Good milk and bad milk

Good milk and bad milk

By Paco Puche

In all the chapters of the history of the great corporations that we enter, be it water, land, seeds, patents of life or milk: there is an attempt to control (to monopolize as much as possible) the great resources that sustain humanity and that have the unequivocal category of common goods. The arrival of the necessary ecosocialism must come by bicycle, hand in hand with the poor and with good milk.

“A battle for dairy is underway and it will profoundly shape the direction of the global food system and people's lives.

The horrendous tactics that (Big Dairy) use to destroy popular milk border on criminal actions. The time has come to campaign against the worst offenders, such as Nestlé, Danone and Tetrapak.

We must showcase the NGOs that work together with Big Dairy so that they move away from their actions ”(1)

This is how it is in all the chapters of the history of large corporations in which we enter, whether it is water, land, seeds, patents of life or milk: there is an attempt to control (to monopolize as much as possible) the great resources that sustain humanity and that have the unequivocal category of common goods. With milk and the products derived from it, it is happening right now.

But in all of these chapters, multinational corporations and their allies meet stubborn resistance from the ancestral usufructuaries of such commons. That is why a hard battle is going on in the world.

The same thing that surprises us in the West to know that peasants (not industrial agriculture) feed 70% of the world's population, it will be novel to us to know that about 14% of the world's population (about a billion people) depends directly on dairy. as a means of subsistence. And despite the fact that Nestlé and Danone sell their products in every corner of the planet, in most of the world dairy is still in the hands of poor people. This is what is called "popular milk". This chain that goes from producer to consumer accounts for more than 80% of the milk that is marketed in impoverished countries and 47% of the global global total.

Good milk

On any given day, at early hours, thousands of vendors (“jugreadores”) with their jugs of milk on the back of their bikes or motorcycles, prepare to distribute the milk that they have previously collected in hundreds of thousands of places in the cities. production in the field. The price is within the reach of the majority of poor citizens and this proximity production and distribution maintains an economic activity that allows many people to survive, as we have already quantified above, fresh milk is boiled or consumed fermented to guarantee its asepsis. The system is called "the popular dairy chain" or "popular milk."

In Colombia we speak of about 50,000 “jugreadores”, of two million places of production in the field, of 40 million liters of milk per day distributed and of prices within the reach of more than 20 million Colombians, who usually walk around the half of what is sold in supermarkets pasteurized and packaged. The same is the case in India, the world's largest milk producer, with more than 70 million rural sites that keep dairy animals, where popular milk comprises 85% of the market and where a quarter of production is processed informally , obtaining cheese and yogurt. The situation is also similar in Pakistan, Kenya and many other countries.

The following table allows us to see the situation of popular milk in the world in relation to the industrial sector:

As we can see in the table, production for 20% of the world population (the North) exceeds that of the global South (80% of the population) by 10%, although in this region management remains in the hands of the poor people, employing forty times more people per unit of food than in the industrialized North, and their consumption being four times less than in enriched countries. These energy-intensive systems help to cool the planet and provide a more equitable distribution of available work time.

Indeed, the arrival of "peak oil" will make us more recommendable livelihood activities that are more labor-intensive, given that, in the short and medium term, oil will become scarce and prices will go through the roof. . On the other hand, the formal economy shows a tendency to cause unemployment even with growth. As the latest ILO report (2) warns, “unfortunately the contrast between the recovery observed in (world) economic indicators and that of unemployment could not be more marked (…) in 2010, the key macroeconomic indicators had already recovered, but unemployment continued to register unprecedented levels ”. Despite all this, the ILO does not hesitate to follow the classic developmental path by recommending that “subsistence agriculture be abandoned as the main source of employment”. If we apply these recommendations to the dairy sector, in which rural uses of popular milk are 40 times greater than those of industrial agriculture “called” to replace it, we would continue with the trend towards unemployment even if GDP increased.

But "good milk" is also mothers' milk. As is known "breast milk is much better than artificial both physically and mentally" (3). And we bring it up because multinational corporations have also set their sights on it for a long time.

Bad milk

The campaigns against Nestlé are known for its attempt to substitute maternal nutrition in impoverished countries for its milk powder. Therefore “pushing women around the world to renounce breast milk for the benefit of Nestlé is an attack on the health, well-being and physical and mental development of babies” (4). And the matter is not minor. The former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food until a few years ago, the Swiss Jean Ziegler, began a fight against the Swiss multinational Nestlé, since the 1970s, which has culminated in the approval by the WHO of two International codes for the marketing of breastmilk substitutes, one in 1981 and another in 2002, entitled Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, with clear obligations for manufacturers and distributors of maternal substitutes. "What is the current situation?" Ziegler asked himself in 2005, the year in which he wrote this reviewed book (5). And he responds dramatically: “It is disastrous for the poor, and especially for their children. UNICEF has assessed the number of babies who die every day (1.5 million a year) at 4,000 from ingesting powdered milk mixed with unhealthy water or administered in dirty bottles. If they had been fed with breast milk, they would be alive ”.

Nestlé is the plaintiff of this "bad milk", let's not forget it, as it will appear later on the issue of dairy that we deal with and on other issues.

Twenty dairy companies control more than half of the global dairy market (it does not include popular milk, only the “formal” sector); Nestlé and Danone are the two largest of these, with a turnover that represents more than 13% of the “formal” world total (8.5 and 4.5 percent, respectively). They are therefore the most interested in destroying the culture of popular milk. Nestlé, for example, plans to double its income in Africa every three years, that is, to grow each year at rates of more than 20%. Nestlé and Danone together control a third of the world market for baby milk.

How do they try to take over the popular dairy chains controlled by the poor?

One way is by trying to legally ban the consumption, transport, and sale of unpasteurized milk. This was what Colombia tried to do in 2006, but huge popular protests prevented such legislation from being put into practice. Following the experience of that same country, another way was to apply free trade agreements, which gave way to European powdered milk, which is much cheaper due to the heavy subsidies it enjoys. Once again, great opposition resulted in the government having to officially recognize in May 2011 that popular milk was legal and essential. The fight has been fruitful, there is no other way.

But the corporations do not stop, as they have a very saturated market in the North and enormous growth potential in the South. On the one hand, trying to eliminate popular milk systems, as we have seen, and on the other by expanding consumption per person, which is four times less than in rich countries. They are pinning their hopes on an increase in the middle classes who will consume more dairy and will buy it at supermarkets such as Walmart or Carrefour, which, in turn, are expanding rapidly. And also, as we have pointed out, ignoring the infant feeding codes and substituting breast milk for industrial milk. That is why GRAIN (whose magnificent report on the great theft of milk, which I am largely following) denounces that “the horrendous tactics that (Big Dairy) use to destroy popular milk border on criminal actions. (That is why) the time has come to campaign against the worst offenders, such as Nestlé, Danone and Tetrapak ”.

It is also "bad milk", now literally, the one that corporations manufacture specifically for the poor. They are cheap products because they have cheap ingredients. For example, one of the most common practices is to use skim milk powder and then reconstitute it with palm oil or other inexpensive vegetable oils. In Mexico, for example, which imports the majority of powdered milk from the US, up to 80% of the milk fat is substituted in some products. Likewise, to make cheap cheeses, milk protein concentrates are used, which are obtained by ultrafiltering the milk, which removes the liquid and certain mineral nutrients; These compounds are not subject to the tariffs imposed on dairy products, they are not considered as such, so they enter the countries at doubly cheap prices.

Melamine (an organic compound with a high nitrogen content) has also been used in pet and baby food, leading to significant poisonings in China. In 2007 and 2008, this adulteration was detected in milk, ice cream, yoghurt and pizza dough. But it is also documented that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found melamine in baby milk and other nutritional supplements sold in that country by Nestlé and other corporations (6).

And it is "bad milk" the trend in both the North and the South of the large corporations and large investment funds that are moving to establish mega farms and monopolize global milk supplies. In the North, the concentration process is almost complete: in the US 88% of its small dairy farms were lost in the last 30 years and in the EU 75% in 20 years. In the South, large farms are still not very present.

This leap to mega farms is also an environmental and health catastrophe: they use a lot of water, require a lot of land for animal fodder, produce huge amounts of concentrated waste that pollutes groundwater, emit methane gas, a greenhouse gas 23 times more powerful than CO2, and huge impacts on animal health. In addition, the treatments with hormones, antibiotics and other drugs affect the quality of the milk, as has been widely documented. In particular, treatments with recombinant bovine growth hormone (prohibited in some countries but not in many others, such as the USA) make it a danger to human health.

It is also "bad milk" (of course!) The intention with which these mega-corporations act which, as the poster says declaring the boycott, practice genocide in exchange for profit.

How to reach the poor

One way these large multinational corporations use to sell to the poor is through advocacy and public relations. The other through the foundations of philanthro-capitalism and NGOs.

That they plan to view the poor as big business is even theorized as capturing the bottom of the pyramid. The reference document has a very significant title “The next 4 billion. Market size and business strategy at the base of the pyramid ”. Published by the World and Resources Institute and the International Finance Corporation, in 2007, it has had the support of the multinationals Intel, Microsoft, Shell Foundation and VISA. A whole declaration of principles whose intentions are the following: "to satisfy their needs (that of the poor, most of the world's population) through market strategies, increase their productivity and income and facilitate their entry into the formal economy" . Quite the opposite that the participants in the popular milk chain wish, as we have seen, for example, recently in Colombia.

A very successful form of promotion is to sell in conjunction with "health and wellness" dairy. This is the case of probiotic yogurts, a market controlled by Danone which has the largest bank of lactic acid bacteria in the world and which dedicates half its research budget to these probiotics. Well, the supposed additional benefits of these foods are exaggerated. For example, in the UK, the company was forced to withdraw advertisements for its well-known Actimel brand, and the European Food Safety Authority has also failed to substantiate the purported properties of Activia yogurt with regard to relief of digestion. Mere propaganda or unwarranted exaggerations.

Triple-A Philanthro-Capitalism: Resisting the Underground Lobby

A very sophisticated way of introducing the interests of multinationals to the bottom of the pyramid is through neoliberal foundations. These entities do not present themselves as philanthropic as such, but rather express their intention to bring together corporations with social movements, from which they select and hire so-called social entrepreneurs to do business, especially with the poor. This is the case of the so-called Ashoka, which operates in Spain and Latin America, which has recently made the news when it was presented with the Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation. One of its leaders in Spain, María Zapata, recently declared: “for companies, the market (…) at the base of the pyramid is 4 trillion dollars. Social entrepreneurs work with these populations and their task is to bring multinational companies closer to them… ”(7)

As an example, we can see the alliance of the banker Yunus, denounced for his abusive practices with the microcredits granted to the poor (8), and the multinational Danone, which promotes itself as a socially responsible company (9). For this they have founded an entity called Grameen Danone which is a social enterprise, started in 2006, which aims to provide nutrients that are lacking to the children of Bangladesh. Of course, in 2003, the British Medical Journal (10) reported that more than 20 breast milk substitute products made by Danone and marketed in Togo and Burkina Faso violated the labeling provisions of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes , approved in 1981 by the WHO. Yunus is a prominent member of the Ashoka foundation.

Likewise, Ashoka has promoted in Mexico, through one of its entrepreneurs, a Danone yogurt sales program from home to home, led by women from the informal sector, which has significantly increased sales in low-income households. Nothing to do with the described process of popular milk.

In the case of Nestlé, we find that one of its important shareholders and who was Director of the multinational between 1987 and 2002 (11), Sthephan Schmidheiny, created in 1994 a foundation called AVINA, with exactly the same intentions and ways as Ashoka. To such an extent that they established a lasting strategic alliance (they share projects, partners, managers and financing). Both foundations linked to the dairy sector through Danone and Nestlé and both, therefore, in the crosshairs of organizations that fight for breastfeeding and to prevent the deaths reported by UNICEF from the consumption of milk powder from these and other corporations.

In addition, the one who was a Nestlé director and at the same time founder of AVINA, has made his immense fortune from the asbestos business, of whose companies he was one of the world's largest owners, between 1975 and 1992. It must be remembered that according to the WHO , asbestos kills about 150,000 people a year in the world and that Schmidheiny is prosecuted in Turin for the death of more than 2,000 people and for which the prosecutor has requested 20 years in prison.

It is because of this relationship between AVINA, Ashoka and Asbestos that they have been called the “triple A”.

The way both neoliberal foundations operate is by selecting and hiring partners or entrepreneurs, drawn from social movements or NGOs, and compromising their image to achieve legitimacy and green-social laundering. For this reason, they act as a "hidden lobby" in the bowels of alternative and resistance movements.

It is necessary to unveil these strategies that are penetrating deeply (12) in the social movements of Spain and Latin America, as a way to warn the aforementioned movements and to stop the easy penetration into them that the aforementioned foundations are having so far. As the GRAIN report says: “We must expose the NGOs that work together with Big Dairy so that they stay away from their actions” (13). We must also exhibit, for the same reasons, the NGOs and movements that operate in seeds, in water, in biodiversity in the alternative credit system, etc.

Alternative movements must put a red line that should not cross "triple A", to resist this "hidden lobby."

In view of what has been said, we cannot agree more with GRAIN's proposal that "the time has come to launch campaigns against the worst offenders, such as Nestlé, Danone and Tetrapak", because dairy products are a key element in construction of food sovereignty.

Positions to exhibit foundations linked to food multinationals, and to initiate campaigns against transgressive corporations, it is necessary to warn about the so-called Triptolemos, chaired and founded by the mediatic Federico Mayor Zaragoza, which counts among its council of companies such prominent corporations as Nestlé, Danone and Unilever, among others (1st, 2nd and 10th world dairy corporation by turnover). Triptolemos states that “it is born from a unitary and global vision of the food system. (Y) Collaborates in the optimization and articulation of its operation, so that it benefits the availability and quality of food, and in confidence ”. To redound to the benefit.

A foreboding image

The photography with which we have opened this work may be anticipatory of what may await us in the future.

The arrival of the necessary ecosocialism must come by bicycle, hand in hand with the poor and with good milk.

Paco puche - February 2012

Notes and references:

(1) GRAIN (2012), “The great theft of milk. How is it that corporations steal a vital source of nutrition and livelihood from the poor ”, Analysis Document, January 2012, pp. 1 and 33

(2) ILO (2011), Global employment trends 2011: the challenge of job recovery, Geneva pp. 6.7 and 71

(3) Centro nuovo modello di sviluppo-Cric (1997), Rebellion in the store. Consumer options, justice options, Icaria

(4) Ziegler, J. (2006), The Empire of Shame, Taurus, p. 239

(5) Ziegler, J. (2006), o.c. p. 241 et seq.

(6) Jordan, L. (2008), “Melamine traces found simples of US infant formula”, in Scientific American, November 28, 2008

(7) Interview with María Zapata in the digital magazine, 9.06.2011.

(8) TVE2, program dedicated to microcredits, on April 11, 2011, which has been withdrawn from the internet

(9) Wikipedia. Available at:

(10) Vargas, M. Moix, V. "The Danone commitment" (2009) available at:

(11) Nestlé, “Management Report 2002

(12) As Ramón Fernández Durán says, “our whole life is being affected by the logic of capital… the conquest of the soul has been taking place almost without resistance and without realizing it. The structures of power have managed to reduce our heads ”Fernández, R. (2010): The third Skin, society of the image and conquest of the soul. Available at:, p. 26. Accessed on January 26, 2012

(13) GRAIN (2012), o.c. 33

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