“People’s milk” under threat from big corporation milk down in Columbia

From 3Wheeled Cheese, translated from Grain.org:

Milk man in Puskar, India. Pic from internet.

Milk is an essential source of health and income for the people. The popular, or people’s, milk chain, independent, counts on local vendors who collect the milk from the small producers, owners of a few milk cows. Such systems of “people’s milk” compete directly with the ambitions and attempts by the big dairy industries, such as Nestlé and others, that want to take over the entire milk chain- from stables to markets.

Popular or people’s milk

Very early in the morning, every day, before most people in Colombia, SA,  get out of bed, close to 50 thousand milk vendors are making their rounds in the streets of the cities across the country. These “jarreadores”, as the milkmen are called, ride their motorcycles with great cans of milk collected from various of the millions of rural places in Colombia.

They distribute daily 40 million liters of fresh milk at a price that close to 20 million Colombians can afford, and who boil it rapidly to guarantee its safety. Perhaps there is no source of nutrition and dignity as important in Colombia as what has come to be called “the popular or people’s milk chain”, or popular milk.

The jarreadores have protested, along with small farmers, small scale dairies and consumers against the repeated attempts by the Colombian government to destroy the people’s milk chain, or people’s milk.

In 2006 the government of President Uribe issued Decree 616 that prohibits the consumption, sales and transport of raw or non pasteurized milk, which would make the people’s milk illegal. The decree set off a wave of enormous protests throughout the country that forced the government to postpone adoption of the norm. The popular opposition did not wan and two or three years later more than 15 thousand people marched in Bogotá, the country’s capital. The government found itself forced to put aside the issue for another two years.

Decree 616 was not the only threat to popular milk. Even though Colombia is self sufficient in milk, free trade treaties, under negotiation with a few dairy exporting countries, could annul key protections for the sector, making it vulnerable to imports of cheap powdered milk—especially from the European Union, where milk production has strong subsidies. In the words of Aurelio Suárez, executive director of the National Association for Agricultural Protection, a free trade treaty with the EU would be a “true hetacombe” for Colombia’s milk sector.

In 2010, there was another attempt to impose regulations prohibiting popular milk, and opposition united against the proposed free commerce treaties. There were massive movements that left the government with no option other than to postpone regulations till March of 2011, when a new wave of manifestations arose and the government had nothing to do but recognize its defeat. In May of 2011, Decree 1880 was issued, which recognizes popular milk to be legal and essential.


This impressive series of victories by Colombia’s so called popular milk chain, is something to inspire many similar movements across the world in their fight for small scale production and sales of fresh milk and raw milk dairy products.

Supposedly, the battle has not ended. A free trade treaty with the US was approved and negotiations are underway with the EU. But the milk sector is now in the hearts of the people’s resistance against any such government policies, and happen what may, it is clear that people’s milk (or the popular milk chain) will be present in the Colombian people’s fights against government policies and for a new path of social transformation.

The battle is against a strong global tendency. Dairy products, like other foods and sectors of agriculture, have suffered in face of great consolidations in the past decades. Today, various multinationals, like Nestlé and Danone, sell their dairy products in all corners of the planet.  And consolidation happens also on the farming level, with larger dairy herds, more confinement and higher milk production. Besides this, the financial sector injects new money into the dairy business, searching its own part of the greedy takes.

But throughout most of the world, milk and dairy products continue largely in the hands of what the government and industry call “the informal sector”—small farmers who sell their milk directly, or by means of local vendors who go to the remotest places to buy the milk from  small producers and take it directly to consumers. Available data indicates that the people’s milk chain contributes to more than 80% of milk commercialized in developing countries, and 47% globally.

In India, largest milk producer in the world, popular or people’s milk answers for 85% of the total national milk market. The “white revolution,” which saw a tripling in milk production between 1980 and 2006, was fruit of this popular sector. It was the small agriculturalists of India, and the local markets, that headed the enormous expansion of milk production in the country during these years. Today 70 million small farms in India have dairy cattle, and more than half of the total of rural families in the country and more than half of the milk they produce (largely buffalo milk) goes to feeding people in their own communities, while ¼ is processed as cheese, yogurt and other dairy products, produced by this “ non organized local sector”.

Read it all on 3 Wheeled Cheese.

1 Comment

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One response to ““People’s milk” under threat from big corporation milk down in Columbia

  1. Patrick Forbes

    I was a convert. In the early 80’s after having both bones in my leg broken in a skiing mishap, I convalesced at my Uncle’s place. They had a large margarine pail of fresh cow’s milk a week from a farmer down the road. It had the most fabulous taste and boy, did I drink it. Way more than they did. My Aunt raised an eyebrow on more than a few occasions.
    One morning, I awoke and as usual, I pulled my leg up in it’s cast and my foot followed! Wow!! Double Wow!! The bones had melded. Thanks Mr. Cow.

    ps Their usage of cow’s milk deprived their local dentist of any income as no one in the family ever had a cavity. To this day!

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