Did You Ever Wonder Where Your Milk Came From?

Terry D. Etherton

Did you ever wonder where your milk comes from?  And, no, I am not referring to cows.  My question pertains to the geographic regions of the United States that contribute most to milk production.

As you will see, the results are revealing.

Based on information released by the Market Administrator for the Central Federal Order No. 32, 59 counties accounted for 50% of the U.S. milk production (see Figure 1).

When you look at the map, it is evident that milk production is concentrated in a few geographic regions of the United States.  The 11 counties (in red) that account for 25% of all milk produced in the United States are perhaps a more telling illustration of this.  To put the 25% of milk in context, total milk production in the United States in 2010 was about 193 billion pounds!

You might ask: what does this mean?

One, a lot of milk/dairy products gets transported significant distances to get to consumers. Advances in technology have enabled this.  Two, the greatest concentration of milk production is in California.  And, three, the concentration of dairy production has important biosecurity implications.  For example, if a dairy disease outbreak occurs in relatively few regions in the country, this would have a huge impact on milk production and availability to consumers throughout the country.

I have thought a lot about a “targeted strike” on the U.S. food system.  One example of a targeted strike is the intentional release of an animal pathogen (such as the virus that causes food and mouth disease) with the intended consequence of causing economic and social upheaval. With respect to the dairy industry, the concentration of a lot of cows in few counties in the United States would greatly facilitate causing a “big time” problem.  This concentration of food production is not unique to the dairy industry…it is common for other animal and plant commodities, as well.

If you wondering what the impact of an “intended” animal disease outbreak might be in the United States, consider the consequences of the foot and mouth disease outbreak in the United Kingdom in 2001…it had an economic impact of about $10 billion (see:  Impact of Bioterrorism on Agriculture in the U.S.).  If this occurred in the United States, the economic impact likely would be far greater!  And, how the public would respond is likely to be closer to chaos than calmness.






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