I am often asked about my abstention from animal products, by someone sitting across the table who is tucking into a cheesy chicken breast. I never fail to be amused by the oddness of the situation but people are often quite surprised to hear the lowdown on what they are chewing on.
I’m indebted to the Not In My Cuppa campaign for the compilation of “Milk Facts” from various sources and Ahimsa Diary’s “Questions to Discuss” documents for giving me some ammo. My aim is always to help people to be informed and leave them to make their own choices.
I frequently highlight the impending danger that dairy production in the UK is about to take a big step in the wrong direction if plans for the Nocton super dairy go through. You can read more about this threat in other Milk Monday posts.
As a society, we are addicted to milk, drinking about 5 billion litres a year. In spite of this, as a nation, we produce all our own milk. Supply is neatly balanced with demand, with farmers getting about 23p per litre of milk that is then sold on from the supermarket shelves at about 90p per litre. Most supermarkets have their own dedicated suppliers and long term relationships with individual farmers. Many major supermarkets have also declared that they do not intend to resource milk from the proposed factory farm and a Mori Poll uncovered that 61% of Brits would not knowingly buy milk from such an intensive line.
Quite apart from the potential effects on the environment and local community and the industrialised exploitation of animals, the question has to be asked whether we really need the Nocton Dairy. Traditionally our needs have been supplied by hundreds of farmers managing herds of between 50 and 200 animals. Unless demand is set to increase, there is the very real potential of direct competition from the 3000 plus Nocton herd forcing many farmers out of business.
The dairy industry would like to convince us that we cannot live without milk. We have all been drip fed from childhood that the white stuff is essential and healthy. If demand does grow it will be a triumph of marketing and a headlong plunge into what I consider to be an unthinking consumerist addiction to the milk myth.
I like to think that if people really knew what our choice to consume dairy products involves, they would consider total abstention.
The livestock industry is one of the largest sources of carbon and methane emissions in the world. Both these greenhouse gasses are driving global warming. In terms of land use and energetics, it is extremely inefficient and unsustainable. Since animals consume more protein that they put into the food chain, and the average dairy cow consumes a staggering 100 litres of water a day. Sustaining the western diet in this way is leaving other people hungry. As prosperity increases in non-western nations they will tend to transition to a western diet so the effect is only set to increase.
The natural lifespan of a cow is about 20 years but a dairy cow can expect to be slaughtered after just 5 years having been exhausted by calving 3-4 times in her life and milked dry for our benefit.
For people who consider that giving up meat is sufficient to avoid complicity in animal slaughter, it needs to be pointed out that dairy production requires that male calves and spent females are disposed of in slaughter houses just like their beef-producing cousins. In order to take milk for human consumption it is also necessary to remove a young calf from its mother before it is naturally weaned and this is extremely distressing to both mother and calf, severing one of the most primal and instinctive bonds that exist in nature. It is extremely difficult to resource slaughter free milk in the UK at the moment and pretty much impossible to buy milk from cows that have not had their calves prematurely taken from them.
Humans managed without milk for millions of years and we could do so again.
- A tale of two herds (guardian.co.uk)
- Supermarkets turn noses up at megadairy milk (independent.co.uk)
- Consuming Issues: Do we want cheap milk or family farms? (independent.co.uk)
- Super-dairy plan resubmitted (greenreview.blogspot.com)
- Consumer backlash again ‘super dairies’ could create new label for ‘free range milk’ (telegraph.co.uk)