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The Price of Milk

As I was making the morning's first cup of coffee and comforting the cat who spent the pre-dawn hours cowering during a cacophonous thunderstorm, the morning news brought a story about the organic milk that I was pouring into a mug at that very moment. Escalating grain prices are expected to prompt a steep rise in the price of dairy products - especially organic milk prices. Apparently, the more grain a cow eats, the more milk it produces. With current competition from biofuels, farmers are receiving record prices for those crops. These high prices are beginning to erode the premium organic farmers have been getting for produce grown without synthetic chemicals - prompting speculation about a jump in the price of organic milk ($8.00 a gallon was cited) and questions about the loyalty of farmers who went organic for the price they can charge and consumers who pay them. Stories about the competition between crops for food and for biofuels have been swirling through the news all spring. Will we be putting grain and beans in our fuel tanks at the expense of the world's food supply? Will the new demand push farmers to destroy forests to plant more fields of soy and corn? Will demand for biofuels push food prices beyond the breaking point of  average family budgets? Will the hikes in oil and gas prices bump the cost of producing and distributing these products even further beyond manageable reach? But I wonder, where exactly is all the corn and soy we grow going? How much is going to produce soundly nutritional food and how much to corn syrup and other fillers (for processed food and livestock feed)? If we're also shifting to bio-based materials - plastics made from corn and beans, for example - how do we put this crop use into the mix? How much does producing crops with fertilizers that are washing down rivers, prompting overgrowth of aquatic vegetation that contribute to marine dead zones - and with pesticides that are globally mobile persistent pollutants - cost in environmental health? Why should products produced with petrochemicals cost less than those produced without even at a time of record oil prices? My little household consumes over a gallon of milk a week, which means milk percolates through my body constantly. While it's almost impossible to know how anything else that might come along with the milk - pesticide residue, traces of antibiotics - might monkey with the workings of my cells and to exactly what end, because we know these alien agents have that ability, I'd just as soon eliminate their opportunity to do so as much as possible. Why should that choice be cost-prohibitive? And now, over my second cup of coffee, I wonder: How do we solve these problems from a whole systems perspective rather than with repeated applications of band-aids and duct tape? How do we get the food producers, climate change, energy and public health experts all working together, devising solutions to implement now rather than when it's too late? ———- Elizabeth Grossman is the author of High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health.