When most of us picture milk, we think of a cow or buffalo grazing on expansive green pastures, breathing the fresh air and soaking in the sun. The reality is something entirely different. And World Milk Day 2022 is the right opportunity to dig deep into the idea of a 'milk from a happy dairy cow'.
Myth #1: Milking is a natural process
Fact: Unfortunately, milking is not natural. In dairies, a new-born calf is separated from their mother almost immediately after birth. The first of the mother's milk is harvested by us, humans. Before natural recovery is possible, bovine mothers are forced into another pregnancy within three months of completing the previous lactation cycle. Lactating mothers are milked till their teats are sore, inflamed, and stretched. And the cycle continues.
Myth #2: Animals used in dairies live good lives
Fact: Dairy cows and buffaloes live on cold hard floors through all seasons. In nearly 60 percent of dairies, the hindlegs of cows and buffaloes are tied for hours or days at a stretch to restrict movement. There is no space in the dairy industry for a cow that does not produce milk. In dairies, animals don't live to even half their natural lifespans.
Myth #3: The treatment of dairy animals does not affect the milk
Fact: In 46.9 percent of dairies, a hormone known as oxytocin is illegally injected into animals to increase milk production. This hormone can also find its way into the milk consumed by humans and affects the health of humans. Milk containing oxytocin is known to be extremely dangerous for human pregnancies and breast-feeders. In 2019, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India found that commercially available milk also contains antibiotics, carcinogens, adulterants (like melamine and starch) and contaminants, like detergents and pesticides. All of these are dangerous for human health.
Myth #4: Dairies have to maintain ethical standards or they wouldn't be allowed to run
Fact: A 2017 FIAPO investigation into dairies across 10 states in India found that only 14.3 percent dairies were registered according to municipal laws and national standards. With so many dairies operating unregulated and unlisted under the radar, is it surprising that health, ethical, and safety standards are largely ignored?
Myth #5: Milk and milk products are essential to human health
Fact: The nutrition humans get from dairy is also found in many other plant-based and non-dairy alternatives. Milk obtained from nuts and seeds has excellent nutritional benefits especially in combination with a plant-based diet. Also, the adverse health effects of dairy products are not well known among ordinary people. Consuming dairy can cause early puberty in girls. Dairy has also been linked to breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers.
Myth #6: Problem with dairy isn't that big
Fact: There are at least 275.7 million bovine animals in India. At this scale, milk production is only possible because of mass industrialisation. The use of illegal drugs and hormones, to increase productivity, is rampant. But if we collectively demand transparency in the dairy industry and demand availability of dairy alternatives, we can help millions of animals.
Myth #7: These myths don't matter
Each of these falsehoods applies to any animal whose milk is commercially produced, not just cows and buffaloes. Myths like these stop us from exploring a different way of living, one in which our pleasure, convenience, and health do not come at a cost to other sentient beings.
Bovine animals may not look like us or talk like us, but they also have the capacity to feel joy, sadness, friendship, love, and fear. So, if we can take steps that would not only benefit us but also the animals and the environment, why wouldn’t we?
This World Milk Day, take the first step to being conscious of what one consumes and moving towards plant-based alternatives that help you, the environment, and animals. Reclaim this day, with a glass of plant mylk!
(Bharati Ramachandran is CEO; Upasana Sarraju is Senior Content Specialist at the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO), India’s apex animal rights body)