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Big Dairy Sets Its Sights on Asia: Will ‘Milk Life’ Go Global?

Could the U.S. dairy processors’ new slogan, “milk life,” make it big in Asia? If dairy multinationals like Nestlé and Danone have their way, the answer might be yes.

As the market for dairy products in industrialized countries nears saturation, the U.S. dairy industry, along with its counterparts in Australia, New Zealand, and Europe, have begun to look for new consumers in China, Vietnam, Indonesia, and other Asian countries. Read more

Kitchen Table Talks: Dairy Farmers Squeezed to Utter Extremes

Perhaps no one represented the American work ethic more than the dairy farmer. Early morning hours and hard physical labor, often conducted in solitude while ankle deep in muck. Families working together to get the job done. They have long proudly supplied a demand for their community, and like most farmers, are clearly not in it for the money.

Today however, the American dairy farmer also represents the frustration and economic hardship evident across our nation. Increasing volatility in the price of milk paid to farmers, higher feed costs, corporate consolidation in the supply chain, organic milk farms scaling up, and questionable government policies all have farmers shedding a few tears. The life is so unappealing that the number of American families remaining in milk farming has plummeted from roughly 165,000 20 years ago, to less than 50,000 today. Read more

In Stunning Reversal, USDA Chief Vilsack Greenlights Monsanto’s Alfalfa

Government regulation of corporate practices has apparently been much on President Obama’s mind lately. He recent penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed vowing to review federal regulations to make sure they weren’t too onerous on business. In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, he illustrated his concern about the complexity of federal regulation by pointing out that two different agencies regulate wild salmon. “And when it’s smoked, I understand it gets really complicated,” he added. Ha, ha.

In other words, Obama is trying to establish himself as an eminently reasonable, pro-business sort of president — you know, not the sort of fellow who would let things like the Wall Street banking meltdown, the Upper Big Branch coal-mine disaster, the BP oil spill, or any other notorious lapse in government oversight stand in the way of the business of doing business.

Obama’s instantly famous “salmon joke” has me looking into how the government regulates salmon farms — those vast factory-style pens concentrated mostly off the coast of Washington state. I’m not done with research and won’t be until next week, as I’m preparing for a trip tomorrow to California to speak at the Edible Communities conference in Santa Barbara. The initial results of my research: government oversight of salmon farms consists mainly of encouraging them to produce as much salmon as possible.

This afternoon, my farmed-salmon research and trip prep were rudely interrupted by an unexpected regulation-related announcement: the USDA has decided to approve the use genetically modified alfalfa without any restriction. Read more

Got Justice?

Appropriately, the evening began with a picnic featuring local cheese and ended with an ice cream social under a yellow moon. In between, dairy farmers, consumer advocates, professors, labor union representatives, faith communities, antihunger advocates, an aspiring cheesemaker, and even a Certified Public Accountant spoke out forcefully about the widespread injustices in the dairy industry.

The main event was a Dairy Town Hall Forum in Madison, Wisconsin, sponsored by Family Farm Defenders, National Family Farm Coalition, and Food and Water Watch, and timed to coincide with Friday’s Department of Justice and USDA workshop examining corporate concentration in the dairy industry. The workshop today is part of the ongoing investigation (which I reported on here) by the two departments to determine whether food and agriculture companies have become too concentrated. Read more

Dairy Crisis 2009: Stand Up For Rural America While You Still Can

The assault on rural America continues unabated. For the past six months dairy farmers across the country have suffered a historic drop in milk prices while operating costs remain high. Since December 2008, the price that farmers are paid for the milk they produce has plunged over 50 percent, the largest single drop since the Great Depression.

While organic dairy farmers have faced a decrease in overall sales due to the recent world financial meltdown and tight budgets on the home front as a result, the current drop in milk prices is impacting mainly conventional and small to mid-size family dairy farmers — the worst crisis most dairy farmers have faced in their entire careers.

Without immediate action from President Obama, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and members of Congress, this current crisis could be the launching point for the final liquidation of the independent family farmer. Read more

Victory! HHS Nominee Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius Vetoes Milk Labeling Bill

In a victory for local dairy farmers and consumers, Gov. Sebelius, President Obama’s pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, vetoed a controversial bill last Thursday that would have limited rbGH labeling on dairy products in that state. The bill, HB 2121, faced massive opposition from dairy, consumer, health, animal welfare and environmental organizations across the country; nearly 30 of which wrote a letter to Sebelius, urging her to veto HB 2121. Read more