5 strategic reserves you may not have known about

·3 min read

President Biden’s decision last week to release 50 million barrels of oil from America’s strategic petroleum reserve may help keep gas costs down as more people travel for the holidays. Meanwhile, our neighbor to the north, Canada, made headlines recently when it drew from its strategic maple syrup reserves to stabilize prices. It made us wonder what other commodities the world has chosen to stockpile, either now or in the past.

Cheese

Some things are just crucial to the quality of human life. Like cheese, for instance, which the U.S. government has an overwhelming amount of. We have 1,450 million pounds as of September 2021! This all started in the 1970s when then-President Jimmy Carter accidentally invented “government cheese” by raising the price of milk to help farmers. The federal government bought the unsold milk and processed it into cheese, which has a longer shelf life than milk. And despite America’s passionate love for cheese, we still can’t consume enough to deplete those stockpiles. Grilled cheese for life!

Technologist in a white robe with a yellow cheese head in his hands is in the shop for the production of butter and cheese. The production process at the plant of dairy products. Racks with cheese
The U.S. government has maintained a cheese stockpile since the 1970s. (Getty Images)

Animal DNA

Dozens of animals are on the endangered species list, meaning future generations would have no way to study them if they go extinct –– that is, until The Frozen Ark was established in 2004. A collaborative effort between Nottingham University, The Natural History Museum, and the Zoological Society of London, the UK-based charity has a strategic reserve of 48,000 DNA samples that it keeps in cold storage, a process known as “biobanking.” It’s not the only frozen zoo in the world, either. San Diego Wildlife Alliance also hosts one, and you can find one in Australia too.

Butter

Life without butter is hard to imagine, especially if you live in the South where it’s smeared on just about everything. According to the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, Americans are forecasted to buy 161 million pounds of it over the holidays. For quite some time, the European Union controlled an enormous butter surplus, earning it the nickname “butter mountain.” This was because the EU government subsidized milk production by a guaranteed minimum intervention price in the 1950s, leading to a whole lot of butter ending up in cold storage. While the stock has mostly melted away today, we salute the EU for prioritizing what matters most in life: buttery goodness.

Raisins

Some foods on this list make sense to stockpile; however, raisins are not one of them. The national raisin reserved wasn’t created to make sure we never run out of raisins, but to figure out what to do with a surplus originally intended to be sent to World War II soldiers overseas. After the war ended, Marketing Order 989 was created in 1949, which allowed the government to maintain control over raisin prices. It also confiscated a percentage of growers’ raisin crops (often without paying market price for them). Farmer Marvin Horne challenged the law in court and won in 2015, and the national raisin reserve came to an end.

Chinese Pork

China is serious about pork. The country’s citizens were forecasted to consume 40.3 million metric tons of it in 2020 by the United States Department of Agriculture, and reports say that number continues to grow. While the exact amount of the reserve the country established back in the 1970s is not publicly known, our guess is that it’s sizable. China dipped into the reserve to auction off 10,000 metric tons in 2019 to help offset the damage done to the hog population by African swine fever, which reduced it by as much as 40%. Between January and September of this year, demand for pork has fallen more than 56% according to the Wall Street Journal, leaving China with a whole new problem.

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