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Wednesday, 11 July 2012


If you're not a regular listener to either Farming Today (5.45) or the Archers (19.05) it may be that the Milk Crisis is passing you by. Europe has a new milk lake, and as a consequence dairy farmers are selling milk for less than the price of bottled water; in Brussels yesterday they poured milk on the cobbles as the EMB called for a 25% reduction in production. UK dairy farmers heap the blame on the supermarkets, but it's actually a combination of vampire buying by Tesco and the rest, and overproduction. Not helped by the development of a vile process by Aria under the Cravendale brand by which the sour taste of rancid milk fat is disguised by mechanically reducing the size of the fat particles in suspension; Cravendale milk goes sour just as quickly as the rest, only you can't taste it.

The Archers is storylining the rise of US-style cow battery farms in Europe; huge artificially lit sheds filled with rows of Fresians (called Holsteins in the US) with vast udders all restrained from moving about and wasting food input energy on anything but making milk, fooled into thinking it's permanent Summer, the product no doubt advertised with video of happy cows skipping across flower-decked meadows.

If you've never drunk raw milk still hot from the udder, you will have no idea what cows' milk actually tastes like. Even light pasteurising kills the taste, let alone the outrage of the ten day-old rotten rancid Fresian body-fluid sold by the supermarkets. When on morning milking duty after a heavy night out I'd quaff a whole quart as soon as it was out of the teats - a sovereign remedy for a hangover. And the taste of milk is breed, breed and breed - Fresians producing the most tasteless, bland, characterless milk you can imagine. 

Give me our old Suffolk Red Poll any day; much lower yields, but the creature will live outside all year (if you give her a little winter shelter) and graze unless the grass is under a foot of snow. Suited to crop marshes and sandlings, she makes milk that makes cheese of superlative quality, bears calves good for meat or milk, she dungs the ground as she goes, and is as pliable and as good natured a beast as man would wish to have.


Weekend Yachtsman said...

Second your comments about the taste of real milk. I habitually refer to the commercial stuff as "factory milk" much to the boredom of my family, but there really is no comparison, as you say.

On prices, otoh, no sympathy from here; if the price your product commands is lower than your cost of production, that's a pretty clear signal from the market that you should be doing something else. The supermarkets couldn't drive down the price if there wasn't over-supply. If there were too many IT consultants in the world, my rates would drop; there's no reason why farmers should have special privileges.

lilith said...

Likewise South Devons, Radders. Cuddly and tasty and don't need to be inside in the winter.

I drink "Goat's" milk although it no longer tastes goaty or creamy and for some strange reason I can buy it between January and March, which never used to be the case (as the milk was needed for the kids.) Perhaps the poor goats are getting the Borchester Land treatment.

Greg Tingey said...

I gave up years ago ...
I drink Goats' milk now.
MUCH better for cooking with, as well.
Yes - second lilith's motion ....
Sainsbug's sell (processed) goat's milk all year, & so do Waitrose, incidentally.

Anonymous said...

Farmers are already heavily subsidised by taxpayers and have generous tax concessions in addition (no IHT on agricultural land) and the ability to use accountants to minimise their income taxes. I agree with Weekend Yachtsman; there is no "right" of a farm or farmer remaining in business, and it matters not how many generations of a family the farm's passed through.

As for Tesco - God bless 'em.

They provide excellent choice, local employment on reasonable wages and most importantly they know what their customers WANT - whether that's lower prices or higher quality. Then they offer both.

The pay the thick end of £1B in taxes a year and the people they employ provide Government coffers with NI and income tax deductions so the Government can - amongst other things - hand it back to farmers as more subsidy.

It'd be interesting to have Tesco draw up proposals for running the NHS, frankly......

There'll always be room for niche marketing and sales, Raedwald, but wanting to retreat to some memory of a far off bucolic idyll isn't going to keep low food prices. And when the government taxes fuel, energy, alcohol and tobacco to a fare-thee-well (and then adds 20% VAT to near everything too), so ensuring the poor stay even poorer, it's as well someone is on the consumers' side.

Edward Spalton said...

Having been in the animal feed business for all my working life, I can recognise quite a few recurrent themes here.

The CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) which we joined in 1973 gave an open ended guarantee to dairy farmers for all the milk they could produce through inflated guaranteed prices for butter and milk powder with the EEC as buyer of last resort at levels which would keep French peasants happy. There were similar guarantees for crops like wheat.

The surplus production was then either "denatured" by being turned into animal feed with a huge subsidy (to produce more milk, beef etc) or dumped on the world market at way below the cost of production, thus destroying the farming economies of Third World countries.

That came to a messy end and we now have a Single Farm payment system, based on the previous use of the farm - decoupled from the market but increasingly linked to intrusive "stewardship" requirements, like providing habitat for the lesser spotted something or other - with accompanying officialdom.

The thing about both these barmy systems is that the farmers are stuck with whatever Brussels decides and it is the devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the rump of what used to be MAFF in Whitehall which negotiate the details with Brussels - frequently very incompetently in the case of Whitehall.

I used to be rather in favour of European togetherness and it was the CAP which started me asking questions. I did not finally discover the origin of the CAP we joined in 1973 until somebody sent me some early German papers, entitled "European Economic Community" in 2002. They originated in Berlin in 1942 and the principles and ideology are identical to the policy we joined when we "went into Europe".

I translated the two lead papers and they are now posted on under the title "The EU's Evil Pedigree" .

David C said...

A farmer talking on the Today programme last week said specifically that Tesco's wasn't one of the bad boys. He singled out ASDA and Morrison's for particular criticism.

Rodney Atkinson said...

Surprising that even a rational blog like your own should attract such ludicrous generalisations about prices and markets. There has not in my life time been a market in milk. If there were - nationally and internationally we would be the world's winners as we have ideal geography and climate for dairy products. The State and since 1972 the Eurofascist superstate has destroyed farming and turned production into an arm of politics. Preserving French Italian and German "farmers" is the priority not rational milk production. There are no market prices so even the most efficient farms are driven out of business not by the market but by manipulation of costs, prices and sales. The supermarket cartels and quasi monopsonists are also a disgrace.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the drift of what you state Raedwald, however, I think that you might be confusing filtered milk with homogenised milk, it is the latter process (using a ram pump) which reduces the fat globules to a dangerously small size... The speculation is that these smaller globules, that are now equal in size to the low fat high protein content can now pass through to the blood stream pretty much as lumps of fat (which, I am told, is dangerous).

As far as I know, apart from "green top" suppliers (try Borough market), there is only "Jersey Gold Top" milk and Prince Charlie's Duchy milk produced from Ayrshire cows, are the only non-homo brands of milk sold in supermarkets.

Avoid "homo" milk at all costs!

Edward Spalton said...

I once visited a Danish dairy set up which might have won your approval.
This would be 15 -20 years ago,

The milk had minimum handling with special non-shearing pumps to preserve the fat globule structure. The milk of the day's production was in the shops the following day and labelled as such.

The cows' diets were not officially "organic" but very simple with a high roughage content. It was all beautifully clean and efficient. The milk commanded a premium and was sold close to home.

My interest was a "magic" ingredient in the diet which was made by fermenting liquid whey with the ash from a lignite burning power station. This was dried to a powder and it contained a hugely complex mix of mineral trace elements. The theory was that the lignite was composed of herbage which had grown in pre-industrial purity and so the extracted trace minerals would be a very "natural" blend. It certainly seemed to have a beneficial effect on milk quality and on some aspects of her health.

anon 2 said...

On the subject of cows' milk, I have a question.

Does anyone here know... what is the connection between milk and Osteoarthritis of the Spine (aka Degenerative Disc Disease)?

Orthopods have long told me not to drink milk, but have never explained why. Since I've loved the stuff since day 1, they were a bit late anyway ... and I ignored them right up until other factors like weight made it wise to cut down. Which kind of milk has what in it that might cause this back condition?

PS: love your picture, Raedwald. I do so hate what we do to animals.

lilith said...

Anon2 it may be because milk is full of calcium but it is not as readily absorbed as calcium in veggies is. A high veg, moderate protein diet is thought to be a more effective way of obtaining the broad range of minerals that help you absorb calcium.

As for taking chalk pills, well that I really don't understand. It is the wrong sort of calcium and there are many factors involved in calcium depletion, not least the activities of the parathyroid glands and magnesium/multi mineral intake.

trt said...

Milks bloody awful

Cheese has ballooned in price since I've been shopping, clever farmers would be making mature cheddar

Raedwald said...

Apols to Tesco; yes, Asda, Morrisons and, er, the Co-op have been identified as the worst. But the real reason is not the supermarkets but overproduction, as many of you say.

Right writes - yes, all factory milk (I like that phrase) is homogenised but Cravendale is ultra-homogenised, the equivalent of being forced at high pressure through a diesel injector.

Remember when milk bottles came with a head of cream in the neck, irresistible to blue-tits? I wonder what they do now.

anon 2 said...

Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Lilith. However, I think the problem with OA is that the soft tisssues eventually calcify. In other words, we don't lack Ca.

I just checked a few sites on this, and they suggest that allergies might be a trigger-factor--dairy products commonly being allergens. Could be, I suppose; but it seems odd for such a massive reaction to target the spine while going unnoticed for years on end--until the degeneration hits.

These individuals want to blame tomatoes, potatoes, and wheat products too, though. Doesn't leave much for us northern types to subsist on, it seems!

Then I wonder about the possiblities of early mechanical damage: from gymnastics, dance, horse-riding etc.

Ah well -- but the condition's quite common, so it might help people if 'scientists' ever verify any of this.

Meanwhile, here's my appreciation for the old farmers and their dear animals. It all reminds me of why we say Grace :)

lilith said...

Ah of course, anon2. I have osteoporosis on the brain (not literally I hope). Yes, osteoarthritis is rampant in milk drinking society but not in others. The Chinese medical system sees dairy as a combination with the environment ie damp. It's why the old folks chose to live in Arizona. Nice and dry and good for mild osteoarthritis.

Robin Melville said...

There's a similar why-oh-why piece in the Mail today.

Does anybody know of a supplier who sells proper milk not from Friesians? Struggling through a list of local farm shops without success at the moment.

anon 2 said...

Robin ... in my old part of the world, Express Dairies used to sell Jersey Milk. I guess that refers both to place and/or cattle. Oh, it was soooo good.

Lilith ... thanks. That's interesting about the Chinese doctors. And yes, I believe the 'cold and damp' must play a part.

Span Ows said...

Fresians aren't Holsteins these days. they have started as the same but today are two recognizably different breeds. Euro Fresians are meat and milk producer whereas US Holsteins are bigger, whiter and uglier...and far more productive in milk. It would be wonderful if everyone just used the 'unspoilt' local breeds but then people wouldn't get fed.

Anonymous said...

There is one thing to bear in mind. Farmers are generally in the classic position of being asset-rich, cash poor. If they don't get enough cash at the right time, they could very easily go out of business.

Now that won't stop supermarkets selling milk. They will just buy the milk from overseas; and you can bet that they will find a way to label the milk as "British" because it has been bottled here.

It's interesting to note that a local farmer has a herd of some 300 animals; his wife has suggested they reduce this to 6. The reason is that she can take the milk from the 6 animals and make ice-cream, and she will make more money from that then they currently get from the Dairy for the milk from the 300.