The dairy industry is one of New Zealand’s biggest export earners. We have excelled into turning something of low value (grass) into something that is highly valuable and sought-after (milk).
It may therefore have come as a surprise to some to see the large number of negative dairy-related reports that have appeared in the media over the last few months.
The environmental impact of dairy has been well publicised for a number of years and there are now real fears that one of our biggest money earners could damage one of our other biggest industries – tourism. The fact that you and I can no longer safely swim in most of our rivers, can largely, but not solely, be attributed to our love affair with the white stuff. As the industry expands and ever more cows are producing more milk and shit, this problem will only get worse.
To expand their growing empires, New Zealand-owned dairy companies are sprouting up around the world. Fonterra owns a number of intensive dairy farms in Asia, where the animals are kept indoors, never to walk on grass or enjoy the sunshine on their backs.
A New Plymouth District Council-owned dairy venture in Tasmania is about to turn 1800 hectares of native forest into grassland so they can farm more dairy cows. That this forest is home to many species of native wildlife including the nationally threatened Tasmanian devil and spotted-tailed quoll is apparently of little concern.
We have all read about the outcry caused by New Zealand farmers hammering bobby calves to death in Chile, only to find out that this practice has been happening here on our own doorstep for decades. Worried about our international reputation, the Ministry for Primary Industries is now looking to ban the bashing to death of calves. Heaven forbid, it may just put some people off their milk.
In New Zealand we are seeing a rapid intensification of the dairy industry. Large numbers of euphemistically called ‘herd homes’ are being built. Some will confine hundreds of dairy cows inside for their entire lives.
With many consumers concerned about the cruelty of factory farming, it takes a brave (or really dumb) industry to start up another indoor confinement system.
Another welfare issue often over looked is that the high volume of milk extracted from cows is not only unnatural, it is also detrimental to the health and wellbeing of the animals.
Dairy cows are worked incredibly hard and as a result are worn out within four to five years. You only have to visit a sale yard to see these emaciated, skeletal animals being sold for a one-way ticket to the slaughterhouse.
The dairy industry justifies many of the environmental and animal welfare problems by claiming it produces food for the hungry masses.
But how desirable is the consumption of dairy anyway?
An increasing number of medical experts point out that cow’s milk is good for fast-growing calves but not for humans. We are the only species that drinks milk after infancy, and then not even our own species’ milk. Slowly we are seeing myths about the correlation of strong bones and calcium in dairy being debunked and hear more about the negative health consequences of consuming dairy.
Do we really want to rely for our economic wellbeing on an industry that has inherent environmental and animal welfare problems and that produces a product that in the future may well be viewed as undesirable, even detrimental to our health?
Soy milk, anyone?
Hans Kriek, Executive Director