Friday, 1 February 2008

Milk Fest

Being a bit of a farming geek I thought I’d try out the one-day Dairy Show – a sort of “Glastonbury” for dairy farmers just a stone’s throw from the Pilton site. OK, so it’s not really like Glastonbury. For a start there’s no mud. And a most of the stands are inside in the warm.

Even so, for a bunch of guys who spend most of their lives milking cows and shifting the brown stuff, there’s something of a festival atmosphere about the event. Farmers go there for a good gossip with their mates and to catch up on the latest technical developments – everything from
automatic teat dips to the latest line in dairy disinfectants.

There are plenty of market gurus on hand to speculate about the prospects for world milk prices – on the up at the moment, so everyone’s pretty cheerful. And for the tired and weary, the dairy companies’ plush stands are somewhere to sit and have a cup of tea while they tell you about their latest products and how they’re grabbing an ever bigger share of the market.

What you don’t hear at shows like this is anything about health. This is might seem surprising when you consider that milk – properly produced from cows grazing fresh, clover-rich pasture – is one of the healthiest foods you can buy. On the other hand, milk from cows fed unhealthy foods such as cereal grains and soya is best left well alone.

As I walked around the dairy fest I looked in vain for something on the health benefits of pasture feeding. There were plenty of stands promoting feeds like palm kernel expeller, soya hulls and distillers barley. But nothing to tell you that a field of good spring grass will fill your milk with CLA, one of the most powerful cancer-fighters known in nature. I doubt these farmers would have been interested.

The sad fact is that dairy farmers have been cut off from their real customers – you and me – since 1933 when the government set up the monopolistic Milk Marketing Board with powers to buy up every single drop of milk produced in the UK. Ever since then the chief aim of farmers has been to produce as much as they can as cheaply as they can, then send it off in the tanker to some faceless official of the Board/government/EU/dairy company.

It’s all about churning out the white stuff at a decent margin. It’s the chief reason why the standard of 90 per cent of the milk on sale in our supermarkets is so appallingly low.

Back before the days of government meddling, 50,000 British dairy farmers sold milk direct to the public. What mattered to them was, not the latest gizmo for automatic teat dipping, but how to deliver rich, fresh-tasting milk that would keep their customers happy and secure the future of their businesses. It was a different basic psychology.

If we’re going to get back to truly healthy milk in Britain we’re going to have to restore those direct links between producer and consumer. Grass-fed, local milk will give us a healthier population, a healthier planet and a better future for family farms.

Stay with us and help make it happen!

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