Franklin Countys First News

Politics & Other Mistakes: The ‘M’ word

Al Diamon

It’s legal. But it’s still controversial.

Its health benefits are debatable. But that doesn’t deter its advocates from making outrageous claims.

And no matter where you buy it, it’ll be strictly regulated just like alcohol, tobacco and firearms. But for far more dubious reasons.

After decades of political upheaval, Maine and the nation are still trying to come to terms with how to regulate a seemingly benign agricultural product with a name that begins with the letter “m.”

Marijuana?

Hell no, I’m talking about milk.

For reasons that have never made sense, the sale of moo juice is subject to an array of rules more complicated than those governing such toxic substances as campaign finances, nuclear waste disposal or excess gubernatorial verbiage. Selling milk is significantly more difficult than selling Donald Trump’s agenda to Portland’s liberal legislative delegation.

The most obvious example of regulatory excess is Maine’s law controlling the retail price of milk. Unlike other forms of price controls, which attempt to protect consumers by placing maximum limits on how much can be charged, the state sets the minimum amount.

Why?

Excellent question, for which there seems to be no good answer. In theory, the law against bargain milk guarantees that dairy farmers receive enough return to remain in business, thereby propping up a traditional rural industry and preserving open space for future generations, who will neither be able to afford nor appreciate it.

How’s that worked out?

Not well. In 2001, the state had 645 commercial dairy farms. That number has declined nearly every year since then, until today there are fewer than 250. While the average farm is considerably larger than at the turn of the century, that hasn’t resulted in an improved bottom line. Most of them are struggling to survive. While milk production is up (those damn cows have no grasp of economics), profits are down due to a glut on the market.

To combat that trend, farmers have tried a couple of approaches. They offered organic milk at a premium price (remember, Maine rule-makers let them charge more, just not less). Unfortunately, the recent recession and the lack of large numbers of consumers willing to pay extra for something that’s not demonstrably healthier than the out-of-state, industrial-dairy milk from Cumbies has left that marketing effort in disarray. Another attempt to increase profits by allowing wider sales of raw milk has failed at least three times in the Legislature and a few other times in court. Add in all the incomprehensible interference from the 2014 federal farm bill, and it’s small wonder the dairy industry is in udder despair. (I swear the editor made me use that cow pie of a pun. Complaints should be directed to that cud-chewer.)

There is, however, a bright side to all this overregulation. Cow-control officials collect fees from the dairy industry and also receive cash from the state budget, with this money set aside to help farms in distress. Which, as previously noted, is nearly all of them.

In the past two years, this fund has given out $32 million to offset farmers’ losses (a sum that would no doubt have drawn the ire of state welfare bureaucrats if it was discovered that any of these recipients were immigrants from terrorist-plagued nations). That’s a lot of money to prop up a dying industry. Although, it’s probably less than we’ve wasted trying to salvage all those shuttered (and soon-to-be-shuttered) paper mills.

Maybe it’s time to put our efforts into promoting a form of economic development that’s more likely to be profitable, even without a continuing infusion of public funding. And maybe it’s possible to accomplish that without any loss of agricultural jobs and while maintaining a reasonable facsimile of the rural lifestyle.

Maybe it’s time to seriously consider that other “m” word:

Marsupials.

You know, like kangaroos. There’s got to be some kind of market for them. And the only competition is Australia.
We could own this deal.

OK, kidding.

The real “m” word is marijuana. Any dairy farmer who isn’t thinking about putting in a pot crop should be stuck in the butt with a cattle prod.

I figure I drink less milk in a year than beer on an average Sunday afternoon. Other significant statistics can be mailed to aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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5 Responses »

  1. Raw milk is sold in most states, sometimes utilizing a contract with the farmer (cow share/herdshare). See realmilk.com for a complete listing. I've been drinking it for 10 years -- my wife was in a constant state of dread, fearing I would keel over dead any minute (I didn't). Instead, I've gotten stronger.

    Up until one year ago, she had severe allergic reactions to dogs and cats, and terrible stomach/digestive problems that just got worse over time. Doctors had no idea what was causing her distress. Finally, after much prodding from me, she tried the raw milk during an especially nasty episode, and her trouble stopped instantly. She drank it every day. Within a few weeks, her facial rosacea went away (that doesn't happen), her allergies went away (that doesn't happen, either) and her stomach is in infinitely better shape (still not 100%, but she drinks milk religiously, every day, and extra when her stomach starts acting up. It stops immediately). These are all auto-immune responses.

    My son is deathly allergic to pasteurized milk, but can drink a half-pint of raw milk without a hitch.

    People have been drinking raw milk for 10,000 years, since the dawn of agriculture. Any farmer in the world that owns goats or cows likely drinks raw milk (you can't milk a pig, but some Asians milk horses).

    Al, it's all about the microbes and enzymes in the milk (the cow puts them there) that are destroyed by pasteurization. They help you digest the milk. They also modify the variety of microbes in your gut, which strengthens your immune system. Don't even get me started on the impact on auto-immune diseases.

    Raw dairy farmers realize that if they poison one person, it will be on the 6 o'clock news. And their dairy days will be over. A farmer that knows his milk will be pasteurized anyway doesn't have quite so many reasons to maintain ridiculous cleanliness.

    Do you recall your first meal? Your mother does, and it was raw milk. Your digestive system was non-existent, but your mom's milk was everything that you needed, and would be for many months while you grew at the fastest rate in your life.

    Do a little research and you'll discover about 5 people a year die from raw milk in the U.S., typically from raw cheese made in tacky, unauthorized home kitchens in southern California by people who should not be making food products. That same year, about 20,000 Americans will die from spinach.

    Legalize it. Regulate it. Sell it. Buy it. Get healthy. Lots of people are lactose-intolerant. All of them are potential new customers for farmers selling raw milk.

  2. The farmers had better not let LePage know they are gonna get any help. And one old farmer told me, once, don't plant a pot plant in corn rows because the corn gets taller and faster and the pot won't get enough light. I think he thought I was the one growing weed there, but I didn't.. If LePage finds out you will get any help, he will just slash it. He doesn't care. He just wants to leave Maine broken and then leave the mess for the next governor to fix

  3. Hugh,
    20,000 die from spinach every year, I havent heard that one before. Background check to buy spinach? Maybe.

  4. Hugh failed to mention it was actually 20,000 murders committed when people try to force their spinach on others.

  5. Hugh, your statement on spinach (presumably referencing ecoi deaths) is so far off reality it undermines all else you claim.

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