What’s behind that glass of milk?

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Published: May 4, 2013 18:54 IST | Updated: May 4, 2013 18:54 IST
What’s behind that glass of milk?
ANUSHA NARAIN

Illustration: Deepak Harichandan

Illustration: Deepak Harichandan

The author throws light on some grim details about the cow in India, the world’s largest producer of milk.

You know that child who throws a terrible tantrum over a glass of milk. How he kicks and screams and refuses to touch the stuff? Haven’t you wondered what the fuss is all about? After all, it’s just a glass of milk.

It turns out the child may just have the right idea. The business of producing milk — indeed, the multi-crore rupee cattle industry it’s a part of — is sustained by a process of relentless cruelty towards animals, from birth till death, with little letup. Cruelty compounded by poorly defined, poorly implemented methods and gross violations.

In 1998, India, hitherto a milk-deficient nation, surpassed the U.S. as the highest milk-producing nation, a position it holds till date. According to the Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries, the government has invested Rs. 2242 crore to help meet a national demand of 150 million tonnes of milk by 2016-17. Millions of cattle will be produced (mainly through artificial insemination) for this purpose.

This will be done through “productivity enhancement, strengthening and expanding village-level infrastructure for milk procurement and providing producers with greater access to markets. The strategy involves improving genetic potential of bovines, producing required number of quality bulls, and superior quality frozen semen and adopting adequate bio-security measures etc.” Today India is home to the world’s largest cattle herd, with 324 million head.

The government is positioning this as a food security measure for the future. From the point of view of the animals, though, unthinkable cruelty lies ahead.

That image of tender care and worship that we are raised with, the image that is propagated in films and integrated with our cultural values — that’s a myth. In reality, the life of a cow in India is a horror show.

The first three stages of life — birth, maturity and motherhood — happen with inhuman haste. The female calf is born. She reaches puberty somewhere between 15 months and three years of age, depending on the breed, and is then impregnated, increasingly through artificial insemination.

Arpan Sharma, external relations in-charge at the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations, builds partnerships for better protection of animals by bringing together various stakeholders such as industry, government and regulators. He says, “Due to poor equipment and a lack of proper training, artificially inseminated cows sometimes become infertile and develop infections with few to care for them.”

Soon, the calf is born. While the cow is seen as a metaphor for motherhood, she is rarely given a chance to experience its joys for very long. Calves are separated from their mothers soon after they are born so that they don’t drink up all the milk. Just what does this do to these docile creatures?

The American physician Dr. Michael Klaper, the author of books such as Vegan Nutrition: Pure and Simple and Pregnancy, Children, and the Vegan Diet, provides an insight. “On the second day after birth, my uncle took the calf from the mother and placed him in the veal pen in the barn — only 10 yards away, in plain view of the mother. The mother cow could see her infant, smell him, hear him, but could not touch him, comfort him, or nurse him. The heartrending bellows that she poured forth — minute after minute, hour after hour, for five long days — were excruciating to listen to. They are the most poignant and painful auditory memories I carry in my brain,” he said in a 2010 interview with the Northwest Veg, a non-profit organisation based in Portland, Oregon.

Eileen Weintraub of Help Animals India and Vishakha Society for Protection and Care of Animals, Vishakhapatnam, takes this fact to its logical extreme. She states firmly, “With 1.2 billion people and 400 million vegetarians, anyone who does not have a vegan diet contributes to the suffering of cows.”


I once asked my mother, “If we take milk from cows, then what does the calf drink?” She said the milk a cow produces is more than the calf requires, and humans use what’s left over.

Apparently not. “The quantity of milk a calf gets varies. By and large, unless the calf is what is called “replacement stock,” it will get only the bare minimum necessary for survival. Often it will not even get that,” says Sharma.

To increase yield, the cows are also injected with Oxytocin, a hormone banned in India under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and section 12 of Food and Drug Adulteration Prevention Act, 1960. “Studies around the world show that cows injected with Oxytocin have a greater incidence of abortions, mastitis and lower conception rates, and their calves suffer higher than normal infant mortality and delayed puberty,” says Erika Abrams, founder of Animal Aid Unlimited, an animal rescue organisation based in Udaipur.

And what happens to unwanted male calves? This is where we wade into the red zone of this bloody business. “Milk cows need to produce a calf every year and half those calves are male. While a fraction of these are used to pull ploughs, others are butchered. Their skin is used for leather, and their meat for local consumption and export,” says Abrams. Calf leather comes from male calves of which India has a huge number.

The ones that live don’t fare much better. With traditional backyard agriculture slowly giving way to ‘intensive dairy farming’, hundreds of cows are confined for long periods within cramped, dark and acrid quarters. “More times than not even where there is a lot of space they are tied with a two-foot rope and in most cases all they can do is sit down and stand up even if they are in the open,” says Nandita Shah, Director at Sharan, Sanctuary for Health and Reconnection to Animals and Nature, Pondicherry. “At some places in Mumbai, calves are tied outside till they die of starvation; so technically they have not been killed.”

Divya Narain, an animal rescue volunteer from Bhopal, says, “At the State-run animal shelter in Bhopal, we often get recumbent little male calves, which have been dumped on the streets to die.” In other words, male calves, more or less, suffer an early death.

And what about cows? Cows and buffaloes can be productive until about the age of 14 years. But in the existing set up, in which cows are kept pregnant for almost 300 days a year, most of them dry up by the age of five or six. And after spending most of her life being milked, enduring hormone injections and the trauma of separation, the cow is sent off to the slaughterhouse.

Twenty-eight Indian states have cow-slaughter protection legislations in place. Unproductive cows, therefore, are routinely trafficked to slaughterhouses in the states where laws are less stringent or non-existent — Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, Lakshadweep, and especially Kerala. A large number of cattle is trafficked to Kerala, under inhuman conditions, from the neighbouring states as it is a major consumer of beef and does not have any regulation pertaining to cow slaughter. Apuroopa Podhardha, the legal adviser of People for Cattle in India (PFCI), a Chennai-based animal rescue group, says, “Thirty animals are crammed into a truck meant for six. In some instances, the legs of calves are tied and they are dumped in one on top of the other. Furthermore, no provision for food or water is made”. Cattle are also trafficked to West Bengal, from where they are taken to Bangladesh.

PFCI has conducted three cow-rescue operations in Chennai. Podhardha’s colleague Arun Prasanna G. says, “The latest delicacy in demand in the Middle Eastern markets is veal (the meat of a calf no older than three months). Flesh of unborn calves is known to bear medicinal value hence pregnant cattle are slaughtered.”

Prasanna says, “In many slaughterhouses, the act of slaughtering involves smashing the head of a cow with a sledgehammer, which renders it unconscious; then skinning it; and or hanging it upside down so that all the blood can be drained from the slit jugular vein, then skinning it live.” In a recent raid in an illegal slaughterhouse in Chennai recently, there were 20 cattle. “We could only rescue six of them. The police insisted we file a complaint first, which gave the cattle owners time to hide the remaining cows.” The slaughterhouse owners received an anticipatory bail.


According to the Ministry of Food Processing Industries, India has 3,600 slaughterhouses, nine modern abattoirs and 171 meat-processing units licensed under the meat products order. These do not include the numerous and ever-growing number of illegal and unregulated slaughterhouses, estimated to be more than 30,000. According to the U.S Department of Agriculture’s report on Livestock and Poultry: World Markets and Trade, India became the biggest beef exporter in the world in 2012(till October) with 16,80,000 tonnes of beef and veal exports, followed by Brazil with 13,94,000 metric tonnes and Australia with 13,80,000 metric tonnes of exports. In 2013, India’s beef exports are forecast 29 per cent higher to a record 2.16 million tonnes, accounting for nearly a quarter of world trade.

“The government gives subsidies to slaughterhouses because beef exports are a gold mine,” says Prasanna. A US beef export federation study states India exported $1.24 billion worth of meat in the first half of 2012. According to Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animals Sciences authorities 1.4 million tonnes of cattle were legally slaughtered in 2012 nationwide.

“One dead animal is worth approximately Rs. 30,000. Tissues from a cattle’s heart are used to rebuild livers. Horns and hoofs are used to make buttons, skin is used for leather, flesh for meat, tail is used for fertility treatment, bones are used for whitening sugar, and producing gelatin,” says Prasanna.

In states such as Madhya Pradesh, where cow slaughter is illegal, trafficking is rife, and the dry cattle that are not transported are let loose on the streets, where they live the last days of their lives foraging in dustbins, eating plastic-infested garbage and drinking polluted water from open drains.

The government runs several goshalas, shelters for old cattle, across the country, but these are too few and are not governed by serious norms. Suma R. Nayak, an advocate and a trustee of the Animal Care Trust, Mangalore, says, “Goshalas have started to operate along the lines of dairy farms; only accepting healthy, productive cows.”

For all this, milk may not even be as rich in calcium as we have been led to believe. Amy Lanou, Ph.D., Nutrition Director for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, D.C., says, “The countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis are the ones where people drink the most milk and have the most calcium in their diets. The connection between calcium consumption and bone health is actually very weak, and the connection between dairy consumption and bone health is almost non-existent.”

Also, the growing numbers of cattle casts a heavy shadow on the environment. Bovines produce methane when they pass gas. It is estimated that a bovine produces, depending on the breed, anywhere between 100 litres to 500 litres of methane a day. This is equivalent to the per-day carbon dioxide emissions of a car. India’s huge bovine population makes methane a dangerous pollutant.

There is also the ecological problem. Producing fodder for 324 million cows puts immense strain on scarce land and water resources.

The Humane Society of India’s report states: Animal agriculture occupies 30 per cent of the earth’s total land area. Approximately 33 per cent of total arable land is used to produce feed crops, in addition to vast areas of forested land that is clear-cut to graze or grow feed for farmed animals.

What, then, is the alternative? Narain, who is also a major in Ecology from the University of Oxford, suggests a plant-based diet.

“The government is using taxpayer money to subsidise dairy products (and indirectly the leather and beef industries). What it should be doing is to promote the production of protein-rich plant-based foods such as legumes, soybeans, pulses, fruits and nuts using the land and water resources that are otherwise used to produce cattle feed. That, and only that, will work if we are to put food on the plates of our starving children.”

Keywords: cattle industry, milk production, Food Processing Industries, animal rescue, slaughterhouses

Printable version | May 5, 2013 10:14:15 AM |

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Dear sir,

You may be right  on some points…like handling animals by denying basic facilities,management etc., because to-day especially our nation’s enterpreuner’s are more interested in input and output with hefty profits by hook or cook, but not ethics of humanity,responsibility on nature and botheration on other creatures.

This attitude of present people in world is not exceptional in  human beings too like… living,marriages,born ,education,jobs,oldage and death. Apart from that polluting environment i.e. air,water,land  of this nature with all greediness…may be if you thought about this seriously , iam sure you  will write articles…what’s behind that glass of drinking water??..what’s behind that little breathing air??..what’s behind that eating one meal?

Everyone should think  in right  and responsible directions, then only we can feel this nature as it is. Or else irrespective of some (little majority) people’s belongingness to this nature, everyone will be suffered  one or the other day.

thanks and regards,

kasturiraju

Hello,

Hundreds of websites and people have already discussed on this topic many times. this is what I think.

In Kerala I know people who slaughter all sort of animals including cattle in their backyards(I mean illegal slaughter houses in small villages and towns).


For all this, milk may not even be as rich in calcium as we have been led to believe. Amy Lanou, Ph.D., Nutrition Director for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, D.C., says, “The countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis are the ones where people drink the most milk and have the most calcium in their diets. The connection between calcium consumption and bone health is actually very weak, and the connection between dairy consumption and bone health is almost non-existent.”

Also, the growing numbers of cattle casts a heavy shadow on the environment. Bovines produce methane when they pass gas. It is estimated that a bovine produces, depending on the breed, anywhere between 100 litres to 500 litres of methane a day. This is equivalent to the per-day carbon dioxide emissions of a car. India’s huge bovine population makes methane a dangerous pollutant.

There is also the ecological problem. Producing fodder for 324 million cows puts immense strain on scarce land and water resources.

The Humane Society of India’s report states: Animal agriculture occupies 30 per cent of the earth’s total land area. Approximately 33 per cent of total arable land is used to produce feed crops, in addition to vast areas of forested land that is clear-cut to graze or grow feed for farmed animals.

What, then, is the alternative? Narain, who is also a major in Ecology from the University of Oxford, suggests a plant-based diet.

“The government is using taxpayer money to subsidise dairy products (and indirectly the leather and beef industries). What it should be doing is to promote the production of protein-rich plant-based foods such as legumes, soybeans, pulses, fruits and nuts using the land and water resources that are otherwise used to produce cattle feed. That, and only that, will work if we are to put food on the plates of our starving children.”

What I feel is MILK is not bad for your health but INDUSTRIALIZED MILK IS BAD FOR HEALTH.
For hundreds of centuries people have domesticated cattle and consumed milk. They never came across any severe bone and joint ailments and other complication. Thing is before white revolution people consumed very little milk that too pure milk.

I am not sure if Indian Zebu cattle produce that much amount of methane. I feel it is because of the grains, hormones and steroids that are feed to cows which causes methane trouble  :-\ (Not just that organic farmers who use this cow dung also are contaminating the food chain).
Does any one know more on this topic(methane). Most study is conducted on hybrid cows or ones that are heavily grain feed(I mean controlled environment).
Most people in Kerala don’t touch cow dung because it is poisonous(Yes agree it smells foul). Things is now people find it difficult to touch or carry even native breed dung which is not feed with Industrialized cattle feed. check the attachment.

Is Industrialized plant based food good for health? Mass demand creates a opportunity for govt and corporate’s to loot. People should stop pointing at issues and live with it or start growing some food for your consumption.


anoop

The so called “bloody” aspect of dairy industry is nothing new and has been practiced for thousands of years. ANY agricultural activity leads to “loss of life”. Does anyone really think that farming for any of the vegan produces like rice, wheat etc doesnt involve any killing of animals? it does on regular basis. Most of us have had farms which were in close vicinity of forested lands, and wild animals like deer, boar etc come to feed on standing crops on regular basis. For hundreds of years, our ancestors had remain awake at night protecting the crops, and once they see the animals they used to trap them and kill them with sticks, stones and other “inhumane” methods, because they knew the reality of life that for us to live, they have give their life. Its in last few decades that wild animal populations dont pose much threat, and now everyone seems to have forgotten how we were coping with farming for last 2000+ yrs.

jaypat87,

Agree agricultural activity leads to loss of life. To some extend survival of one species depends on the other species.

“Most of us have had farms which were in close vicinity of forested lands, and wild animals like deer, boar etc come to feed on standing crops on regular basis.  For hundreds of years, our ancestors had remain awake at night protecting the crops, and once they see the animals they used to trap them and kill them with sticks, stones and other “inhumane” methods,”

But I believe it is not completely true.
Yes Indian and many other parts in the world were separated with thick forest. gathering food, farming and hunting were the means of food.

I have been to some tribal villages.
As per my views the best village was - kurchiyad village in thethalayam range (Wayanad forest). It is not accessible to normal people you need prior forest office permission to venture because it is a sensitive area(Kerala - Karnataka border area). I believe that is the only reason they are still able to hold their tradition.

This place is covered by mountains on all the side with thick forest cover. They cultivate grains and other vegetables for the whole year for their use. During night their Mind is Awake and Body Asleep. Some folks have the responsibility to create different sort of noise to keep different animals away. This is passed onto younger generations by the elders. They are very knowledgeable about the forest, animals around them and medicinal values of plants. Their livestock are protect with just a normal shed and not highly protected.

They don’t plant paddy on certain days, like medam 28 in Malayalam calendar(This is practiced even where I stay). If planted then pest will definitely attack crop. Like that they have dates for tuberous, if planted rodents attack- There would be many more things which we are not aware of.

They do occasionally go for hunting. But do not kill the animals to safe guard their crops. Idea is if you know to keep mosquitoes off your house then killing never happens.

Person who took me there said; some elders know of a plant which applied to the eyes can give night vision(don’t search for it they will never tell you) and they can walk through jungle even during no moon days. People reading this line would feel it is a exaggeration. anyways doesn’t bother me. believe it or not.

Elderly folks were traditional dress. New generation have started to get t-shirts and pants, thanks to ngos and missionaries. And the latest generation is send to schools. They are on the verge of losing all the wealth and traditional knowledge.

Anoopji, My family on both maternal and paternal side have been continuously farming the south-central gujarat for atleast six generations. I have been fortunate enough to interact with really old timers of my family when I was a kid, and I have gotten somewhat accurate viewpoint on how it was done even as early as 1920s. Our lands werent really what one would call thickly forested, still we had frequent sightings of deer and wild pigs who would destruct the standing crop very easily. We also had wild dogs, leopards, and tigers (in those days), who would attack our cattles. Now, you have to understand that most of the people farming in that area were largely vegetarians (except my family); in spite of that they would go out and trap the animals and kill it. The sole purpose of killing these animals was protection of property (crops and cattle). Permission for such was usually obtained from collectors and called “depredation permits”. This wasnt called hunting in the traditional sense because it wasnt done for animal’s meat or trophy (hide, head etc).

I completely understand what you are saying about tribal hunting/farming techniques…I have interacted some with tribals of Dangs (south gujarat) and I have always been highly impressed at their skills. I have always felt that tribals live much more of a honest life then what we do. I say that because they tend to eat whatever they kill, and they hunt for meat to feed them self unlike most of us. Also, they have much more “openness” about how they live. I’ll give you an example, until I reached my teen years, I had zero clue about what happens to male calf in dairy farming. You would think that in a farmer’s family such things would be told to kids early on, but sadly our culture has so much less transparency then what tribals or even foreigners have.

Yes Jaypat,

You are correct. I know the anguish of losing crop or livestock. Specially during olden times when you have no ration and super market to buy stuff. You have to be very very careful. You would do anything to keep your crops and cattle safe.

Last year one of my calf was bitten and dragged by two fox. I could chase and rescue here. Now I use a metallic pot tied with a metal rod on to a rope on the shed, and the end of the rope connect to our house, when I pull it creates sound. It does a amazing job to keep fox,  wild and domesticate dogs away. Traditionally people have been using it here. As mentioned earlier they never killed them. But yes when they go mad(rabies) they killed them.

Yes hunting for meat was also a major part of some enthusiastic males here during olden times. However now it is a risky stuff and people don’t do it. Not just that their habitats are almost completely lost. Only a few land pockets let.

Yes but in your case for larger wild animals things would be different. Not sure there would be some thing interesting.

chat reminds me of monkey, they pluck and drink tender coconuts. Traditionally whole of tender coconut was cut in a way so only a monkeys hand would go in it. Then food grains any edible stuff would be added in it. Once monkey inserts its hand inside and grabs the food, it cannot get its hand out. They will not leave it unless they encounter a fight with other monkeys. To some extent it was a effective approach. But no one does it now. There are no monkeys left.
Also people tied coconut leaf basket onto some of the latest bunch of coconut, ideally 3 or 4 basket could be seen on each tree and no nuts could be seen. It was done to protect from birds, monkey and other creatures. This was a risky job and many climber have died doing this.

yes agree tribal are a different set of people. they live with nature and die.
Reason they raise animals is because they have land to graze - sell their livestock for a yearly earning to general people like us.
bulls were sold to farmers to make stud bull, bullock and for other farming activity and not like the current approach of culling males for meat.
I know all this is non viable in today world. But let newcomers know all this worked and can be a option sometime in near future when fuel prices rise and when farming becomes a non sustainable concept. I mean it is already some what non sustainable.

Anoopji, Its so amazing to hear that people from different parts of the country used to tackle the problems in a same way. I too have heard about that monkey trick; however I have never seen it in action because we dont have any remaining now, and the ones we have are in the hills of western ghats. Yeah all we can do is tell people about how it was done in olden days, because the road our govt is taking, very soon we might be sustainable only if we start using older methods even though they may lead us to lower yields.