OPINION Annual observances reflect the circumstances that surround them. The year 2021 is a unique moment, with light at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. There’s excitement for the future, mixed with apprehension and nervousness about what may lie ahead. World Milk Day – June 1 – provides a moment to celebrate, for all the difficulties, dairy’s many impressive achievements of the past year. It’s a time to consider how those accomplishments can be a springboard for whatever the next year brings.
Celebrate that the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a renewed appreciation for nutrition that can be counted on. That was reflected in robust sales of milk and dairy products in grocery stores, that outpaced the overall gain in grocery spending. When times turned difficult, Americans turned to baking. And they turned to glasses of milk for children, cheese and yogurt for their deliciousness, and cream for the coffee brewed before another day of workplace Zoom. Dairy has been part of the resilience that’s seen people through.
Celebrate that U.S. dairy is increasingly nourishing consumers around the world. Hundreds of millions of people each day gain the nutrients critical to preventing and addressing malnutrition and promoting a healthy diet – including excellent-quality proteins, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iodine, and vitamins B2 and B12. As of early this year the U.S. share of the global milk market has increased to 21 percent, from 19 percent a year earlier. That gain equals about 3.4 billion pounds of milk. Dairy’s global presence – and benefits – are only growing.
Celebrate that dairy is asserting itself not just as a global food choice, but as a global sustainability leader. It’s often easy in the day-to-day to forget dairy’s genuine progress in responding to long-term profound challenges such as climate change. But 2020’s launching of the Net Zero Initiative, along with the voluntary adoption of the U.S. Dairy Stewardship Commitment by companies representing three-quarters of the nation’s milk production, positions the industry well for generational leadership in one of the era’s most crucial concerns.
Celebrate that dairy is also meeting immediate challenges. Dairy farmers are recognized leaders in facing society’s most pressing need – to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. By leading vaccination efforts in rural areas and small towns across the nation, dairy farmers and their cooperatives are playing a key role in the return to normal. They’re a leading light after more than a year of masks, lockdowns and traumas borne by millions.
Celebrate that, in times of intense political division, dairy works across party lines for widespread benefit. From playing a prominent role in the first agricultural-labor bill to be approved by the U.S. House of Representatives in more than a generation, to backing measures that will support rural communities. Dairy works to provide necessary farm-disaster assistance as well as crafts programs that serve historically underserved communities. Dairy is unfailingly an agent of bipartisan progress, which strengthens the nation and keeps it moving forward.
Another thing annual celebrations do is they reflect on the past but help keep people moving forward. There are many reasons, this World Milk Day, to be excited about what’s ahead. May your glass of milk help brace you for the journey. Raise it!