I don’t really like milk. In fact I hate it, and couldn’t drink the stuff neat unless I was paid a considerable sum of money – which is unlikely to happen. I do use milk though, not masses, but some. I think we use about two pints per week at home, unless a special recipe requires more.  I think that makes us low to middling milk consumers, which is why it doesn’t feel like much of a pinch to buy organic milk. In Sainsbury’s organic semi-skimmed costs £1.03 for two pints. The non-organic milk costs 86p, so the organic costs nearly 20% more, which is quite a big increase. However, unlike buying a big lump of meat, where the organic would cost £s more, the actual difference to your purse/man-wallet is 17p a week, which sounds much more reasonable than ‘20% more expensive’.  Which, I think, makes it pretty doable. If you think it’s worth it.

I think there is a bit of a common misundertanding that organic is all about pesticides, GM and growth hormones. Some of the regulations are, but when it comes to animals – be it dairy or meat – organic standards are as much about welfare. So an organic chicken is inherently free-range, and has added stipulations about how many square feet per bird, what it is fed, and how it is killed etc.

So this is why I think the 17p a week is worth it:

EU organic standards regulations (Soil Association standards are a bit more robust, so the SA stamp on products is even better) state that cows must graze outside in the grazing season and must not spend more than 20% of their lives indoors. 60% of their feed must be fresh rather than dried. Calves must not be weaned before 2 months and dairy cows, when in sheds, must have a minimum of 6m² lying room.

These are just some of the organic regulations for dairy cows. Of course there are still regulations for the production of non-organic milk, but nowhere near as many. Non-organic farms are legitimately allowed to operate a zero-grazing policy, where dairy cows never see the light of day. Which farms do you think do this? Is it the ones that supply massive supermarket chains with cheap milk by any chance?

The notion of battery cows is pretty horrible really, yet not much publicised. I would guess that a lot of people who wouldn’t buy battery meat are unwittingly buying milk from battery cows. In fact it almost seems like we’re going backwards with plans afoot to build a new intensive ‘super dairy’ in Lincolnshire. Some good campaigning has already thwarted Nocton Dairies’ plans to hold over 8,000 cows in the unit, and they have re-submitted a planning application for over 3,700. Which is still twice the size of the largest dairy farm in the UK. A Nocton Dairy spokesman said:

“We do not feel there is a nutritional benefit for the cows to go outside.” 

The plans have caused stirrings in Westminster, with a lot of politicians signing a motion opposing the super dairy, and debates in the House with the same tone. Ministers have batted it off saying it is a planning issue. I would argue that the welfare regulations that make this proposal possible need tightening, however, seeing as it is just a planning issue then people can object to the planning application here.

So, for 17p a week, you can have some reassurance that the cow that made your milk has some sort of quality of life and even if bought from the supermarket, that 17p is not lining the pockets of mercenary mass producers.

Here endeth the lesson.

Next time, Pickles fans: Bradshaw cooks for a live service (and doesn’t fuck it up), and the True Meaning of Christmas.

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