In the Loop

How do you make 1,000 gallons of milk disappear?

Posted at 1:31 PM on June 4, 2008 by Sanden Totten (3 Comments)

Somewhere in the back of the Sunday Star Tribune I saw a small photo of a happy boy splashing around in a giant tub of milk. Got milk? Apparently so.

One of our regular listeners, Rosalie Clemens, sent me an e-mail explaining the story behind the photo. She told me about the dairy strike happening right now in Germany. Her relatives live there and also happen to be dairy farmers.

She explained that the strike was over the price of milk. German dairy farmers say that the price is unfairly low and that they can't cover the cost of production unless the stores pay more. Retailers say that it's all in the market and they pay what milk is worth.

So, the farmers are cutting them off. No milk for you. But cows get sick if you don't milk them. How do you get rid of up to a 1,000 gallons of milk a day? Rosalie Clemens explains:

"Obviously, farmers are not allowed to dump the milk in the sewers as that would completely change the bacteria balance in the water cleaning facilities. So, they are finding ways to use the milk themselves. Some are using it to feed their animals, some are using it directly as fertilizer, and most add it to the liquid manure, which is later used as fertilizer."

And some, as the Strib picture demonstrates, are using it for fun. Our informant continues:

"The thing to understand is how hard it is to discard a perfectly fine food item . . . alongside the milk many tears are going down the drain."

In a time of rising food prices world wide, it is a shame that dairy farmers are having to flush their cow juice. But farmers have to eat too . . . and you can't live on milk and cheese alone!

Comments (3)

" and you can't live on milk and cheese alone!"

Makes you wonder why they don't make it into cheese & ship it to places where there's a food shortage. Perhaps those economics don't work either.

Posted by bsimon | June 4, 2008 1:57 PM

I'm always baffled by those kind of things. I once talked with a food waste expert and he quoted the economist Amartya Sen as saying something like: famines are not natural occurrences, there is always food somewhere in the world. Famines come from man made problems in distribution.

Posted by Sanden Totten | June 4, 2008 3:19 PM

The "make cheese" argument sounds nice, but it misses the reality of what's happening in Germany.

The farmers in Germany do not make cheese--farmers sell milk to the dairies (at a price controlled by the dairies), and then the dairies make milk products (like cheese), which is then distributed to retailers and the public.

Unfortunately, the dairies have set the price they pay for raw milk below the actual cost incurred by farmers in producing the milk. Negotiation in Germany did not work and finally the farmers were forced to cut off the supply of milk to dairies.

Strikes are one of the only means that industry in the U.S. has been motivated and guided toward accountability and fair labor practices. Hopefully this strike in Germany will achieve sustainable pricing for dairy farmers there, too.

Posted by Bruce | June 4, 2008 6:42 PM

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