Terence Blacker: A pint of milk isn't cheap when it comes at this price

Notebook

Share

There has been a fashion among social historians for taking a source of simple food and tracing the complicated ways it has impinged on human society. Cod was one subject, salt another.

One day, those wanting to tell the story of the past 50 years through one product will have an obvious choice: milk. During the post-war years of "Drinka Pinta Milka Day", it stood for health and regeneration. The milk bottle on the doorstep was part of local life, the milkman a symbol of comic British naughtiness from Benny Hill's Ernie, who drove the fastest milk float in the west, to the ever-randy hero of that soft-porn epic Confessions of a Milkman.

Today, as dairy farmers demonstrate against yet another cut in the price they are paid for their product, milk represents a less happy reality. In 2012, it reminds us, the market will always be put before the environment, health and animal welfare.

Realising that milk is a uniquely emotive brand, supermarkets have ruthlessly used it as a loss leader. They have squeezed the giant processing dairies, who in turn have passed on the pain to the farmers who were supplying them.

The result of this brutal, market-led approach has been disastrous. Over the past few years, the vast majority of Britain's dairy farmers have left the business or moved into another form of agriculture. From an already low base, 200 farms have gone out of business in the past 12 months.

If the supermarket chains and processors continue to wield their power in the same ruthless manner, the only way to produce milk and any kind of profit will lie in the creation of giant mega-dairies of the type which have caused environmental, health and planning problems in America. The effect on the fields and hedges of the countryside, both in terms of the way they are enjoyed by humans and their impact on biodiversity, will be profound.

The benefit of milk to human health derives largely from the fact that the cows which produce it graze on fresh pastures. Intensive, industrialised farming not only deprives the animals themselves of fresh air and grass, and spreads diseases but, because they are fed on high-protein soya and cereal, their milk contains fewer nutrients and vitamins for consumers – all for the sake of a few pence saved at a supermarket.

Unless something is done to prevent the loss of traditional dairy herds, milk will become the ultimate emblem of contemporary greed and the worship of convenience. The type of countryside which is to be celebrated in the opening ceremony of the London games will disappear, in some places to be replaced by vast, inhumane, industrial dairies. It is all a long way from Ernie, the fastest milkman in the west.

What your illness says about you

A startlingly brilliant new research project is to trace the connection between diseases and the times during which they flourished. At Northumbria University, academics will be studying why consumption took a grip in the early 18th century, to be followed a few years later by gout, and why the Victorians were so susceptible to the vapours.

The aim is to discover more about what the leader of the project, Dr Clark Lawlor, has bravely described as "fashionable diseases".

I suspect that the researchers will have their work cut out when they reach our self-obsessed times. Consumption will still be there but in the 21st century, it will be about consuming – the famous obesity timebomb – rather than being consumed. It will no longer be "the beautiful disease".

Gout will be replaced by a more general dependence on alcohol, while the new vapours will be our addiction to emotion, personal drama and tears. Then there is Fake Guilt Syndrome, the compulsion among public figures to behave badly and then offer snivelling public apologies.

The scope for this important research project is considerable.

terblacker@aol.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings Administrator

£16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Purpose of Role: To co-ordinate maintena...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager - Commercial Training

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The business development manage...

The Richmond Fellowship Scotland: Executive Director

£66,192 per annum including car allowance of £5,700): The Richmond Fellowship ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Day In a Page

Read Next
George Osborne walks down the stairs from a submarine during a visit to the Royal Navy's submarine base at Faslane on August 31, 2015 in Faslane Scotland  

Sorry George Osborne, but it's Trident that makes us less safe, not Jeremy Corbyn

Kate Hudson
Fighters from Isis parading in Raqqa, northern Syria, where the ‘Islamic State’ has its capital; Iranian-backed Shia militia are already fighting the group on the ground in Iran  

Heartlessness towards refugees is the lifeblood of jihadist groups like Isis

Charlie Winter
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent