Uribe Persecutes Vendors of Raw Milk to Meet Demands of the FTA

(Translated by Steve Cagan, a CSN volunteer translator)

Like all the agrarian and animal-raising areas that make up the basic diet of Colombians, milk production was handed over by the government during the FTA negotiations with the US. And the same as always, the losers will be the domestic producers who will not be able to stand up to the competition of the big multinationals that produce and market milk. The FTA will suppose massive imports of powdered milk from the US, whose producers receive close to 11.3 billion dollars annually in subsidies. In the FTA with that country there was an agreement for a mutual quota of 9000 tons of milk for the first year, which produces an asymmetry in favor of the North, the largest producer of fresh milk in the world (15.2% of the world total), while in our country there are no stimuli for export, as the president of Colanta [a big Colombian dairy company], Jenaro Pérez, said himself (El Espectador, July 25, 2008). The US produces 77.5 million tons of powdered milk, while Colombia produces 6 million. But beyond that, the Uribe government eliminated the tariffs on milk sera, a waste product which is used in place of fresh milk to manufacture dairy products, with the hope of a greater quota by the US, which was never carried out.
If Colombia under the FTA succeeds in exporting milk to the US, it must first register and ask for import permits from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Department of Health and Human Services, the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and the Food Labeling Office. With the FTA there was barely created a Permanent Committee on Safety and Plant Safety Measures, which  does not obligate any of the two governments, and in which the US is committed to receive and take into account the analyses of risk in Colombia, which in no way implies a real access to that market.
The emitting of two decrees (6161 and 2838) which prohibit the sale of raw milk are based in the demands put forward in the material on sanitary and plant sanitary norms of the FTA with the US and the commitments undertaken by Colombia in the WTO, without taking into account that the World Health Organization itself recommends boiling raw milk and applying hygienic norms to avoid the so-called cross contamination during the preparation of food.
But the decrees, in addition to benefiting the North American oligopolies, do the same with milk originating in the European Union, with which the Andean Community is negotiating an FTA. Eight of the ten main exporters of dairy products in the world are in the EU, and they control %7% of the world market in exports in the area.
Decrees 616 and 2838 will concentrate production and marketing of milk in an oligopoly, leaving more than 160,000 people—those directly or indirectly live off the market that is generated around the sale of raw milk, as bottlers, makers of cheese and cheese-related and other dairy products—throughout the country without work. The Minister of Agriculture, Andrés Felipe Arias, himself has declared that he is “working so that the agro-industrial firms (pasteurizers) can absorb more product, and at the same time, that the amount that enters through informal channels (raw producers) be less.” (Portafolio, July 25, 2008). If this were not enough, consumers will have no option but to buy pasteurized milk, which costs 1,930 pesos per liter, while raw milk costs 900 pesos. That situation, in a country with more than 22 million people living in poverty and some nine million in misery, should be a source of outrage from all sectors of the nation.
Such is the policy of “investor confidence” of this government, whose only goal it to benefit foreign capital above valuable national interests. While they persecute those who—to survive—sell raw milk, they open the door wide to transnationals, without any concern about the consequences that this brings. The FTA with the US, for example, permitted the entrance of chicken and old hens from the day it went into effect, without having to pay tariffs (El Tiempo, May 15, 2006) and the importing of meat from cows more than 30 months old, even though the World Organization for Animal Health has determined that the US is not a country free of BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) or “mad cow disease.” Is it more serious for the Uribe government that their population consume boiled milk, on which they were raised, than that they consume waste products imported from other countries?
In accord with the arbitrary decrees 6161 and 2383, the country will be able to do nothing more than repeat actions like the discoveries in December, 2002, when the multinational company Nestlé imported 320 tons of out of date milk, not fit for human consumption. Minister Palacio: What is harmful? Boiled milk or out of date milk?
The mobilizations and protests that more than 10,000 producers of milk carried out on August 19 in Bogotá against the persecution by the national government are fuel that encourages  the resistance that has developed on the national level and that must continue in order to denounce the economic, social and cultural model that the powers of the North, thanks to submissive governments like that of Uribe, are trying to impose with the FTAs with the US, Canada, the AEL and the European Union.

Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI  53701-1505
phone:  (608) 257-8753
fax:  (608) 255-6621
e-mail:  csn@igc.org

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