It seems I have accumulated enough bile to write about the dairy industry a few more times, so welcome to “Milk Monday” – a series that will run for as long as I have enough verbal ammo. I am prompted to write about this again by the resubmission of plans for Britain’s first Battery Dairy Factory by Nocton Dairies in Lincolnshire. My previous post on The Two Faces Of Dairy Farming in Britain also drew a little criticism that I can’t let lie.
I think that for modern westerners, milk is a little bit like water in that it is virtually ubiquitous in every household and we have a sense of entitlement about it as the recent furore over milk in UK schools confirms. The population has bought into the idea that it is our only source of dietary calcium, for instance, and woe betide anyone who proposes to take it away – after all you don’t want to be aligned with Margaret Thatcher! However, unlike water, milk is squeezed out of animals and it is not essential to sustaining human life.
I am more frequently asked to defend my abstention from dairy products than I am for meat and it is very difficult to boil it down to an elevator pitch. I usually quip that, “you wouldn’t suckle from a cow” and then judge by people’s reaction how curious they really are. For the genuinely curious, I recommend you tune in here for the next few Mondays.
At the outset, I want to try and be fair to the majority of british dairy farmers who manage the average sized herds that have been part of our countryside economy for hundreds of years. My mother lives in a rural part of Devonshire, very close, in fact to the home of Peter Willes who is one of the Nocton dairies partners. I have spent time in that communitiy and met some of the people whose livelihoods and way of life are tied to their animals and they do care about them. I even helped to build a milking parlour one summer! Apart from anything else, a dairy farmer has a vested interest in the welfare of the animals because a sick cow and even a miserable cow is less productive. I also had nominal responsibility for a small milking herd for several weeks during my gap year in Zimbabwe. Those ones were milked by hand, as I recall. Apart from that my credentials for commenting on this come from being a curious consumer with a great interest in where my food comes from.
Laying aside, for a moment, the question of “if” we should consume dairy at all, I would beg the reader to concern themselves with “what” dairy. It is very likely, unless, large amounts of pressure and protest are immediately applied, that our milk, butter and cheese in the future will come from herds that bear no resemblance to the happy Anchor Butter, smiling, green field grazing cows depicted on the packaging (if it ever did).
Apart from the grave concerns for animal welfare in the proposed megga dairy that have been raised by the RSPCA and numerous animal welfare groups, WSPA’s “Not In My Cuppa” campaign have also pointed out that traditional and sustainable dairies will struggle to compete with the zero-grazing factory approach to production:
A farmer consulting on our campaign told us that dairy farmers get around 28p for a litre of milk that would cost the shopper 90p in the supermarket. Problem is, it costs around 28p for a farmer to produce that litre of milk …
As consumers, it has been proven time and again that we have the power to change industrial practices through our choices. Is it really worth a cheaper pint of milk to see our countryside become industrialised, traditional dairies going out of business and cows living short miserable lives being milked round the clock with no grass in sight? Not in my cuppa!