I’m already sick of the term “fiscal cliff.” It’s not that I don’t understand the importance of the problem, it’s just that the term itself is meant to create fear, and that fear can make people irrational when discussing the financial problem our country is facing and the way to address the problem.

I’m also sick of it because now any political deadline is going to become a “cliff,” and the same fear that the term “fiscal cliff” has struck in our hearts and minds will become associated with it.

There is now a media-proclaimed “dairy cliff” looming, and I hope that people will be rational about the situation instead of panicky. Here’s what’s going on. The farm bill that Congress has been debating for what seems like years now is not likely to be passed before the end of the year. If a new farm bill is not put in place, according to The Washington Post “the country’s farm policy reverts back to laws dating from 1949.” In 1949, the law called for a minimum price on milk, and if there is no intervention, the price of a gallon of milk could increase as much as $3.

That would almost double the price of a gallon of milk, which of course would decrease demand. Dairy farmers will be in real trouble if this happens. But, do you know who won’t be in trouble? Milk consumers. Earlier this year I said the following when I wrote “You’re not a bad mom if your kid doesn’t drink milk.”

Milk, in any form, is not a dietary necessity. If your child never drinks a sip of cow’s milk, you’re not a bad parent. You don’t need to offer chocolate- or strawberry-flavored milk; you can offer water instead. The main nutrients found in milk like calcium, potassium and vitamins A & D are found in many other foods. If you serve a variety of fresh, colorful produce, beans and nuts, the nutrients will be covered. Adding in lean cuts of chicken and fish can help, too, but even those are not necessary.

To set the record straight, we drink milk in our family. But, if we couldn’t afford it or if it was suddenly unavailable, everything would be okay. There would be nothing to be concerned about when it came to the health of my family, especially the health of my boys. Their bones would not turn to rubber. And, my 40-something-year-old hip would not break due to a sudden onset of osteoporosis.

So when you hear the term “dairy cliff” being bandied around in the media, don’t freak out. All of the nation’s cows are not about to be herded off the side of a mountain to fall to their sudden death. Milk prices may increase. They may not. Even if the farm bill is not passed, Congress can still create a temporary fix for the dairy industry specifically to stop the price increase.

So don’t fall for the idea that this “dairy cliff” is worthy of panicking if you’re a milk consumer. It’s not. What should happen now that the milk problem has been brought to the public’s attention is a discussion about the importance of a fair and balanced farm bill, not a freak-out about oh-so-necessary milk being financially out of reach for most people. 

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Why you shouldn't freak out about the dairy cliff (unless you're a dairy farmer)
Dairy prices could rise if the farm bill isn't passed by Dec. 31, 2012. It's being called the dairy cliff.