MILK PRODUCTION AND ANIMAL WELFARE ARE SYNONYMOUS IN INDIA
The controversy across the media is between PETA and GCMMF. People for Ethical Treatment of Animals has suggested that the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation, known for its popular brand AMUL, should ‘switch to plant based dairy’. Why did PETA call plant based as ‘dairy’ ? Why not plant based product. Obviously, the dairy sounds more powerful than plant product
The Switch Over Concept
When two bulls fight, the reaction of the audience is to clap for both notwithstanding which one bleeds more than the other. The controversy across the media is between PETA and GCMMF. People for Ethical Treatment of Animals has suggested that the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation, known for its popular brand AMUL, should ‘switch to plant based dairy’. Why did PETA call plant based as ‘dairy’ ? Why not plant based product. Obviously, the dairy sounds more powerful than plant product.
Let us understand the origin of the ‘switch over’ concept. It was in 2017, that the Swedish oat-milk brand Oatly approached and supported a dairy farmer to switch to plant-based farming. The farmer agreed and found to his surprise that his profits had substantially increased. Other dairy farmers also made a switch. Similar initiatives were taken by Kellog, Kashi and Miyoko’s Creamery in the United States to promote plant-based farming. And the noteworthy point is that they launched their non-dairy products in competition to milk products. Note that neither the farmers nor the companies switched over for their love of vegan but to increase profits. Consequently, many dairy companies filed lawsuits against such brands for allegedly confusing consumers by using the term “milk” to describe a non-dairy product.
There are two issues that emerge from the above narrative. One is, that the farmer that has been referred to above was owner of a large number of cows on a large size of land. Obviously, the company could launch its products by supporting such a farmer. The farmer would have perhaps slaughtered his cows to generate capital and would have quickly switched over to plant farming.
Indian Dairy Sector
Situation in India is far from being similar. Milk production is still a complementary and home-based activity in India. The last statistics that I am aware of, indicates that there are 75 million dairy farms that consist of 10 cattle or less are family owned and operated. These farms are a miniscule size as compared to the dairy across the United States, Europe, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, etc. And the very large number dairy farmers in India collectively own 192.49 million cattle 109.85 million buffaloes. As a result, milk production in India during FY 2020 amounted to about 198.8 million metric tons up from 187.7 million metric tons in fiscal year 2019, an increase of 5.91 percent over the previous year. The value of raw milk produced in India is estimated close to INR 9 lakh crores annually. Milk alone contributed 4.2% of India’s GDP during 2020. This statistics is presented to highlight that milk production in India is an important activity for a large number of small milk producer that seek to get financial security. In fact it is well established that depending only on pure crop production is not a healthy financial alternative. The vagaries of weather have forced some farmers to suicide. The farmers that have engaged in mixed farming with a few cows or buffaloes have been safer because milk provides daily income for the homestead.
How can anyone expect such a large number of small farmers to switch over to plant foods ? Also, the world over the cattle are slaughtered for meat purpose and it is possible for those farmers to generate capital and switch over. In India it is impossible to even think that such a large number of cattle can be slaughtered. Would PETA prefer that !
The second issue is that the plant based products were called milk. Why ? Why could they not find a name or brand other than milk and then compete with milk and milk products. This is because all those companies know that milk is one-stop source of all nutrients, is universally consumed and has an instant acceptance by all its consumers. Therefore, they found that the plant based products must be named as milk to confuse the customer as also take advantage of the brand equity that is enjoyed by milk and milk products. This has lead to many lawsuits being filed against plant-based milk producers and processing companies for allegedly confusing consumers by using the term “milk” to describe a non-dairy product.
Vegan Versus Dairy products
The European Union has banned the vegan products like Oatly, and Flora from using milk cartons and yogurt pots for packaging their vegan foods. This has been done to give a respectable status to milk originating from cows. The ban includes use of terminology like almond milk, soya milk, oat milk, under amendment 171 of the act regulating food standards and nomenclature. The dairy like products originate from lentils, peas, beans and nuts. The vegan food manufacturers have gone a step further to use plant milks to make products that look like ice creams, flavoured milks, yogurts, butter and other dairy products, etc.
In India the fight for clear and separate identification of dairy products has been contested for long. AMUL, NDDB, NDRI and IDA have been opposing the ice-cream-like products which contained non dairy ingredients. That has ultimately lead to separate nomenclature as ‘ice cream’ that contains only dairy products and ‘frozen desserts’ that look like ice cream but contain non dairy products such as edible oils.
In India, the Food Safety and Standards Authority has clearly and separately defined dairy foods, non-vegetarian foods and from vegan nondairy foods. Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) Regulations, 2011 section 1.2.1 (7) defines -- “Non- Vegetarian Food” means an article of food which contains whole or part of any animal including birds, fresh water or marine animals or eggs or products of any animal origin, but excluding milk or milk products, as an ingredient”. The milk and products containing only milk are obviously vegetarian foods even though of animal origin.
PETA - the NGO
PETA is Virginia based international non-government organisation founded in March 1980, as an American animal rights organization. Ingrid Newkirk is the founder international president. Indian arm of PETA was founded in 2000. PETA’s slogan is "Animals are not ours to experiment on, eat, wear, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way. it focuses on four core issues—opposition to factory farming, fur farming, animal testing, and the use of animals in entertainment. It also campaigns for a vegan lifestyle and against eating meat, fishing, the killing of animals regarded as pests, the keeping of chained backyard dogs, cock fighting, dog fighting, beekeeping, and bullfighting. PETA lobbies government agencies to impose fines and/or confiscate animals when animal-welfare legislation has been violated, promotes a vegan lifestyle, tries to reform practices on factory farms and in slaughterhouses, sends undercover investigators into animal-research laboratories, farms, and circuses, initiates media campaigns against particular companies or practices, helps to find sanctuaries for animals formerly used by circuses and zoos, and initiates lawsuits against companies that refuse to change their practices.
PETA Contests AMUL Ads
It is the principle of promoting veganism that made PETA India to contest with AMUL. It so happens that AMUL posted an artwork on their official twitter handle showing the AMUL girl feeding AMUL butter to Joaquin Phoenix, dressed as a joker. Phoenix had won the Oscar for Best Actor for his role in the film ‘Joker’ at the 92nd annual Academy Awards. During his speech, Phoenix had addressed a plethora of issues, ranging from racism to gender inequality and the cancel culture…. we feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow and steal her baby, even though her cries of anguish are unmistakable. Many PETA enthusiasts have shown artificial insemination in cows as a ‘rape’ of cows. How insensitive ! Why nor attack the women who go for IVF and rent their wombs for surrogacy. " PETA India called AMUL’s cartoon as tone deaf artwork. “The joke's on you,” read the tweet.
Phoenix is a Vegan. Strict Vegans are people who do not eat food derived from animals. The thought behind vegan diet is that it denies giving commodity status to foods of animal origin. Obviously, a vegan would decline to eat products like eggs, meat, milk and milk products, cheeses and even honey.
Soon thereafter, PETA India, pleaded against AMUL’s advertisements that promote dairy products in contrast to vegans that are nondairy but would like to be compared to dairy like milks. The plea was filed with the self regulating ad industry entity Advertising Standards Council of India. ASCI dismissed PETA’s plea. After the dismissal, PETA has suggested to AMUL to switch over its manufacturing from dairy products to vegan products.
In reaction, AMUL, India’s largest dairy brand has countered PETA’s suggestion to 'switch to plant-based dairy', questioning how employment to crores of people could be provided if that were to be the case, and said “foreign funded NGOs are running campaigns to tarnish the Indian dairy industry”.
India Milk Production meets PETA Objectives
There is need to understand the process of milk production in India in contrast to the milk produced by developed dairy giants in the United States, Europe, Israel, Australia, and New Zealand.
- Milk production in India is not factory oriented like in the west.
- Milk is produced by a large number of small farmers. They do not have any automation or robotic processes of feeding, management, disease control, reproduction etc. Management of animals is based on personalized care, safety and service.
- Milk production is a household activity. Versus two persons managing a herd of 300 milking cows in the west, in an Indian village, entire family looks after a herd of less than 10 cattle and buffaloes.
- Meeting with PETA requirements, the animals are housed and tended like members of the family with care and concern, love and affection, kept safe and secure shelters, ensured well being and welfare.
- They are given feeds and fodders that are either home produced or gathered from the forest. There is negligible input of hormones and feed supplements.
- Increase in milk production is based on growth in livestock population and limited rise in per animal productivity.
- Milk production brings profitability and sustainability like agriculture. All land owning farmers prefer mixed farming over only crop production.
- Women are very active in dairy farming. They see it as great opportunity for poverty alleviation, women empowerment, and child nutrition, and nutritional security.
- Dairy farming is good opportunity for landless and marginal farmers.
If the notes given above were considered carefully, the dairy farmers in India appear to meet with the animal welfare standards.
What if AMUL Switches to Vegan ?
AMUL is a federal conglomerate of 18 district level cooperative unions in Gujarat. As of 2018-19, these unions combined comprise 3.8 million milk producers as their members based in 18,600 village societies. The total handling capacity of AMUL is 35 million litres milk per day and daily average milk collection during 2018-19 was 23 million litres. The sales turnover of AMUL duing 2018-19 was INR 38,550 crores (US $ 5.1 billion). District Milk Unions pays 75 to 80 per cent of the consumer price to milk farmers for the milk purchased from them.
- If AMUL were to switch over to vegan dairy concept, it would need to modify all its processing assets valued perhaps at more than INR 2 lakh crores.
- It would have to get rid of large number of cattle and buffaloes. Where would they go ? Sure enough cannot consider slaughtering by peace loving Gujarati farmers.
- It would not have enough land assets to produce vegan equivalent of the current milk procurement because close to 70% of its milk is sourced from landless and marginal milk producers.
- These 70% milk producer members would be rendered jobless, large enough to create unmanageable social unrest.
MILK IS AMRIT
Indian civilIsation is first to have domesticated cows some 8000 years ago for milk production and unique farming practices based on cows. Cows were treated as MOTHER goddess. Swami Vivekanand was once confronted with a question as to which is the best milk. He said milk from buffaloes. The questioner quipped but you call cow as Mother. He replied cows give AMRIT – the universal elixir of life.
Let us all get together, make a new beginning and search for vegan AMRIT !!
( R. S. Khanna is a International Dairy Consultant. Views expressed in the article are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)