Price of Milk Versus the Cost
by Madhava Gosh dasa
Posted January 7, 2003

Prema Bhakti dasa asks "What Is the price of a gallon of milk?" while we may be able to get a rough estimate of what the price of milk from protected cows is, the true cost is a more complex issue, involving not only financial considerations, but social, karmic, and devotional ones as well. How to creatively deal with these issues while staying true to a long term realistic vision is a challenge. While the fundamentals of varna ashram need to be respected, historical examples from previous yugas may not be replicatable.

Prema Bhakti writes:

"I would like to propose a plan to subsidize the growth of our cow protection program in ISKCON whereby the devotee community would voluntarily pay a tax to ISKCOWP or other suitable organization. This tax would be equal to the difference between the market value of a gallon of milk and the real cost of the same gallon of milk if the cow were not slaughtered when she is no longer productive (nor her calf.) "
I completely concur with this idea. It presents a middle ground between ideal and harsh reality. Previous attempts to create cow protection programs on ISKCON farms have by and large floundered for 2 primary reasons. First, they were agrarian romanticist attempts to imitate the barter economies described in sciptures, in the midst of a cash dominanted world economy. Second, the main motivation appeared to be consumption of milk, and not true cow protection. The upshot is that most devotees don't have a source for protected milk so they buy from the factory farm market. The harsh reality being that milk's cheap price is subsidized by the blood of the cow when she is no longer productive, and the blood of her calves.

First let us address the financial cost. Major factor here is that for every cow that is bred, we need to multiple by at least 12 or more to get the number of cows that will be in the fully evolved protected herd. While cows can live to the age of 20, that is unusual, but to think that the average age of all cows born will be 12 is the minimum, perhaps it should be higher, but not lower. So if we breed one cow each year, the first year we have two cows, the next year we have 3, etc, until 12 years down the line we evolve to a steady state where death balances birth. So the milk from one cow has to support 12. This is the basis to determine true financial cost of protected milk.

What will that financial cost be? That will vary on a lot of factors. There is a difference in temperate zones where winter feed needs to be stored for winter, or for milder climates where year round grazing is available. There is a difference between cash flow cost and true cost where capitalization is pro rated. If the milk is produced organically or with chemicals. Having said all that, we make a rough guesstimate that protected milk would cost about $10 per gallon. Another way to look at it, to provide for variations in countries' currencies, it is about 4 times the cost of milk in the market.

I think it is unrealistic to expect most devotees to pay that much of a premium, but I think that all devotees could, and should, according to their means, pay something. For those who feel too strapped to pay any sort of premium, one word - "austerity". Don't drink it. There are a lot of details that I would like to discuss on this issue, but will wait for another time so this doesn't get too long.

For those recoiling at the thought of extra financial cost, let us turn to another consideration. Social, or should we say, preaching. As Harry Bowler says in his posting, "Many nondevotees have regularly pointed out the hypocrisy of the fact that WE TOO support the cow killing industry. " This is a reality, that a large demographic segment of the population who are most sensitive to the incongruities of material life, and thus are potentially most sympathetic to our movement, judge us not by our words, but our actions. Paying a premium for milk, to build cow protection programs, will have benefits not easily quantifiable, but returns on investment none the less in the form of a more favorable preaching platform. Just as our cavalier disregard for the reality of how factory farm milk is produced is now having negative returns.

A whole article could be written on the idea that somehow by "offering" the milk, all that karma evaporates. While it may be true that in emergency times, exemption is granted, to turn that exemption into complacent common practice will, and has, led to disaster. When we are out on the interstate highway and have a flat tire, it is acceptable to take the undersized spare tire from the trunk and use it to drive to the nearest repair facility. However, to continue down the freeway with that donut tire, eventually the differential burns out and we have a major repair to deal with. When Srila Prabhupada came to America, he allowed factory farm milk to be offered, but he always had a plan to get to a point where that was no longer necessary. "To commit sinful activity on the strength of chanting the Holy Name" is included in the 10 Offenses for more reasons than just to make the list an even number.

Devotionally, how can we justify benefiting from cow slaughter (cheap milk) and rationalize it is to serve Krsna when Krsna Himself is a cowherd boy? We want Krsna but can't be bothered with cow protection? That concept of Krsna is merely that, a conception, or better, misconception. A shallow philosophical paradigm of Krsna Consciousness, a mood of enjoying Krsna without taking the responsibility of being His servants in the area He actually worked Himself.

The idea of protection by proxy is one that can be immediately implemented by anyone, regardless of circumstance, and not dependent upon authorization from anyone other than ourselves. More on this later.