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Things That Matter: Crisis, common sense and the benefits of milk
By Henry S. Fraser
“With milk and honey blessed …” (From the hymn Jerusalem the golden, by St. Bernard of Cluny (212th century)
Throughout our July holiday in Britain the papers were filled with the protests of dairy farmers all over the country at the unfair practices of milk processors – the big guys – the middle men in the milk industry – over major price cuts to dairy farmers. Dairy farmers were hardly covering production costs yet further price cuts to 25 pence a litre, well below production cost of 30 pence per litre, were proposed.
“They blockaded processing plants with tractors and threatened to disrupt the Olympics unless the cuts were reversed, amid fears many family-run farms would be driven out of business. The number of dairy farmers in Britain has (already) fallen from 34 570 in 1996 to 14 500 today (The Sunday Times, 29.07.12, Page 15).”
Well, common sense prevailed and the big boys cancelled the price cuts. Meanwhile the farmers are “boiling over at the coffee shops”. They’ve now been tackling the coffee shops for a fair price, and a photograph showed farmers pouring milk into a bath with three bikini beauties, and a sign “Why is milk cheaper than water?” Indeed it’s far cheaper than bottled water, which of course is a major con in Barbados and many places – a ubiquitous bottle of trademarked water is almost as much a status symbol as a cell phone used to be.
Then I came home to the milk crisis in Barbados. I’ve followed the scandal of government’s Greenland goat milk underselling the private producers, so that everybody loses money, and now I read in the press (August 12) that Pine Hill has a milk glut of 60 000 cases of unsold milk, and is going to impose a 40 per cent cut in the quota for dairy farmers supplying milk to the Dairy. According to the report by Melissa Bradshaw, dairy farmers “felt betrayed since only a year ago they were all sent a circular by PHD informing them that the quota system was being suspended; that they could submit any amount of milk to the dairy but it would regulate the supply …” And CEO of the Barbados Agricultural Society, James Paul, has said that “PHD was not getting enough milk sold …”
Well, for decades governments across the world have promoted milk drinking, for good health! Milk in its many marketed forms – full fat, 2%, skimmed, lactose free, flavoured (but beware the sugar content there) – and milk products such as yoghurt, cheese and ice cream contain almost all the essentials for good nutrition, although many commercial products have too much sugar. Clearly, common sense has been lacking for some time in certain circles. If the powers-that-be have encouraged expansion of the dairy industry and milk supplies, but find milk sales declining while milk production goes up, somebody’s asleep at the wheel.
Several things are obvious. Dairy farming is costly, and therefore mustn’t be operated at a loss. Milk is an essential staple in a healthy diet – indeed in some societies milk and yoghurt comprise most of the diet. Secondly, a healthy dairy industry is essential to our food security, which remains exceedingly vulnerable. And thirdly, there MUST be an organised promotion of healthy nutrition, and obviously greater consumption of milk and milk products is a must.
It may well be asked “Which milk products?” Well, milk contains not just protein and calcium, key nutrients, but many other vitamins, minerals and substances like linoleic acid that are linked to many health benefits. And research shows it’s the best post workout drink for building muscle – don’t waste your money on energy drinks! But for the overweight and those with diabetes or lipid problems, 2 % milk is best. And for those like me with some lactose intolerance, lactose free milk and yoghurt fill the bill.
Yoghurt is widely considered the healthiest of foods. BUT BEWARE THE MANY SWEET AND FRUIT-LADEN BRANDS! Pint for pint, plain yoghurt has more protein than milk, and many other health benefits. And that raises another issue. Why are there more than a dozen brands of imported yoghurt on supermarket shelves when Pine Hill yoghurt is one of the best in the world? I urge that we STOP importing other pricey, over sweet, less healthy, less tasty yoghurts, and go 100% Bajan with Pine Hill, and I urge that we eat far more plain yoghurt, with an added teaspoon of honey.
I might change my ancient mantra of “a banana a day keeps the doctor away” to “a banana and yoghurt a day keeps the doctor away!”
And what about making cheese? We could have a healthy cheese industry, especially cottage cheese, the healthiest, easiest and cheapest to make. Why is no one doing it? And ice cream, which needs at least a third of its volume of milk. (I’d hate to hear that either Pine Hill or BICO use imported powdered milk in their manufacture of yoghurt.)
So, Pine Hill, BAS, Dairy Farmers Association, Entrepreneurs, GIS and others: let’s apply some common sense, promote milk and yogurt, and bring some organisation to the whole issue. Save the dairy industry, save our foreign exchange and make the nation healthier.
Bouquets: To Kirani James and Keshorn Walcott, shining teenage Olympic stars, doing the Caribbean proud! (With the name Walcott, does Keshorn, like so many Trinis, have a Bajan grandfather?)
(Professor Fraser is Past President of the Barbados National Trust, and past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI.)