Fair Milk: Why Milk Shouldn’t Cost 50 Cents

Milk is a valuable food, but it should be as cheap as possible. That has consequences. Dairy farming is no longer profitable for many farmers.

A liter of cola costs 90 cents, while a liter of whole milk costs from 55 cents. Something is wrong with the price structure: milk is far too cheap. The producers notice this painfully. In the summer of 2020, the dairies paid the dairy farmers around 32 cents per liter – and that is even more than a few years ago: in 2009 the milk price had fallen to a shameful 21 cents per liter.

The expenses for feed, fuel or fertilizer were twice as high as the income from the sale of milk. The German farmers were up in arms at the time and poured thousands of liters of milk onto the fields in protest. It didn’t help them much.

Fair Milk sends a signal against dumping

“We need about 50 cents per liter of milk to be able to work economically,” says Romuald Schaber, chairman of the Federal Association of German Dairy Farmers (BDM). Instead, however, the farmers would have to pay extra at times. In an interview with the weekly newspaper Die Zeit, the spokesman for the dairy farmers complained that no one was earning anything from the 55-cent milk: “That’s dumping from production to the store shelf.”

The world market is increasingly determining the value of milk. This is one of the reasons why the prices nationwide are like a roller coaster ride. Between 21 and 42 cents per liter for the farmer, everything was there and nothing was stable. This has thrown quite a few people off the curve in recent years: from 2000 to 2020, the number of dairy farms has almost halved to around 58,000 farms – 3,000 to 5,000 farmers still give up every year because it no longer makes economic sense for them .

Fair milk thanks to farmer cooperatives

Above all, the number of small dairy farms is declining. It is farms with fewer than 50 cows that are being wiped out by price pressure – such as those run by Felix and Barbara Pletschacher in Schleching in Upper Bavaria. There are only 14 cows on her farm near the Austrian border. But the Pletschachers are fine. Because they get a milk price they can live on.

“You can’t keep running a farm with 14 cows,” Felix Pletschacher was initially told when he took over the dairy farm from his father. But instead of expanding, he and his wife rely on several mainstays – he works as a mechanic, she takes care of the holiday apartment on the farm – and on ecological agriculture.

Today her farm is a member of the farmers’ cooperative Milchwerke Berchtesgadener Land. And it pays its members a liter price of 40 cents for conventional milk and over 50 cents for organic milk. The cooperative’s organic products have been awarded the Naturland Fair seal.

What is fair about fair milk?

In fair trade with the countries of the South, the producers of bananas, coffee or cocoa receive mutually agreed minimum prices, which are intended to protect them against fluctuations in the world market. In view of the strongly fluctuating milk prices, local farmers could also use such a safeguard. However, the “Naturland Fair” seal stipulates in the guidelines at least a partnership-based pricing to cover the production costs and a reasonable profit.

Finding fair trade milk is not easy for consumers. Although the Naturland Fair label can be helpful, it is not found all that often. Alternatively, reaching for organic milk also helps – dairies usually pay higher prices for it, and some of the organic milk from their own dairies is also marketed regionally. And one thing is certain: a liter of milk at 55 cents can only be unfair.

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