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I think there is a case for introducing some kind of “fair trade” type system that guarantees farmers a fair (or at least not less than it costs to produce!) price for their milk
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THE ETHICAL FOODIE - Back to Basics

Tim Maddams

20th October, 2016

We refer to them as kitchen basics - milk and eggs - but how often do we stop to think about the true cost of their production? Not often enough writes TIM MADDAMS

If you drink milk you should really eat veal. The 'holes' created in our food production cycles by the lack of value placed on the long-term sustainability of the complete system are simply a madness

There are some things that we consider food basics. Simple things, that most of us pick up and use every day in our kitchens: bread, milk, cheese, pasta, eggs etc. Of these, unless you are of the vegan persuasion, the majority are animal products yet, it often strikes me that we fail to take this into account. It has become so easy and commonplace to have a pint of milk in the fridge that it's tempting to forget what it is; to spare just a moment to think about how it was produced, how we should treat it and from where we should purchase it. The same goes for eggs.

Milk and eggs are excellent examples of things we have come to take for granted in the kitchen - both available cheaply, from numerous places. But hang on a mo: when you really think about it, that's a bit odd, really. Milk is, as we all know, the lactic secretion of a large domestic bovine mammal. For us to acquire this milk a female cow has had to be born, grow to maturity, become pregnant, bear a calf, get milked twice a day and then made pregnant again once she stops giving milk. Once she has served out her usefulness she will likely be sold as low quality meat into a large selection of uses.

What of her offspring? Well, of course, the female young will likely be kept to replenish the herd as older cows become uneconomic to maintain. The males will either be sold off to cattle-fattening beef dealers who will then sell the grown-on dairy calves under contract to a large-scale user, such as McDonalds. Nothing wrong with that, it's never going to be prime beef, as cows that are bred for dairy are quite different from cows grown for beef; though a lot can be done to bridge the gap and increase end value of the bull calves, but only with a significant reduction in milk-giving properties.

Sadly, many bull calves are still put down at birth, or shortly after as there is no market for them: they have become worthless; a by-product. Some dairy farmers are now rearing more of their bull calves for use as so called Rose veal, and I salute them in their endeavours to make more of their calf meat. Rose veal is delicious, ethical, and far removed from the abhorrent crate veal of old. Boy calves are reared in open-sided barns, or on permanent pasture, are fed some grass or hey/silage as well as milk until they are around 6 - 8 months old. The meat is very special indeed yet veal has such a bad rep it's taking forever to get this Rose veal meat into people's kitchens which is a real shame.

That was a long paragraph. But, a synopsis of it runs through my head every time I open the fridge and reach for the blue-topped bottle. Milk is way too cheap in the shops. We are told that milk is a staple and needs to be affordable for all. Well, it's not affordable for the farmer, the cows or the environment at the moment. And, it seems to me that few people in the shops really care that much about what their milk costs. Most see it as not only essential, but cheap; when in truth it's by no means impossible to live without. What's more, I imagine most people don't even know what it costs, they're so used to just looking for the bottle with the right colour lid and popping it in the basket.

It's the same story with eggs. You only want the girl hens; though of course, many birds hatched for layers are cockerels. These are dispatched upon hatching and then sold as animal feed, which is better than burning them I suppose, but it seems a very sad waste of life. I expect that laying breed cockerels are not efficient enough at putting on weight to be commercially raised for meat, but it would make an interesting experiment to raise a few and see whether they can be put to better use in the kitchen. Laying hens at the end of their commercially useful lives are either slaughtered for pet feed or food processing or thankfully these days, given away to people who want free laying hens for their garden, allotment or small holding. The various hubs for facilitating this do great work, but by no means all hens can, or will be, re-homed.

My point? Well, it's two fold as ever. But basically it's the same old song I find myself singing whenever the boiling down has to be done. Buy better quality milk and eggs. In the case of milk, I think there is a case for introducing some kind of "fair trade" type system that guarantees farmers a fair (or at least not less than it costs to produce!) price for their milk. Buy less, buy better quality, higher welfare and don't waste any. There is a further aspect to consider though...

I am sorry if this offends anyone, but if you drink milk you should really eat veal. The 'holes' created in our food production cycles by the lack of value placed on the long-term sustainability of the complete system are simply a madness. For every dairy bull calf slaughtered at birth, someone somewhere will be breeding beef calves to fatten for meat, and for all those cock chicks that end their lives before they have begun, the farmer up the road is hatching chicks to grow to slaughter weight in 8 weeks. Surely, surely, we could eat half veal, half beef and still be happy? Surely this would help the dairy farmer bridge the gap between cost of production and market price? And finally, certainly, we can all appreciate what we have at our fingertips a little more, and treat it with greater respect.

Above all we all need to stop confusing value with cost.

 

 

 

 

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