The Milk ConundrumMilk is featuring a lot in the press at the moment as hard-pressed small dairy farmers battle large supermarkets who have not been paying them even the cost of producing milk, let alone enabling them to make money to live on.
I have sympathy with small dairy farmers and would hate to see them all sell up leaving only large dairy herds in inhumane crowded factory farms with zero-grazing.
The problems with milk production, however, go beyond small farmers versus the supermarkets.
- Animal Welfare: These days dairy cows are forced to produce much more milk than they would naturally and in the end their hips and hind legs breakdown because of all the extra weight they carry and they are killed for their meat and byproducts. The heart-breaking separation of mother and calf also needs to be taken into account.
- Health: There is also the tremendous use of antibiotics to tackle the mastitis these cows are prone to which would increase if small farmers go out of business and larger herds crammed together indoors become the norm. This week there is much in the press lambasting GPs about subscribing too many anti-biotics as the bacterial resistance to them is increasing. There is also over-use in animal husbandry.
- Climate Change: Cows produce enormous amounts of methane - a climate-warming gas and if there were fewer it would help reduce the threat of irrevocable climate change. There are currently 250 million cows worldwide.
- Trade: A glut of milk world-wide is contributing to the problem and the Russian boycotting of our product. But should milk and cheese, of which we import a lot, really be traded between countries? The Green Party believes that eating local produce locally is the best way for a sustainable environment, keeping food miles to the minimum. The produce would also be fresher and taste better.
- Alternatives: There are alternatives to milk that are produced from soya, coconut, almonds and other crops. If less dairy milk was drunk then much pastureland would be freed up for other crops which feed people more efficiently. Of course you do need to make sure that soya etc is farmed sustainably and not from areas which were previously rainforest as in South America and that pesticides are not over-used.
I am a vegetarian not a vegan. I normally use soya milk, but do buy the odd pint of milk and eat cheese. I like to see cows in fields as part of the British landscape.
My solution: I would like to see small organic dairy farms who sell their produce locally for a fair price. Milk would be drunk alongside alternatives. I think this solution would also benefit badgers as the incidence of TB would decrease and they would no longer be targetted as scapegoat by this government contrary to all the evidence.
More information on dairy cows from Compassion in World Farming.