OPINION: The world needs cow’s milk. Let’s get that stated up front.
Don’t believe the eyewash spouted by the anti-farming brigade. Cow’s milk is especially needed by growing youngsters and is pretty handy for us oldsters too. It is an excellent source of calcium, and has vitamin D and potassium and is a complete protein source.
It is not bad for you. A few people are lactose intolerant but there is a Zero Lacto option available. The alternatives, soy, almond etc, aren’t in the same health league.
We have more than 5 million dairy cows producing more than 20 billion litres of milk. Exports of milk products are worth more than $14 billion and it is estimated we feed 100 million people worldwide.
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Dairy contributes 5-6 per cent of our economic wealth and no one – well, no one with any sense – wants to see that change.
Our dairy industry is envied by other countries for its efficiency, based on a co-operative structure that has farmers working closely together, sharing expertise and data. They operate a wealth creation system that sees anyone prepared to study and work hard become a millionaire in their 30s, even earlier in some cases.
Our farmers are acknowledged as the best in the world at what they do and we should be proud of them. I know I am.
But there’s a couple of flies in the milk. One is the pollution the cows cause. The pressure is on farmers to reduce the numbers of cows in sensitive areas – and let’s face it, just about all of dairy farming is a sensitive area.
The pressure is growing so strong that it will be hard to resist by a government friendly to dairying and fully appreciates its economic importance, let alone a government – Labour-Green for example – that has other priorities.
The other fly in the milk is what to do with bobby calves. It has been an accepted part of dairying that the male calf, unless it has a beef heritage, is unwanted. It is put on a truck and taken away to be killed for veal or pet food.
Up until recently a lot of urban dwellers didn’t realise this happened. But the coverage of a couple of events in the past few years has alerted people – like the New Zealander in Chile filmed clubbing calves and of the videos that have emerged of calves being brutally handled in Waikato.
The controversy has died down for now. People have been charged with cruelty and jailed and tougher regulations are in force. But it is only a matter of time before it is highlighted again.
I feel this is something the industry has to deal with urgently. It is no use saying this is an essential part of milk production and can’t be changed. People are more sensitive to even the hint of animal cruelty than ever before. And to many people, taking a calf away from its mother to be killed, no matter how humanely, is cruel.
Now is the time to act to avert a future PR disaster.
An option is to more aggressively promote sexed semen. Though more expensive than normal artificial insemination, the guarantee of producing a female calf is touted as being as high as 90 per cent.
Another option is to set up bobby calf adoption schemes or for the industry to throw its weight behind a current scheme like the Starfish Project, run by a vegan animal rights group.
If both options were vigorously pursued the number of bobbies killed each year would drastically reduce. Dairying would be seen to be moving firmly against animal cruelty and farmers could regain some of their lost standing in the community.
And we could promote the healthy qualities of milk with a clear conscience.
Jon Morgan is editor of NZ Farmer.