Animals are sentient beings, like humans they can observe, feel pain and happiness. In the case of cows and buffaloes, production of milk for human consumption causes them unnecessary suffering. The dairy industry in India has flourished since the White Revolution, and along with this, India has become the leading beef exporter, with the ‘refuse’ of the dairy industry being slaughtered and exported. To add insult to injury, the dairy industry paints the picture of cows and buffaloes as commodities, solely to be exploited for commercial gains, rather than the gentle, thinking, feeling beings that they are.
Following the Western world trends, more and more animal farms are being established in India. With the world’s largest dairy herd (cows and buffaloes) at 3.03 crore, the nation ranks first in milk production with 165 million tonnes of milk produced in 2016-17 — subjecting India’s dairy animals to the cruelties of factory farming. Our nation is brimming with people who believe in Ahimsa and have thus adopted a vegetarian lifestyle. FIAPO through its #DontGetMilked campaign aims to play an active role in bringing to light the truth behind the production of dairy and its products and how our health suffers from it. Here are seven facts regarding the practices of the dairy industry:
Are the animals taken out for grazing? If a dairy farm is in a thriving city, chances are there is no land available for grazing nearby. The cows/buffaloes may be let loose, chewing on plastic waste all day, and being milked morning and evening. This is a great indicator of what milk is really made up of and the lack of food control and availability at dairy farms.
Bovines are free roaming animals and require exercise to maintain their natural behaviour. Majority of dairies keep the animals tethered at all times, depriving them of this freedom. Dairy animals are kept in intensively confined spaces, often standing in their own dung or urine for hours on end. Ideally, each bovine should be allowed a minimum of 3.5 m2 space, but sadly most animals are barely given enough space to lay down.
Waste management and Hygiene
Animals are capable of producing a lot of dung! Most farmers have no system of waste management in place and just let it flow along with water, which leads to overflowing drains and unhygienic conditions. Animals are made to stand in their own faeces, which along with other conditions lead to mastitis, a painful infection of the udder, which results in more pus in milk.
Buffaloes are often given oxytocin, which is harmful to the animal as well as the consumers of the milk thus produced. The drug is given to increase milk production and stimulate letdown to cattle that have trouble lactating if their child is not around. This drug causes immense pain to the animals and is used illegally. In actuality, the drug does not increase milk production but induces letdown.
A cow in healthy happy conditions can live up to 20-26 years, although after being milked and forcefully impregnated over and over again at intensive dairies, the average age of a dairy cow/buffalo is reduced to six to eight years.
Fate of male calves
Just like humans, milk is a byproduct of childbirth, an essential life support for the offspring. In dairy farms, male calves are often starved to death, abandoned or sold for slaughter, and the milk of their mothers is sold for human consumption.
Registration of premises
Currently, any dairy housing more than five animals needs to be registered. But most backyard dairies in India do not have registrations and hence are not liable to run ethically.
It is a common belief of our time that animals are ours to use and abuse. This mindset has led to the increased commodification of animals and as such, conditions under which these animals are kept have deteriorated drastically. Today, simple activities that we take for granted — freedom to move, to breathe fresh air, to enjoy sunlight — are denied to millions every day. Animals in farms are treated as mere units in a production line, to be kept as long as they give ‘profitable output’ in the form of dairy, eggs, meat, or leather.
India is primarily an agrarian country, where millions are dependent on milk production as a means of income. While each individual has the right to pick his or her own livelihood, dairy farmers who are trapped with rearing animals can shift to sustainable and cruelty-free businesses. Dairy farmers must be supported in finding and training in alternative income-generating activities. The government should provide training for alternatives and adequate funds so farmers are capable of improving their income source to more skilled work and access support through the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.
Alternatively, the dairy industry as a whole can shift milk production to plant-based milk. Internationally, as the demand for dairy-free milk is plummeting owing to the increased awareness on the cruelty in milk, more and more dairy businesses are expanding and even moving to a completely plant-based business model.
The writer leads #DontGetMilked campaign by the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO)