Images of milk being sprayed in the streets of Brussels should help shift consumers away from a toxic and tainted product
The spraying of milk in the streets by angry farmers optimizes how low our economy has sunk in its treatment of other lifeforms, the land and indeed each other. Milk has been made cheap like water but it is, of course, actually produced by a mother cow to nurture her young. Milk’s descent from sacred sustenance to crass commodity should shame us all and spur us to take action. The blame for low milk prices is normally passed between supermarkets, governments and the EU. The truth is that while all these institutions have a role to play there is something bigger going on. The extreme ideology today’s economies are orientated around, neoliberalism drives a global race-to-the-bottom in terms of how corporations will treat their labour force, livestock and land. This sets the rules of the economy so that if you have no scruples and can do it cheaper… you gain market share. To become competitive in global markets modern dairy farms treat their cows in a way that would make a traditional milk maid weep. The calves are taken from the mothers at birth kick-starting a drawn-out grieving period in these intelligent and sensitive mammals. Their udders, primed to feed their young, are now attached to machines that draw out the goodness at the maximum possible rate driving painful mastitis (nipple infections). In the dismal, cramped, industrial conditions illness is rife and treated with antibiotics which has knock-on effects for human health. But the impacts of dairy stretch far further than denigration and cruelty to animals and human health issues. Animal agriculture produces more emissions than transport and communications combined. This means that as well as making humans fat and unhealthy, dairy is bleaching coral reefs, making the ocean acid, fueling: storms, flooding and forest fires and contributing to the collapse of the global ecosystem. February shattered climate change forecasts. This is not a time to be over-producing a powerfully climate-forcing product and then spraying it in the streets like apocalyptic goons. Milk has been turned into an undervalued commodity by a sick economic ideology that has been forced into national policies all around the world. The good news is we can change the rules of the economy to attribute more value to environmental stewardship, animal and human well being, quality of life and healthy food. For example, if we put a tax on carbon, it would become more expensive to ship things around the world. This would mean an English farmer can compete with farms overseas that pay low wages or mistreat the land. It would also encourage low carbon forms of farming which could create thousands of skilled jobs for a new generation of farmers who can go back to work with the land far more intelligently than with giant tractors burning oil and destroying the soil. What this brutal, inhuman economy has done to cows, farmers and the land is atrocious. The solution does not lie in finding pots of cash to pay farmers to carry on as they have been doing. The solution is to transform agriculture into a life-sustaining force that rejuvenates the land and creates abundant, healthy food. We get there by phasing out fossil fuel inputs, diversifying fields and landscapes and farming with intelligence and care. There is much work to be done and this can create vibrant new livelihoods for a disenfranchised generation sick of an immoral economy, bastard politicians and their empty ideas.