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Dairy Distress—Mistreatment of Animals in the Modern Dairy Industry

Milk and dairy products have been deeply woven into Indian culture and tradition for generations. After India was declared an independent sovereign, most of its economy was still small-scale and agrarian. The dairy industry, along with cotton and jute, was still in its infancy. It called for some drastic measures to be taken for India to transform into a global powerhouse. This included streamlining the already large quantity of milk being produced by multiple small farmers into one consolidated unit, making India one of the largest producers of milk and dairy products worldwide.
Operation Flood and the Milk Revolution

This process of revolutionising the Indian dairy industry was appropriately coined the ‘Milk Revolution’. Pioneered by Verghese Kurien of Amul, the revolution picked up its pace and soon, a national milk grid linking producers throughout the country was created. This movement sparked life into the production of dairy products throughout the country, helping India go from a state of deficiency to abundance. The foundation for the Milk Revolution was based on multiple factors, but healthy animals remained in the spotlight. The revolution started by forming a web of small-scale milk producers—farmers with their small collection of cattle would join hands to produce large quantities of milk, and they would be given an appropriate share from the money that would be made. A competitive market ensured that the prices were fair.

A Google doodle honouring the father of the milk revolution in India, Verghese Kurien. (Credits: Google.com/doodles)

Farmers considered their cattle to be the focal point of all their income, which helped them plough their land, fertilise their crops, and provide milk. These farmers owned small-scale farms, where the livestock was well cared for with personal attention given to each of the animals. The milk revolution set out to increase the amount of milk produced by industrialising the dairy industry. The sheer amount of cattle that a single large-scale dairy farm housed ensured that personal care for each animal became a thing of the past. The Indian dairy industry no longer shared the same sentiment towards the animals as that of the small-scale farm owners. In a country where cows are widely recognised as a blessing to the agrarian industry—a business that most of the population depends on—the treatment of these bovines in large-scale dairy farms is terrifying and inhumane.

Mistreatment of Cows on Dairy Farms

The shocking treatment meted out to the cows and buffaloes at dairy farms throughout the country can only be described as barbaric. A major reason for this is the emergence of Tabelas—animal factories which have inadequate provisions for health care or animal welfare. Tabelas are tightening their grip around the small domestic farms and are replacing them at a rapid rate. Milking is the primary activity the entire industry revolves around. There is a lot of scrutiny about whether cattle are comfortable being milked. Certain places that use automated robotic milking machines have shown that cows volunteer to be milked if they are under little stress and have a relaxed milking schedule of around 12 minutes, three times a day. The machines dairy farms use to milk animals are operated negligently, and cows are kept on these machines even after lactation, which causes the animals to endure tremendous amounts of pain on a daily basis.

Another issue for producers is that cows produce milk only when they are pregnant. Cows, much like other mammals, produce milk for feeding their young ones. To eliminate this problem, the unsuspecting animals are subjected to forcible insemination so that they can produce milk throughout. These social creatures are often confined, leaving them unable to fulfil basic desires such as nursing their calves.

Cows are also given large doses of hormones that cause them to produce unnaturally large quantities of milk. Oxytocin, a Schedule H drug, which cannot be bought or sold without a prescription, is widely used, despite the legal prohibitions placed on it. The drug makes cows suffer severe stomach cramps that feel like labour pain. In a survey conducted in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi, it was found that 82% of cattle breeders were using Inj. Oxytocin in the capital as per the report prepared by Dr R. P. Parashar, President, DAV Research Society for Health.

Cows are not allowed to tend to their calves and are forced to maintain a minimum distance of a few metres from them. (Credits: animaloutlook.org)

Reports from PETA have also suggested that the cows aren’t allowed to nurture their young ones. A cow is an emotionally complex animal capable of forming powerful bonds with both humans and other cows. Studies have proven that they have an incredible spectrum of social behaviour which ranges from being shy to being very bold while having the capacity to form multiple levels of hierarchy among themselves. To take away their calves is emotionally traumatic and disturbing. Certain farms tie the calves within the eyesight of the mother, who is in clear distress and is desperately trying to reach her child. A similar hypothetical human scenario is horrifying to fathom.

Animal hygiene is a distant dream at Delhi’s major dairy farm [name undisclosed]. Undercover investigators from PETA write that the environment in which the cattle are shackled is horrifying. Buffaloes stand in areas that are flooded with excreta, infectious water and garbage that come up to the animals’ knees. This exposes the animals to skin infections and foot diseases. These living conditions, along with the genetically modified feed that is given to the animals so that they produce more milk, reduce the lifespan of these cows from 25 years to merely 8-9 years.

Although cattle slaughter has been banned or severely restricted in most Indian states, one cannot help but notice the pattern that is followed between the amount of milk produced and the amount of beef exported by India. For a country with such strict slaughter rules, India would not be expected to rank as the second-largest exporter of beef. There is clearly a bending of rules when it comes to slaughter, which is conclusive when we look at the position India is at for the export of meat. There are allegations of Cow meat being exported instead of Carabeef or boneless buffalo meat, which is allowed to be shipped abroad by the government. In certain states, there is a minimum age (13 years) after which the cattle can be sent for slaughter, but most farms are known to by-pass this law. Male calves, deemed mostly as a burden to the industry, often face the pointy end of the sword.

Improving the Living Conditions of Dairy Animals

Consuming milk and dairy products has become a norm in every Indian household, but the bigger picture is hidden behind a smokescreen. These products have become an integral part of our daily diet and are culturally significant, but we somehow ignore the methods through which they are obtained. We need to treat our animals better, and there are a few ways through which we can improve the living conditions of the cows and be more humane in our production of dairy.

Modern milking machines are essential to help improve the condition of the cattle. They are animal-friendly and allow the animal to follow a personal milking schedule. The animal is immediately released after the milking process, saving it from discomfort and pain. The current machines that are in extensive use across the country do not detect the completion of milking, which hurts the animal.

Slaughter rules must be strictly abided by, and calving by female cows shouldn’t be enforced more often than once a year. The calves should also be left with their mothers for care and nutrition as healthy and happy cows provide better quality milk for longer periods of time.

Cattle are still being milked using outdated machinery which hurt the animal. (Credits: Indian Cooperative)

In a country that is widely seen as one where any form of life is considered important, we need to show more empathy to the animals that help us the most. Our cattle give us a lot, both nutritionally and financially, and it only seems fair that we are more humane and respectful towards them.  We should strive to obtain our products more gently and identify that every animal has its fair share of instincts, emotions, and pain. Sustainability of the dairy industry with better treatment of the animals is something we, as a nation, must strive for.

Featured Image Credits: Pexels.com, Creative Commons

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