-Barneveld, Oneida County, pushed for Chobani’s inclusion in the pilot program, which will launch in September in four states — New York, Tennessee, Idaho and Arizona.

New York leads the country in Greek yogurt production; Chobani is based in Chenango County.

“Starting this school year, students across the state will be balancing New York-made Chobani Greek yogurt on their lunch trays,” Schumer said in a statement Friday.

“This is the next step in ensuring that New York schoolchildren have access to a more nutritious, protein-rich product, which benefits our New York Greek yogurt producers and dairy farmers to boot.”

My, doesn’t that sound nice, and purely all about the honest attempt to serve America’s school children with a healthy dairy accompaniment for their midday meal with nothing untoward whatsoever going on? Should it really matter that Greek yogurt specifically both highly perishable in relation to other potential lunch additions, as well as more expensive than other non-Greek yet nutritious yogurts? It’s for the kids, right?

Ahem.

This follows a fix in the form of aggressively shrewd arm-twisting of the federal bureaucracy by New Sen. Schumer, with ancillary help from New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and Rep. Richard Hanna of upstate New York.

It’s all about the annual $11 billion school lunch program that plays out in 100,000 schools nationwide. Greek yogurt is a new and thriving industry largely based in upstate New York and it wanted a piece of the action.

But they confronted various obstacles at the Department of Agriculture and the New Yorkers, led by Schumer, went into action, including at least three calls by Schumer to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Schumer’s proposal of a pilot program in four states, including New York.

The department agreed in a stunningly short time, given the glacial pace at which it works in making any changes to the lunch program, and has now announced that Chobani, the new king of the hill in Greek yogurt, will be sole vendor for the pilot program.

Every time I walk into a Whole Foods or some high-end grocery store, there are something like eight different brands of Greek yogurt occupying the dairy shelves. The stuff is all the health-food rage right now, and the Greek-yogurt market is clearly a pretty competitive micro-industry. I have no doubts in my mind that Chobani would not merely like to secure a cozy government contract for themselves, but also deny it to their several competitors, by whatever rent-seeking means necessary — and as much as people like to blame businesses for this type of thing, a big government that creates and caters to the opportunity to do so is the real root of the problem.


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