Just What Is “Milk”?

South Mountain Creamery in Maryland is in something of a bizarre situation. The farm has it’s own bottling plant and sells milk directly to consumers, and it has the FDA going after it because it’s 100% real pasteurized skim milk is, well, 100% real skim milk and nothing else.

That’s right, the FDA claims the creamery cannot label it’s skim milk as “skim milk”. It is trying to order the creamery to label it “imitation milk product” or “imitation milk” when, well, when it absolutely is not imitation anything. The FDA claims it has to be labeled “imitation” because the product does not contain artificially added vitamins.

Now, a bit of background here. The milk you buy in the grocery store is not actually pure milk. Pretty much none of it is. It has vitamins A and D added to it. Basically the bottling plant throws a ground up vitamin pill in it. Why? Because once up on a time about 90 or so years ago, we had problems with vitamin deficiencies so the government began to mandate adding extra vitamins to milk. But the fact of the matter is that this hasn’t been necessary in, well, half a century, really. And there is actually a risk of getting too much A and D. Most European countries actually ban adding adding them to milk because of the risk of overdose. Too much D can cause heart arrhythmia and other problems and too much A can be seriously toxic as well.

And in any case, the amount of A and D being added may not even be what it says on the label to begin with as the New York Times discovered back in 1992 when  independent testing of milk samples found that the actual amounts of vitamins in the milk being sold varied wildly, and in at least one case back in 1992 the level of vitamin D was so high it was dangerous causing medical problems for at least eight people.

Now I’m not going to get into the debate about whether or not D and A should or should not be added to milk. I just want to talk about this whole labeling nonsense because, well, according to the FDA’s own regulations, the agency’s actions in this case seem to be just wrong. Here is how FDA defines “milk”:

[Code of Federal Regulations]
[Title 21, Volume 2]
[Revised as of April 1, 2017]
[CITE: 21CFR131.110]

 

TITLE 21–FOOD AND DRUGS
CHAPTER I–FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION
DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
SUBCHAPTER B–FOOD FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION

PART 131 — MILK AND CREAM

Subpart B–Requirements for Specific Standardized Milk and Cream

Sec. 131.110 Milk.
(a) Description. Milk is the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows. Milk that is in final package form for beverage use shall have been pasteurized or ultrapasteurized, and shall contain not less than 8 1/4 percent milk solids not fat and not less than 3 1/4 percent milkfat. Milk may have been adjusted by separating part of the milkfat therefrom, or by adding thereto cream, concentrated milk, dry whole milk, skim milk, concentrated skim milk, or nonfat dry milk. Milk may be homogenized.

(b) Vitamin addition (Optional). (1) If added, vitamin A shall be present in such quantity that each quart of the food contains not less than 2000 International Units thereof within limits of good manufacturing practice.

(2) If added, vitamin D shall be present in such quantity that each quart of the food contains 400 International Units thereof within limits of good manufacturing practice.

(c) Optional ingredients. The following safe and suitable ingredients may be used:

(1) Carriers for vitamins A and D.

(2) Characterizing flavoring ingredients (with or without coloring, nutritive sweetener, emulsifiers, and stabilizers) as follows:

(i) Fruit and fruit juice (including concentrated fruit and fruit juice).

(ii) Natural and artificial food flavorings.

(d) Methods of analysis. Referenced methods are from “Official Methods of Analysis of the Association of Official Analytical Chemists,” 13th Ed. (1980), which is incorporated by reference. Copies may be obtained from the AOAC INTERNATIONAL, 481 North Frederick Ave., suite 500, Gaithersburg, MD 20877, or may be examined at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). For information on the availability of this material at NARA, call 202-741-6030, or go to: http://www.archives.gov/federal_register/code_of_federal_regulations/ibr_locations.html.

(1) Milkfat content–“Fat, Roese-Gottlieb Method–Official Final Action,” section 16.059.

(2) Milk solids not fat content–Calculated by subtracting the milk fat content from the total solids content as determined by the method “Total Solids, Method I–Official Final Action,” section 16.032.

(3) Vitamin D content–“Vitamin D–Official Final Action,” sections 43.195-43.208.

(e) Nomenclature. The name of the food is “milk”. The name of the food shall be accompanied on the label by a declaration indicating the presence of any characterizing flavoring, as specified in 101.22 of this chapter.

(1) The following terms shall accompany the name of the food wherever it appears on the principal display panel or panels of the label in letters not less than one-half the height of the letters used in such name:

(i) If vitamins are added, the phrase “vitamin A” or “vitamin A added”, or “vitamin D” or “vitamin D added”, or “vitamin A and D” or “vitamins A and D added”, as is appropriate. The word “vitamin” may be abbreviated “vit.”.

(ii) The word “ultra-pasteurized” if the food has been ultra-pasteurized.

(2) The following terms may appear on the label:

(i) The word “pasteurized” if the food has been pasteurized.

(ii) The word “homogenized” if the food has been homogenized.

(f) Label declaration. Each of the ingredients used in the food shall be declared on the label as required by the applicable sections of parts 101 and 130 of this chapter.

[42 FR 14360, Mar. 15, 1977, as amended at 47 FR 11822, Mar. 19, 1982; 49 FR 10090, Mar. 19, 1984; 54 FR 24892, June 12, 1989; 58 FR 2890, Jan. 6, 1993]

If you can wade through the legalese up there, you will note that “milk” is specifically defined, and it says things like “if” vitamin A is added, and “if” vitamin D is added, they must be at certain levels. But it doesn’t say they must be added for the product to be called “milk”. Nor does it say anything about a requirement to label milk as “imitation” if they are not added. So if this is accurate, FDA’s claim that this creamery’s skim milk must be labeled “imitation” is not in keeping with FDA’s own regulations.

Now there may be some regulation, somewhere, that requires milk to have added A and D in order to be called “milk” but I haven’t managed to find any regulations that state explicitly that in order to label something “milk” it must have A and D added to it.

This isn’t the first time this issue has come up. About a year ago there was a case in Florida where the state claimed the Ocheesee Creamery couldn’t label it’s skim milk as “skim milk” and had to call it “imitation skim milk”, despite the fact it was 100% skim milk. The state lost and lost badly, ending up with the 11th US Circuit Court ruling against the state and Florida having to pay almost half a million dollars.

The other thing I find curious is that despite the fact that the FDA has a rather strict definition of the term “milk”, i.e. “Milk is the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows.”, it doesn’t seem to have a problem with various nut and legume juices and extracts labeling themselves as “milk”, such as soy milk and pea milk and almond milk.

As Milk Prices Decline, Worries About Dairy Farmer Suicides Rise : NPR

“The nation’s dairy farmers are facing their fourth year of depressed milk prices. The outlook is so bleak, it’s increased worries about farmer suicides. One recent outreach effort drew criticism.”

Source: As Milk Prices Decline, Worries About Dairy Farmer Suicides Rise : NPR

The situation for dairy farmers in 2017 was not good. A lot of diary operations are running right on the edge, trying to stay profitable at a time when there is ever shrinking demand for liquid milk for drinking, and a glut of other dairy products like cheese, butter and powdered milk. This story above from NPR illustrates just how bad the situation is getting. Go read the article if you have the time. It isn’t very long.

If you don’t have the time, here’s a brief summary: A dairy co-op in the north east US, Agri-Mark, has seen three of it’s farmer members commit suicide in the last few years. Agri-Mark makes Cabot cheese among other products, and has about 1,000 members. In February when it sent out the milk checks, it included a chart showing just how bad the dairy market was looking for the upcoming year, and a list of suicide prevention hotlines. The reporter talked with Will Rogers, who milks 75 cows in Massachusetts, who is having a difficult time keeping above water. Even more upsetting is the fact that his own father who used to own the farm, killed himself because of financial problems.

While the letter from Agri-Mark was probably well intentioned, it certainly added to the stress a lot of it’s farmers are already facing and Rogers says in the article, it might push some farmers so far that they think “there’s no point in going on.” Agri-Mark certainly could have done a better job of trying to communicate with it’s farmer members.

And as if dairy farmers don’t have enough problems, they are increasingly worried about being able to sell their milk at all. Dean Foods just told at least two dozen farmers in Pennsylvania, Indiana, and four other states that Dean will no longer take their milk as of May 31, leaving them scrambling to find a milk processor they can sell their milk to.

The same thing happened here in Wisconsin last year about this time when Grassland rather abruptly dumped a group of farmers, leaving them to desperately try to find a market for their milk.

The article at Dairy Management about Dean seems to be trying to blame Walmart for Dean’s decision. Walmart used to buy it’s in-house brand milk from Dean, but Walmart is building it’s own milk processing facility in Indiana which will come on-line in May, so Dean is going to be losing a significant amount of sales as Walmart switches to product coming from it’s own production facility.

Certainly there is enough blame to go around, but everyone is ignoring the fact that the real reason behind almost all of the money difficulties dairy farmers are having is over production. They are producing more product than the market really wants, which is pushing prices down lower and lower.

There are various marketing boards, government agencies and others trying to help the situation, but almost all of them are focusing on one thing, trying to increase sales of a product that increasingly people don’t really want, and shouldn’t be eating much of. At at time when a recent study just found that 75% of the people in this area are overweight, we have government agencies and marketing boards trying to convince food makers to shovel ever more cheese into their products.

Seventy-five percent. Think about that for a moment. We are facing a national health crisis due to people eating too much of what is bad for them, with government agencies and others trying to figure out how to help people get their weight under control, and at the same time other government agencies and marketing specialists are trying to get food manufacturers to drastically increase the amount of cheese they use in their products.

 

Farm Catch Up

I haven’t done one of these in a while, so let’s take a look at what’s been going on in agriculture. And since this is January 2018, maybe take a peek at the crystal ball (I actually use an old tennis ball because, well, have you seen what a good crystal ball costs these days?) and see what might be going on in the upcoming year.


Dicamba has been in the news again. This time the Arkansas state legislature has weighed in on the issue. It’s legislative council has approved the Arkansas plant board’s ban on the use of Dicamba from April 16 to Oct. 31. The board put the ban in place after receiving almost 1,000 complaints of Monsanto’s new “no-drift” blend of the herbicide doing exactly that, drifting, and damaging thousands of acres of crops in the state. The company has released the hounds lawyers, is filing for court orders, is threatening to sue everyone in sight, has launched attacks against at least one individual member of the plant board, and it’s getting nasty real fast.

Meanwhile other big soybean growing states have instituted new, much stricter controls on the use of the new herbicide after hundreds of thousands of acres of crops were allegedly damaged by the new blends. Even the feds have gotten into the act, instituting stricter rules and usage regulations about using the stuff.

Monsanto and it’s partners that are selling these blends claim that the drifting isn’t their fault, and that it’s the farmers and people performing the applications that are to blame. The clam is that they’re using the wrong equipment, spraying at the wrong time, at the wrong temperature, and even using not Monsanto’s patented product, but straight dicamba that they’re purchasing elsewhere that volatilizes much more easily. But in order for this much damage to be caused that way, a huge number of farmers and applicators would have to be breaking the law, and I don’t believe that. Commercial applicators won’t risk it. They could lose their licenses, get huge fines, be sued, basically be put out of business if they didn’t apply these products in the proper way. And farmers who apply these products themselves would face similar penalties.


A2 Milk – I don’t recall now if I’ve talked about so-called “A2” milk before, but if you haven’t heard of it yet, you will in the near future. I suggest you go read the Wikipedia article on it which goes into extreme detail, and which has a plot like a soap opera, complete with bankruptcies, threats, untimely deaths, utterly ridiculous health claims including that it cured diabetes, cancer, etc., bogus marketing scams and I don’t know what all else before it finally became “legit”. I just re-read it and– oh brother, it’s a mess. The thing you want to remember about A2 milk is that it is, well, milk. The only difference is that the casein in the milk has a slightly different chemical makeup than A1 type milk. Nor is A2 milk entirely free of the A1 type of casein. Despite all of the hype, it is still just milk, and there seems to be no real basis in fact for any of the health claims being made for it. If you want to drink it, fine. But for heaven’s sake, don’t pay more for it than you’d pay for regular milk because it doesn’t cost any more to produce the stuff than it costs to produce A1 milk.


Dairy – There doesn’t seem to be much good news for the dairy industry for 2018. Thanks to continued overproduction and a projected increase in production during 2018 of 3% or more, milk prices look like they’re going to be heading down, with some people predicting the price could drop to $13/CWT or even lower. A dairy economist over at UW Madison thinks prices could climb as high as $16 in the second half of the year, but he seems to believe that production and demand are going to start to balance out, and frankly there doesn’t seem to be any real reason to believe that.

Some people think China is going to dramatically increase imports of milk products, but there’s no real reason to believe that, either. China has had a moderate increase in imports, but not to the point where it is having much effect on milk prices.

Don’t look to NAFTA for any help, either. If anything, the NAFTA negotiations are doing little more than making Mexico and Canada increasingly irritated. But more about that lower down on the page.

About the only good thing that’s happened in the dairy industry is that cattle feed prices have remained fairly low. But while that’s good news for dairy, it’s bad news for grain farmers.


Corn – Corn prices don’t look like they’re going to get much better either. Despite predictions that farmers are going to be planting less acreage in corn in 2018, the amount of grain actually produced isn’t going to be shrinking much because of improvements in yield, and as a result the price of corn on the commodities market has remained at or near the $3.50 level, where it’s been for months now. Demand for corn appears to be relatively flat.

As is the case with milk, there is hope that China will start to ramp up imports of corn, but there seems to be no real proof that is going to happen any time soon. The biggest buyer of US corn used to be Mexico. In 2017 Mexico curtailed it’s purchases of US corn, and has been talking to sellers in Brazil and Argentina. Increased sales to Japan has made up for some of that loss, but the way things are going in the political arena, don’t look for any improvement in grain exports any time soon.


NAFTA – The trade agreement that administration officials were claiming would be done in just two or three weeks back in mid summer of ’17, wasn’t, of course. Negotiations are still going on, and despite public statements by the administration indicating things are going just fine, they aren’t. Behind the scenes reports from the proverbial “unnamed source” indicate that things are definitely not going well. And when one considers that the ruling party in DC can’t even negotiate with it’s own members to keep the government funded and has to depend on the opposition to get enough votes to keep government offices open, that shouldn’t be surprising.

The question isn’t when a new NAFTA will be negotiated, the question should be is there going to be any kind of NAFTA at all. Right now I’d say that the chances of NAFTA being successfully renegotiated are around 50/50.

Agrimoney.com | Butter price surge may ‘prompt fundamental market change’ – Arla

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 6.25.36 AMArla boss Peder Tuborgh sees a shake-up, if the rally continues which has, for the first time, made dairy fats more expensive than protein Source: Agrimoney.com | Butter price surge may ‘prompt fundamental market change’ – Arla

I haven’t been talking much about farming lately because not much has really been going on over the last month or so. But butter — good grief. The butter market has gone goofy.

Wholesale butter prices are flirting with record prices in some markets, even surpassing record levels in some areas. Retail prices have been creeping up. Demand for butter has been just about the only thing that’s been keeping farmgate fluid milk prices at a reasonably decent level over the last few months. Around here prices for generic butter is pushing close to $4/lb. while prices for the “premium” brands is in the $4.50 range, with some of the premium brands pushing $5/lb. retail prices. The exception is KwikTrip, which is selling their house brand for $2.99 in their convenience stores around here.

I’m always fascinated by how the public’s attitude towards butter and dairy fat in general has changed over the last few years. Thanks mostly to the marketing claims made by margarine manufacturers, and with little or no actual scientific studies backing those claims, butter and dairy fat was being blamed for everything from obesity, to heart disease, to stroke, to I don’t know what all else, while margarine was being pushed as a “healthy” alternative, when the opposite was true.

I always hated margarine. I hated it’s texture and flavor, I hated how it melted or didn’t melt, hated how it worked when used in cooking. But then I’m weird that way. I have one of those hypersensitive senses of smell and taste, especially smell. I’ve a bit of a reputation as being a picky eater, but I’m really not. The problem is that I smell and taste things most people seem to be unaware of.

But let’s get back to butter…

The item up there from AgriMoney reminded me of the Great Butter War going on here in Wisconsin right now. The picture of Kerry Gold butter up there isn’t just some random butter image, it’s appropriate because at the moment Kerry Gold is banned from sale in Wisconsin along with a lot of other brands of butter.

Before butter can be sold in the state, it has to be graded on taste, texture and color through some state accepted system, by state accepted inspectors. This means that if a butter maker can’t or won’t spend the time and money to put their product through the state’s inspection system because of cost or whatever reason, it can’t be sold in the state, even though it meets all other accepted federal standards.

Consumers didn’t know about this until one day Kerry Gold butter abruptly vanished from the shelves of the grocery stores here in the state not too long ago. It isn’t that the law was just passed, it’s been on the books since the 1950s. It seems that a lot of grocers just didn’t know about the law until fairly recently.

Wisconsin has a long history of laws about butter. It is still illegal for restaurants to substitute margarine for butter without the customer specifically requesting it. It is illegal to serve margarine in state prisons, schools and hospitals except for health reasons. And until the late 1950s it was illegal to sell margarine in the state that had been dyed yellow. Margarine is actually a rather sickly looking whitish color and is dyed yellow to make it look appealing. Margarine makers used to include a yellow dye packet with the margarine sold in Wisconsin so the consumer could dye it themselves.

I should point out that Wisconsin’s butter grading law has nothing to do with food safety. The grading system the state insists on is made up of largely arbitrary standards for taste, texture, smell and appearance. Kerry Gold and the other butters banned from sale in the state meet all USDA and other federal standards for quality. They just haven’t been subjected to these arbitrary tests.

Well, the whole thing is going through the legal system now, and I suspect that sooner or later the Wisconsin requirements will be overturned. But until then you’ll have to order your Kerry Gold online or hop across the border to Illinois or Minnesota to get your fix.

Farm Catch Up

Stories you might have missed about food, agriculture, and the ever popular ‘stuff’, along with occasionally snarky commentary.

Coffee Linked To Not Dying!

Screen Shot 2017-07-12 at 2.14.11 PMOoo, coffee — that delightful, delicious beverage that both pleasures the taste buds and enlivens the brain, oh I feel so sorry for those of you who drink tea. (Come on, you tea drinkers know what you’re drinking is lawn sweepings soaked in tepid water, right?)

Anyway, now that I’m done annoying the tea drinkers out there (you know who you are), let’s get on with this.

That headline up there is not clickbait. It’s true. According to a study published actual real live doctors from an actual research facility and published in an actual science journal (not the Flintstone’s Institute for Advanced Studies of Sciency Stuff and Flat Earth Society where most of the congress apparently gets its science information) you have almost a 20% less chance from dying from just about anything if you drink coffee. Well, probably not getting hit by an asteroid or something like that. They mean heart disease, stroke, cancer, that kind of thing. If you click the link it will take you to an article over on The Guardian and you can get the links to the actual study from there.

Missouri Bans Dicamba

Missouri joined Arkansas in issuing an emergency ban on the sale and use of herbicides

Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 6.29.22 AM
soybeans damaged by dicamba

containing dicamba after it was learned that more than 200,000 acres of non-GM soybeans were allegedly damaged by the product. The Arkansas ban was approved by the Governor’s office and will go into effect on July 11, and is in effect for 120 days. The Missouri one doesn’t seem to have a specific time limit, but the agency involved in Missouri said it hoped the problems could be resolved and the ban lifted yet this growing season.

Dicamba has always been difficult to work with. It turns to vapor and can drift for extremely long distances. Non-GM soybeans are extremely sensitive to the product, and even a tiny amount can damage the crop, so any kind of drifting is a serious problem. Monsanto has claimed that it’s “VaporGrip” version of the product cured the problems when used properly. But it doesn’t seem to be working very well.

So, you ask, what dos Monsanto say about all of this? Glad you asked.

They’re blaming everyone else, of course. In an interview over at CropLife, a Monsanto spokesperson blamed everyone and everything except, of course, it’s product. Farmers spraying at the wrong time of day, having residue from other products in the sprayer’s tanks, not following proper procedures, using the wrong spray nozzles, spraying in windy conditions. And all, of course, without offering any proof that any of this actually happened.

More Chlorpyrifos Controversy

Five states (and I’ve heard several more are in line to do it too) are suing the EPA over it’s decision to permit the continued use of Chlorpyrifos, a very nasty pesticide that is known to cause serious health problems, especially in children.

I mentioned this before. Last year the EPA determined that chlorpyrifos was dangerous, and public health organizations, doctors and other health care professionals have been pushing for it to be banned for years. The EPA was going to ban the stuff at last.

But then along came Pruitt and he claimed the stuff is just fine and dandy and that they had real actual “meaningful data and meaningful science” to prove it. Associated Press, other media, and health officials have repeatedly requested the EPA provide them with the data, but the EPA has refused to respond to any of the requests.

I don’t like being a cynical old bastard, but I get the feeling the EPA hasn’t provided it yet because they have interns locked in a back room somewhere desperately trying to write something sciency enough to fool the average reader into believing this stuff is “safe”.

Oh, I should point out that DOW, which makes chlorpyrifos, contributed $1 million to Trump to fund his inauguration, its CEO is supposedly good friends with him, and it has spent over $13 million “lobbying” various politicians in the past year.

Commodities Markets Are Weird

If you followed my old blog on Tumblr you know I’m fascinated with the agricultural commodities market and how it functions. Or, rather, how it doesn’t function, because it’s often so screwed up it’s laughable. Often what’s going on in the futures markets seems to have little to do with reality. Like right now.

USDA came out with it’s crop status report, and it’s the worst that they’ve issued since the 2012 drought, with only 65% of the corn crop rated at “good” or better, and only 62% of the soybean crop rated “good” or better.

Now during the drought, corn and soybean prices skyrocketed, with corn pushing the $8/bushel range for a time. So you would naturally think that a report that bad would push the prices up, right?

Well, no. After the report came out, corn prices fell by about 5 cents a bushel, and soybeans dropped more than 12 cents.

Apparently what drove the morning price down was that the report wasn’t as bad as they thought it would be.

Bureaucratic Run Around

More on the dicamba front: BASF, which has partnered with Monsanto to produce the special dicamba blend that was just banned in Arkansas and Missouri after enormous numbers of complaints about crops damaged by the herbicide, is trying to pull a bureaucratic end run around the ban by applying for something known as a “special local need label”.  This is a special permitting system that allows the use of a pesticide that normally cannot be used, because no other pesticide would be effective. Basically it was originally intended to help during emergency situations where there was an infestation of some pest that threatened to wipe out a crop, and only a non-registered pesticide would work. If you want, you can read the information about that whole process here.

Considering dicamba has damaged literally hundreds of thousands of acres of crops as it has drifted across the countryside, it seems that problem here is dicamba, not the weeds it’s supposed to control.

What The Hell Is Milk Anyway?

Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 7.42.36 AMThere is a lot of fighting these days over the definition of the term “milk” when it comes to products being sold to consumers, specifically over the use of the term in describing drinks made with various nuts and beans. I.e. “soy milk” and “almond milk” and that kind of thing. Even USDA isn’t sure, and is using the word “milk” in much of it’s literature when referring to these products.

I can certainly understand why the almond industry wants to use the term. It’s because calling “almond milk” what it really is, isn’t exactly appealing. If they labeled it accurately, they’d have to call it “97% water with a few ground up almonds, emulsifiers, stabilizers, gums, flavoring agents, coloring, added vitamins and minerals and preservatives and you’d get more nutrition from just eating five or six actual almonds than drinking this stuff beverage”.

Try fitting that on the label on the bottle.

Rural Internet Access

For anyone living out in the country internet access is a major problem. There are various schemes and scams floating around that claim they will bring high speed internet to rural residents, but most of them are never going to get anywhere for various reasons.

Why won’t the ISPs connect rural customers? Cost, of course. It would take ages for them to make up the cost of connecting everyone outside of cities and towns. The same thing happened with electricity and telephone back in the day, the providers wouldn’t hook up rural areas until the government pretty much forced them to and paid a lot of the costs associated with it. And in this current political climate, well, a prominent Wisconsin politician (Sensenbrenner) is on record as saying that no one actually needs internet in the first place, thus illustrating that he hasn’t a clue as to what life is like out here in the real world.

The problem with most of these schemes is that they rely on some type of radio communication, either types of cellular networks, microwaves, or some kind of extended wifi system. And the fact of the matter is that we don’t really have the spectrum available to make these schemes work. The radio spectrum is so severely overcrowded now that cellular companies are paying billions of dollars for access to a few frequencies to expand their networks and improve their systems. So exactly where they’re going to squeeze in these new services is problematic.

The other problem is that some of these systems are already being tested or are even already in use in limited areas, and they don’t really work very well and they aren’t really all that fast. We have a kind of microwave system in use around here serving residents that live outside of the wired system, and it has some serious issues. Heavy rain and snow disrupts service, speeds slow to a crawl during ‘prime time’ when many people are trying to use the system, and most of these systems are very expensive, have some very serious data caps, and have lots of other issues associated with them.

Yet another problem is that what the feds are calling “broadband” isn’t really broadband by anyone’s definition. The US has some of the most abysmal internet speeds of any first world country. The ISPs here have been concentrating on throttling back usage, restricting bandwidth, charging utterly ridiculous amounts of money for going over artificially created caps so they can cram ever more paying users into an already overloaded system, and not investing any of that money in improving the infrastructure or in extending their coverage. The result is that US speeds are about half of what they are in the UK, the EU, Japan, Korea, and even the metro areas of China.

The feds definition for “broadband” internet for rural areas is even worse than what it is in urban areas, about 10 meg/second. So you can forget about making that conference call to work if your kid is playing WOW or your dear spouse is down in the basement watching PornHub.

Manure Rules

Wisconsin is finally doing something about the very serious contamination of wells by

Screen Shot 2017-07-12 at 2.45.57 PM
Why is she wearing a mask? If you had to pose in a swimsuit with a bunch of cows, you’d probably wear a mask too.

manure from farming operations. I’ve mentioned before that we have had problems with well contamination from farm runoff, especially in Kewaunee County, were it’s estimated that 30% – 40% of the wells are contaminated. It hasn’t been widely reported, but the problem is so bad that local organizations, schools and others have been giving out drinking water to local families because of the widespread contamination of the wells up there.

The state is going to be issuing new rules that will finally put some restrictions on when, how and where farms can spread manure. Hopefully this will help.

Okay, okay — I know that photo has nothing to do with the story. But if I come across a photo of a person in a swimsuit, wearing a mask, standing with a bunch of cows, I’m going to put it up. I can’t help myself.

 

Milk Again

Some of you are probably getting tired of me talking about the dairy industry and the

Screen Shot 2017-04-27 at 6.43.56 AM
Cow is angry.

problems it faces, but I ran across an editorial over at Wisconsin Agriculturalist that was really well written and well thought out that talks about the situation the dairy industry is facing. Go give it a look if you have a few minutes.

The writer brings up a lot of points that I’ve talked about myself, or have at least thought about. I wanted to pass some of that along with my own thoughts on the subject. So if you’re sick of me babbling about dairy farming, feel free to skip this one. I won’t blame you at all if you do.

As the author points out, blaming Canada for our overproduction problems down here is just plain stupid. He doesn’t use that word. He’s more polite than I am.

Blaming Canada for our problems and Grassland cutting off some 75 or so farmers from a market for their milk is stupid. Demanding that the government “do something” to change Canada’s milk production and marketing system because of our problems down here is sort of like a kid demanding his parents take away his friend’s Playstation because he doesn’t have one himself.

Canada has a milk production/marketing system that works fairly well. Dairy farmers enjoy relatively stable prices that let them make a reasonable profit. But the price they pay for this is that their production is strictly limited. They have a system in place that permits them to only produce a specific amount of milk. If they want to expand their operation, the only way they can do it is by acquiring the quota of a different farm that is shrinking or going out of business.

This also means that Canada has to put in place import restrictions that prevent outsiders from dumping their surplus product onto Canadian markets at cut-throat prices and destabilizing their whole system.

This, some claim, is “unfair”. Canada, they claim, should simply allow the US to dump it’s surpluses on the Canadian markets so the US can continue to ramp up milk production to make even more product that no one wants and wrecking the Canadian dairy industry just as badly as we’ve wrecked the US markets.

They want a “free market”. But only a market that’s “free” for them, and not for anyone else, it seems. They want a market where they are free to dump their excess on everyone else, but at the same time they want the US to protect them from other countries doing the same thing to us. Hence all of the rhetoric coming out of DC about tariffs on imports, claims that China and Mexican products are “destabilizing” our markets by dumping cheap products on us.

But we should be able to do it to them?

Could the government here ever develop a marketing system that actually works? Sure it could. But it won’t. It can’t.

The problem is that the government is no longer in the hands of elected leaders who represent us. Instead politicians have sold their souls (and ours) for the almighty dollar. Their actions are being influenced not by the voters who elect them, but by a handful of well financed special interest groups that are largely funded by a tiny handful of wealthy individuals and corporations and which pump hundreds of millions of dollars into election campaigns.

The author of the editorial wants farmers to join up with one marketing board or farmers’ organization or other to try to work with the government to get changes made. It’s highly unlikely that will work. It certainly hasn’t worked in the past. Farmers’ organizations attempting to change the system have come and gone by the dozens, and almost none of them have had any real positive influence on things. In some cases, they’ve made things worse.

What’s the solution? The government isn’t going to be any help. That system is largely broken. The government no longer responds to the needs of the people it’s supposed to represent, but only responds to those who can write out six figure checks or own a high priced and well funded lobbyist in DC.

I wish I had an answer. I don’t.

 

 

Farm Catch Up

Looking back at ag news over the last week

NAFTA

The new ag secretary, Perdue, gave a speech in which he claimed the administration was going to renegotiate NAFTA within the next six months. He said, “We’re not talking about this taking years to do, but weeks…”, thus clearly indicating that neither he nor the administration he works for knows what NAFTA is in the first place, or even how trade negotiations work. If they think they can do something as complex as renegotiate NAFTA in a few weeks… Oh, brother, we’re in trouble.

Ag Immigration

With the ag sector in a near panic over the potential loss of much of their labor force due to the policies of the administration, some administration officials have been trying to calm things down. Perdue was out and about again and said in a speech that he had been assured that the administration was not gong to target employers, was not going to raid farms, and that the ag sector should calm down because the administration was not going to go after it’s immigrant labor force.

And then just a couple of days later ICE did exactly that, raiding a Pennsylvania mushroom farm and hauling off nine of it’s employees. So it goes.

Other anti-immigrant activities by politicians and law enforcement have done nothing but make the panic in the ag sector even worse. Texas just put in place a law that permits police to demand proof of citizenship during routine stops and would jail police chiefs and sheriffs who do not cooperate with federal immigration officials. Arizona has passed a similar law. Basically these laws allow, or even require, police to demand proof of citizen ship from anyone they suspect is not a citizen which, in a lot of jurisdictions basically means anyone who is not white.

Some politicians are trying to do something about this. Ag businesses and others that depend on immigrant labor are having serious problems already. There is a bill in Congress that would provide a “blue card” to farmworkers who have worked in agriculture for at least 100 days. That bill will almost certainly go absolutely nowhere. Wisconsin and some other states are trying to cobble together a “state visa” program that would give states more control over immigrant rights to prevent their labor force from being deported. Wisconsin is hugely dependent on immigrant labor and employers are already having problems finding people to work. That proposal will go nowhere as well. Even if it did go through at the state level, it would be over ruled by federal law and possibly would even be unconstitutional because the federal government, not the states, has control over immigration.

Water Wars

Wisconsin has a serious problem with water quality, especially ground water. Because of contamination by huge CAFOs (mega farms) caused by the dumping of millions of gallons of liquid manure on the ground, wells all over the state are being contaminated. Up in Kewaunee county about 40 miles from here it’s estimated that 35% – 50% of the private wells in the county are contaminated. And almost nothing is being done about it. A story in the May 10 issue of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (I can’t put in a link because I read MJS on Kindle, but you can find it with Google if you want) discovered that the problem is so serious that the Algoma school district is giving out water to students and families, some farm organizations are giving out drinking water, and even the DNR may be getting into the act, providing drinking water. And almost no one has heard about the story. I’m not a conspiracy nut, so I don’t think that they are deliberately trying to bury the story. I think it is just getting swept aside because of far more important issues. Kewaunee County is a rural area and not very affluent so news organizations tend to ignore it unless something makes a big stink.

Kewaunee County is also problematic because it is bordered on one side by Lake Michigan, and by the Bay of Green Bay (yes, I know it sounds redundant, but that’s what they call it) on the other. The Bay of GB has been suffering from dead zones, areas where nothing but algae grows, because of contamination by fertilizers, phosphorous, nitrates; the same contaminants that are getting into the wells.

Wisconsin isn’t the only state with this problem. Iowa, Indiana, California… Anywhere where large scale agriculture is going on is suffering similar problems. And the politicians are listening.

But, of course, not to the people who are finding their water polluted. Here in Wisconsin they’re ramming through new rules and regulations which would allow mega farms and irrigation systems to draw virtually unlimited amounts of ground water form high capacity wells, even in areas where the draw down has been so bad rivers and lakes are literally drying up because of it. The “new” DNR is doing nothing about the issues in Kewaunee and is working on “voluntary” solutions. And in California they tried to push through a bill that would forbid people from suing suspected polluters, giving the general public no recourse at all if they find their wells contaminated. And at the federal level some members of Congress are trying to push through a similar measure. You can read about that here over at The Hill.

Who Owns What?

One trend that I find troubling is farm land being snatched up by investment companies. Farmland Partners is perhaps the best known of these, but it isn’t the only player in this. FP now owns around 154,000 acres of farmland, and it’s expanding it’s holdings every year.

Perhaps I’m a pessimist, but when I read stories like this I tend to think of how this can be abused and misused. I get nervous whenever an essential item like farmland is being concentrated in the hands of people who don’t give a damn about anything except maximizing their profit. Yeah, I know the companies talk about preserving farmland, protecting our resources, saving the environment, protecting agriculture and all that. But when it comes down to it, the only business FP is in is to make money for it’s stock holders. Period.

Unpasteurized Milk

Consuming unpasteurized milk has become a fad in the “natural food” world. From ridiculous claims that unpasteurized milk can cure everything from rashes, to baldness, to cancer, to claims that pasteurizing milk somehow destroys it’s nutritional content, the internet abounds with utterly absurd claims alleging health benefits from it that simply do not exist.

One thing that unpasteurized milk can do, though, is make you sick. According to a new study published by the CDC this week, 96% of all illnesses linked to milk products were caused by unpasteurized milk, even though only about 3% of the population drinks unpasteurized milk and even fewer eat cheese made with unpasteurized milk. You can read about it here over at Consumerist.

I know this sounds kind of ridiculous from a former dairy farmer, but the fact is that you don’t need milk at all. You can easily get the calcium, protein and other nutrients in milk from other sources. There are studies out there that indicate that contrary to what the milk marketing boards are trying to claim, drinking milk does nothing to improve bone density nor does it do anything that can’t be gained by eating other foods. There are even some studies indicating that drinking milk may be related to some of the very things the marketing people claim it helps.

[Addendum: May 12. I added this edit after someone who read this told me that you need to drink milk to get vitamin D. Yes, D is an essential nutrient and a lot of people don’t get enough of it, but you don’t get vitamin D from milk itself. The only reason D is in milk is because milk processors are required to add it. They basically grind up a vitamin pill and throw it in the jug. ]

Cheese… that’s a different story. Ooo, yummy yummy cheese… I think I have some of that gorgonzola left in the fridge…

Say it with me now — cheese….