Thursday, July 12, 2012

Who is being milked?

Milk has probably played an important role in many a youths personal history, whose first paid job was perhaps as a milk-boy delivering it to door-steps. The importance of milk in the global food story can’t be overestimated. Mankind first learned the value of keeping animals alive for dairy production as early as 9,000 to 7,000 B.C.

Dairy farms are on the verge of extinction. The price farmers are paid for milk is set to fall. The latest cuts will see farmers being paid around 25p a litre for milk, compared to more than 30p it costs to produce.  Today’s milk business is dominated by a handful of large supermarkets and processing dairies, Wiseman, Unigate and so on. Milk is plentiful and cheap, with supermarkets frequently using it as a loss-leader. Dairy farmers sprayed thousands of liters of milk outside the European Parliament in Brussels on Tuesday, creating a "milk lake" to protest against low prices. Protesters from around Europe, including Italy, Germany, Ireland and France blocked off a square with tractors. In the UK thousands of farmers protested at Parliament. The "milk lake" was intended to symbolize an oversupply of milk in the European market, with protesters ringing cowbells and denouncing moves to phase out production quotas, resulting in more milk on the market and lower prices - excess milk production and less little farmers are getting paid. Marc Tarabella, a "socialist" member of the European Parliament, said the protesters had a just cause. "Their fight is also ours," he said. "How can we accept that some workers are working at a loss? Working to lose money? We cannot close our eyes to this human and social drama."

In Britain dairy farmers are being pushed to the brink by the latest cuts to the price they are paid for their milk, farming leaders warned as more than 2,500 farmers gathered in London to protest against the reductions. The farmers are angry at the latest round of cuts of up to 2p per litre, which come on top of similar cuts in the spring, recently announced by major milk processors. They say the cuts will force many farmers out of business, pushing up the price of milk for consumers in the long term.

National Farmers' Union deputy president Meurig Raymond said: "These latest cuts are the feed bills, the wages, the housekeeping and will take us well into loss-making territory, with many farmers losing up to 6p per litre. Society has to recognise what these dairy farmers have been put through by a market place that doesn't work and is not fair."

Robert Wiseman, one of the dairies announcing cuts, said: "The decision follows a collapse of in the value of cream in each litre of farm gate milk over the last 12 months. We have done everything we can to minimise the reduction in our farm gate milk price but we must now reflect the substantially lower returns from the markets which we serve."

The farmers' complaints against supermarket prices are not entirely misplaced, but their real problem in large part is due to plummeting world prices. Production at the world's four biggest dairy regions has increased simultaneously. New Zealand is up 9 per cent, Australia rose by 3.6 per cent and the US and European Community by 2 per cent.

Many dairy farmers, in their bid to drive down costs, now keep their cows off pasture, feeding them instead on high-energy cereals and maize, and on high-protein crops like soya. Herds are getting bigger, and some farmers are choosing to keep them inside for much of the year or even all of it. US-style mega-dairies — in effect, battery-farmed cows — are now threatened for the British countryside. Professor Ton Baars, a global expert on the health qualities of dairy foods, says milk produced this way contains lower levels of key disease-fighting nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and the anti-cancer substance CLA. From a health point of view, the best milk comes from cows grazing fresh pasture in which there are plenty of clover plants and deep-rooting herbs such as plantain, dandelion and chicory.

Farmers’ relentless drive for cost savings has put increasing pressure on the long-suffering dairy cow. A milch-cow is now forced to produce twice the volume of milk provided by her 1960s forbears, and it’s taking a heavy toll on her health, fertility and lifespan. Actress Joanna Lumley has taken up the cudgels on behalf of dairy cows. She’s heading an animal rights’ campaign aimed at giving them the sort of protection in European law that’s provided for battery hens. One of the key guarantees she’s seeking is the animals’ freedom to graze fresh pasture, at least in summer.

The rule of the market - it is the whey of the world


Ford Tractor Forum said...

thanks for helpfully post :-)

ajohnstone said...

Seems like the milk producers are planning to escalate action and try a repeat of the oil tankers dispute.

It had been reported that milk tankers could be blocked from leaving dairies.

Anonymous said...

"...Like all mammals, cows can produce milk only after they've had a baby. Most newborn calves in the United States are separated from their mothers within 12 hours-- many immediately after birth -- so the mother's milk can be marketed for human consumption. Though some dairy farmers still wean calves on whole milk, the majority of producers use milk replacer, which too often contains spray-dried cattle blood as a cheap source of protein. According to the American Protein Corporation, which boasts to be the world's largest spray-dryer of blood, the chief disadvantage of blood-based milk replacer is simply its "different color." Milk replacer containing blood concentrate typically has a "chocolate brown" color, which can leave a dark residue on the bottles, buckets, and utensils used to feed the liquid. "For some producers," a company official remarked, "the difference is difficult to accept at first, since the product does not look 'like milk.'" But the "[c]alves don't care," he was quick to add. The calves may not care, but Stanley Prusiner does. Prusiner won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discovery of prions, the infectious proteins that cause mad cow disease. He was quoted in the New York Times as calling the practice of feeding cattle blood to young calves "a really stupid idea," because it could complete the "cannibalistic" circuit blamed for the spread of the disease...."

There's more, if you've the stomach for it, here:

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