On Monday, reports surfaced of nearly 2,500 dairy farmers spraying thousands of liters of milk outside of the European Parliament in Brussels. Farmers from France, Germany, Luxembourg the Netherlands, and Poland turned their hoses on to the collection of government buildings, with no mercy for drenched policemen and onlookers.
The demonstration was organized by the European Milk Board in protest of the Common Agricultural Policy (COA), a system of EU agricultural subsidies and programs. Farmers complain that these subsidies are allowing diary giants, such as the Danish-Swedish, Arla Foods, to sell milk below the cost of production. In Belgium, the wholesale price for a liter of milk is 0.26 €, almost half the cost for what it even takes to produce.
The School Milk Scheme
The COP was originally designed to help farmers achieve a reasonable standard of living and keeper dairy prices down for consumers during a time when demand for dairy products is at a low. However, such milk subsidies have also planted the roots for the EU School Milk Program (formerly the School Milk Scheme), in a simultaneous attempt to increase the regular consumption of milk and milk products among children. In the 2007-8 school year, the School Milk Program distributed almost 300,000 tonnes of milk to schools in the 27 Member States, with the EU providing more than €55 million in subsidies.
From Fat to Sugar
In a 2012 study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, overall calories from milk had declined among British preschoolers, children, and adolescents between 1997 to 2008/9, thanks to a decreased consumption of high fat milk. However, the decreased intake of high fat milk was met with a sharp increase in sweetened dairy, now almost equal to that of reduced fat milk across all age groups. A simple switch from fat to simple sugars.
With one million dairy farmers, the European Union is currently the world largest milk producer, putting it ahead of even the U.S. and India. However, the EU is left in a conflicting situation. Though united politically and economically, there exist no unified dietary guidelines; just try comparing France’s current recommendation for dairy with that of Poland, Greece, Belgium, and the U.K.
Implementing milk subsidies by way of the COA, and promoting school milk consumption through the School Milk Program, the EU has diverted attention from the form milk is taking once it reaches the mouths of the public. Increased intake of sweetened milk deserves closer attention, as in the U.S., especially while the EU has time to turn the clock back on COA and milk subsidies. And with the way things are looking, social media may be their best bet.