Milk Monday: Dairy Issues Breaking Into The National Conscience

I know this “Milk Monday” post is finally getting posted on a Tuesday, but it has been an exciting week of developments in the ongoing Milk Wars in the British Isles with Nocton announcing a significant scale down in the proposed factory farm in Lincolnshire. Regarded by many as a triumph of public opinion, I am still not convinced the possible reduction of the herd from over 8000 to 4000 and the promise to allow more space and some outdoor access for the cows goes far enough, and await the actual submission of the “enormously changed” proposal.

Brown Moo

Cows Belong in Fields

It is heartening that another, more humane, dairy farming model has also enjoyed the headlines in the last week and consumers are being given the opportunity to get to grips with the issues about where their milk comes from. The facility at Bhaktivedanta Manor in Hertfordshire, home to the 44 strong Ahimsa herd was officially opened on the 10th November and, it is hoped, will provide a point from which this methodology can influence the future of dairy farming in the UK. The Ahimsa herd is milked by hand, calves are kept with their mothers until naturally weaned and no animal is slaughtered. Even the male calves grow to be working oxen and live out their full lifespan. Even though, according to The Daily Mail article, this is the most pampered herd in the country, producing milk at £1.70 a pint, this could be a viable proposition if consumers are prepared to care and reconsider our national addiction to milk that is cheaper than bottled water.

On the 13th November, Juliette Jowit in The Guardian ran a stark comparisson between the two approaches, Nocton vs Ahimsa in “A Tale of Two Herds” which is well worth a read and does better than my much earlier post “The Two Faces of Dairy Farming in the UK” back in July.

Overshadowing the debate about the future of dairy farming in the UK is sinister talk about an impending food crisis that a few individuals have alluded to with a “shut up, you don’t know what you are talking about” tone, flung back at supporters of small scale, organic dairy. This question will bear a bit more analysis in future “Milk Mondays”.

The breaking of dairy issues on the national conscience is in no small part thanks to tireless campaigning from a consortium of interested groups. The WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals) NotIn My Cuppa campaign and CIWF (Compassion in World Farming) addressed over 50 MPs on the issue at a parlimentary reception in late October, sparking some robust debate in Whitehall and some difficult questions for DEFRA on animal welfare concerns.

The campaign continues on many fronts with the accumulation of small victories. For instance,  due to public pressure, one of the three local businesses involved in the Nocton plans withdrew their support in early October and campaign group 38 Degrees ran ads in the local paper to name and shame the two remaining partners after a spectacular appeal for funds. This week, Clydesdale bank has been tackled over not disclosing what environmental asessments were carried out before granting finance to the project; as reported in here in The Ecologist.

Whether the scaled down plans for Lincolnshire go ahead or not, it is likely that the pressures on the dairy industry will continue to issue in the possiblity of a massive zero-grazing facility coming to our countryside somewhere, sometime, if campaigners rest for a moment. If there is to be a food crisis, then these debates are only just beginning.

What will the future look like? Poised somewhere between the approaches of Nocton and Ahimsa, Keith Jefferson-Smith’s 95 strong Jersey herd in Suffolk is run along slaughter-free principles, combined with more traditional practices – giving consumers yet another alternative. Zero-grazing, US style, is not the only possible answer.

Ahimsa continues to work on their distribution channels and may be coming soon to a supermarket shelf near you, and as the future of dairy comes to the front of the national conscience, there is even a possibility that this year’s Christmas No 1 could be a song about Organic Milk. It is a hot issue, not likely to cool any time soon. Watch this space for more.


One Response

  1. “The Ahimsa herd is milked by hand, calves are kept with their mothers until naturally weaned and no animal is slaughtered. Even the male calves grow to be working oxen and live out their full lifespan. ”

    I used to think that slaughter-free milk is not less humane, until I read about the Ahimsa herd. Grateful for this new info!

    However, cows’ milk not meant to be drank often or a lot. They’re just made for calves! 🙂

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