Big Dairy Farms Pinched
By Anti-Hormone Movement
By James Donahue
In the vernacular of
the old Vietnam
era, the big business of dairy farming in the United States
is facing a “Catch 22.”
The farmers with hundreds,
if not thousands of milking cows in their herds have been using an artificial hormone rbST to force more milk out of every
cow. But an outcry from consumer groups, environmental groups and demands for organic products has been pressuring farmers
to stop using chemicals on their animals. And the Ohio Department of Agriculture is considering forcing the labeling of milk
products containing the hormone, and a major milk distributor, Dairy Marketing Services, says it will not handle milk with
the chemical in it.
This has forced a reaction
from dairy farmers who say they are already doing serious pencil pushing to squeeze profit margins from their business. They
maintain that the loss of the rbST synthetic hormone in cattle feed will mean a loss of about 15 percent of the milk they
To make up the difference,
farmers argue they must get more money for their milk, or else increase the size of their herds. Larger sized herds means
more feed, grain, labor and fuel costs.
This writer has looked
at this problem from both sides of the fence for many years. I was raised on a farm. While we did not raise dairy cattle,
many of our neighbors did and I understand the hard work involved in keeping even a small family-owned operation going. The
big industrial sized dairy farms that came along after I left the farm are probably much less efficient, but basically the
same kind of operation on a big scale.
As a reporter who covered
farm issues for many years, I am also well aware of the skills utilized by dairy farmers to squeeze every penny of profit
from their livestock. These guys were not the simple country folk I remembered as a young boy growing up in a farming community.
They often were college graduates who utilized advanced mathematics skills on home computers to run their business. They also
attended special courses, often offered by the Cooperative Extension Service in their state, to learn ways to squeeze even
better profits out of markets that were often squeezing them from every direction.
Farming was never an
easy business. In recent years it has become a very competitive and very big business. The more recent entry of skilled dairy
farm operators from European countries, establishing farms with thousands of producing dairy cows, heavy demands on land and
water resources to maintain these big herds, and the problems of handling the massive amounts of animal waste, has added a
whole new dimension to the business of milk production in the United States.
So much for the defense
of dairy farmers. We agree that the decision to feed such chemicals as synthetic hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals
to force larger amounts of product has been the prelude to an environmental disaster. These chemicals are spilling out into
the soil, the water supply and our rivers and lakes in the form of animal waste. Consequently humans are ingesting synthetic
hormones and all of the other chemicals every time they drink a glass of water.
This is a growing problem
that is already affecting the health and well-being of humans all over the world. It is creating problems of reproduction,
and first hitting the health of our children who are the weakest among us.
We have no doubt that
the spilling of these chemicals in our food, our soil and our water supply also is having some kind of effect on our own health.
Indeed, the State of
Ohio is correct in its move to force dairy farmers to stop
using synthetic hormones in cattle feed. But we also understand the plight of the farmers who are trying to eke a living on
thin profit margins. The solution has to be higher milk prices.