I recently popped into the wee convenience bit of a petrol station to grab one of those caffeine-laden fizzy drinks (I’m omitting the name lest I be accused of advertising) and I noticed that the bottled Scottish spring water was retailing for over a pound, but the pint of milk was a little over 50 pence (never you mind how much my caffeine cost – that’s another blog!). This seems crazy to me and setting aside the question of whether we should ever drink bottled water when Scottish Water pipes it to the tap in most houses across Scotland, is there not something fundamentally wrong when a bottle of water costs more than a pint of Scottish milk? Are we not running into yet another case of market-driven rather than ethically-driven goods?
A dairy farmer has to feed and care for a herd 365 days a year; has to ensure that the cows are milked; and the dairy has to collect a highly perishable product, pasteurise and package it and deliver it to the shop in the shortest possible time.
Farmers in the dairy industry have long complained that the price they receive for each litre of milk does not cover the cost of production. The news that the price of milk paid to dairy farmers has been cut again has caused further frustration, genuine anger and understandable upset.
I accept that this is a difficult and complex subject. According to news reports some supermarket chains will try not cut the price they pay to farmers but the Robert Wiseman dairy, which is owned by the giant food business Muller, has cut the price, citing international overproduction as a reason.
Food is not just another commodity to be bought and sold on the global free market; it is a gift from God which we must treat with more respect. We also have to treat the people who make the gift accessible with respect – we have a duty to be just in our purchasing. If we continue to treat milk as something that can be sold at a rock bottom price - cheaper than water! - then I doubt whether this can be truly sustainable, fair to the farmer, or good for creation.
The Church of Scotland launched a report ‘Give us Our daily Bread’ at the Royal Highland Show 2012. You can find out more here.