Posts Tagged ‘dairy’

Why dairy?

Friday, December 16th, 2011

This week, I was asked by the PR firm involved in the proposal for the Nocton mega-dairy why we’ve included industrialised dairy in our new campaign. My answer: Because you made it an issue.

Read more about our battle for food sense and against factory farming’s new frontier here.

Good vibrations

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

Xalapa, Mexico: It could be an English upland scene, except the light is so good the grass looks greener than I’ve ever seen. Small groups of black and white cows are dotted across a rolling landscape. A tiny hummingbird flits like an electric bumble-bee around a roadside conifer.

This is southeast Mexico and we’re at an altitude of 2,000 metres on the lower slopes of an ancient volcano. Our ascent was coloured by the sight of dairy cows eating grass like they should. The contrast from California two days ago is stark; cows grazing naturally versus a land perversely peppered with mega-dairies; industrial facilities with thousands of cows crowded in one place.

We’ve stopped outside the village of Acajete and look toward the Sierra Madre mountain range shrouded in the morning mist. In the distance, the bustling city of Xalape winks in the sunlight. A farm-hand walks up the hill carrying three white buckets. Wearing a blue Ferrari tee-shirt, white wellies and a baseball cap, he waves and beckons warmly. We are treated to an impromptu tour of the farm.

Ana Maria Frauzoni Hernandez, a farmer herself and veterinarian, arrives to take us round. We are taken through a cluster of modest flat-roofed buildings that comprise the farmhouse and the dairy. There’s an unmistakable smell in the air; of baby-sweet dairy mixed with a slight hint of manure. Hernandez explains that this is her brother’s farm. She talks about respecting the cow as a noble animal. We walk past scattered trees to where 20 calves are loafing in the sun. I stand in the inevitable cow-pat.

It’s just one of 34 farms in a local dairy cooperative. It’s a pretty big farm by European standards. There are 500 cows on this farm, but you really wouldn’t know it as the cows gently graze in small clusters across the hillside.

We watch as forty Friesian cows are milked on the hillside. The cows and two farm-hands stand amongst a smattering of silver milk-churns. Hernandez explains that the cows are milked twice a day. Her father used to milk them three times a day but the cows got stressed. When milking is over, a horse carries the churns up the hill. The cows walk up the hill too. It’s wonderful to see them walking naturally; without the bloated bulging udders and splayed back legs so characteristic of what we saw on California’s mega-dairies.

The cows here are kept outdoors all year round. No chemicals, preventative antibiotics or hormones are used. A bit of supplementary food is offered when the grass is short.

Hernandez tells us that the cows here have an average lifespan of 20 years. Again, hugely different to the mega-dairies, where cows are often worn out and sent for slaughter at just 5-6 years. She reflects that cows on mega-dairies are likely to suffer stress from the way they’re kept.

Toward the end of the tour, Hernandez laments at the difficulty of getting a profitable price for the milk. It’s a familiar theme on both sides of the Atlantic. And with all systems big and small; the memory is still fresh of the tears of a Californian farmer, talking about the suicide of his friend, a large-scale dairy farmer.

The milk here is sold under the name, ‘Joyalat’ – Joyal I’m told meaning Jewel. Hernandez sees the milk as “white gold”. She shares customer feedback about how good the milk is here, apparently because the cows graze naturally on grass full of nutrients.

We tasted the yoghurt from the farm; it was full of flavour, very smooth and with no hint of sharpness; delicious. A poster in the dairy window proclaims proudly that “The best milk in the world is produced in Mexico”. Today, I’m inclined to agree.

California girls

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Central Valley, California: I’m inside the world’s largest cheese factory. It’s huge; complete with security guards, visitor centre and restaurant. White-coated workers are busy making orange-coloured cheese. It’s the culmination of my journey through California.

The drive here was along a road littered with mega-dairies; industrial dairy farms with thousands of cows crowded in one place. I passed a livestock auction market where young cows are bought and worn-out ‘cull’ cows sold for their final journey.

Earlier, I flew out in a small plane. I asked the pilot whether we would fly over any mega-dairies; he was concerned he might not find one for us. He needn’t have worried. Within minutes of take-off, we flew over our first. Then came another, and another; thick and fast. They were like angry scars on the face of this regimented countryside; muddy-brown blots amongst vast fields of uniform crops.

Thousands of cows stood crowded on dirt; not a blade of grass in sight. This was ‘zero-grazing’. Lagoons the size of Olympic swimming pools, some like small reservoirs, captured the inevitable outpouring of liquid manure from so many cows. A thousand cows produce as much muck as 50,000 people. There were far more than a thousand cows on each farm.

These lagoons are said to be poorly lined, allowing muck-slurry to seep out, often contaminating ground water. They sometimes overflow, polluting precious waterways in this arid State.

I also visited a local school surrounded by mega-dairies; five within a three-mile radius. Between 3,000 and 6,000 cows on each; that’s 30-60 times more cows than the average dairy farm in Britain.

The march of the mega-dairies is the target of fierce opposition. Residents and public health experts concerned about farm dust and gas emissions and how they affect people. Fishermen, environmentalists and local communities worried about water pollution and what it does to wildlife and drinking water. I also spoke to farmers. As the dairies get bigger, more and more farmers lose their livelihoods.

I scanned the shelves of cheese in the factory shop. I tried some. It was fairly tasteless and rubbery. The visitor centre painted a picture of how cows are kept. It was unrecognisable from the reality of the mega-dairies just along the street. Where cows never see grass and are pushed to produce so much milk that they quickly become worn out. A poster at the nearby auction mart showed photos of happy-looking cows beside the words of a Beach Boys song; “I wish they all could be California girls”. I couldn’t help thinking that the cows would disagree.

It’s easy to feel hopeless when faced with what seems like an onslaught. It’s also inspiring to connect with the growing movement for change, both here in the USA and in Europe.

We should remember what we’ve already achieved. Extreme confinement crates for dairy veal calves – banned in Europe; the use of the GM milk-boosting hormone, BST – banned in Europe; and the 8,000 cow mega-dairy proposal in Nocton, England – ripped up at the planning stage.

We are making a difference. And by joining hands with the mega-dairy protest movement in the USA, we can do so much more.

Mega Dairies – A Retrograde Step

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

Following our success in stopping the proposed mega-dairy at Nocton, Lincolnshire which had a starting herd of 3,700 increasing later to 8,000, I am absolutely dismayed by Powys County Council’s decision to allow a 1,000 cow mega-dairy at Leighton near Welshpool.

It’s extremely sad, not only for the cows involved, but also for the beautiful Welsh countryside. According to reports, the mega-dairy will be on land overlooking Powis Castle in the Severn Valley.

Cows belong in fields. Not industrial factory farms. They can live up to 20 years or more. But high yielding dairy cows typically live for just six years. Many suffer with chronic lameness, mastitis or infertility.

Cows kept outside generally have more opportunity to behave naturally; including grazing on pasture, walking freely and breathing fresh air. Cows kept indoors are more restrained. They are kept in forced ventilation. They often stand on hard concrete. They are fed a diet with more concentrate in it which often leads to digestive problems.

To learn more about the welfare of cattle and mega-dairies, please visit our website.

Because cows belong in fields and not in mega-dairies, Compassion believes the Powys dairy is nothing short of a backward step; not only for dairy cow welfare, but for dairy farmers too.

Britain’s dairy farming remains a largely pasture-based business. There is no need for it to follow the US mega-dairy route. I believe that farming and food industry interests must work together with government and consumer groups to ensure Britain’s dairy industry continues to use more humane, economic and sustainable principles. A dairy ‘arms race’ which pushes cows ever harder in pursuit of lower costs is a bad route for cow welfare and a road to nowhere for the future of dairy farming.

We will continue our campaign to keep dairy cows in fields. And will continue to oppose applications for mega-dairies. I’m pleased to say that we recently opposed a mega-dairy in Carmarthen which it was feared locally could expand to as many as 3,000 zero-grazed cows. This application was withdrawn.

To learn more about our campaign against mega-dairies and all forms of factory farming, please visit our new campaign Filthy Business.

Introducing Graham Harvey

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Yesterday, I was at the Royal Welsh Show where I was delighted to spend time with ‘The Archers’ scriptwriter and agricultural commentator, Graham Harvey. We were both being filmed for a BBC Wales programme on the future of dairying. It was a wonderful opportunity to get to know Graham better and to be able to share some of his story here with you.

Graham works with fiction and facts. He deals in fiction as a writer for The Archers, the celebrated BBC Radio drama series. And facts as an author of an acclaimed series of books on farming in Britain (see We Want Real Food (2006) and The Carbon Fields (2008)). Whether its fact or fiction I know from working with Graham that what he has to say is always insightful and informative.

Philip:  How did you become involved with farming?

Graham:  Other than my grandfather was an agricultural labourer, there is no family connection with farming that I’m aware of. I grew up on a council estate in Reading. I enjoyed being outdoors. I always had an interest in farming. I went to Bangor University to study agriculture.

Philip:  Why does farming fascinate you?

Graham:  It’s the sense of working with nature. It’s an understanding of ecology. Although the farmers I worked with wouldn’t have expressed it that way. I recall from my student days on the farms in North Wales. Many of the farmers had a sense using natural resources for the benefit of people, animals and the land.

When I was an agricultural student, I suppose I had a romantic notion of what farming was about. I was particularly influenced by the books which were published in the 1940s and 1950s. The authors were founders of what became the organic movement. For example, George Henderson’s The Farming Ladder and Newman Turner’s Fertility Farming were inspirations as they saw farming as a vocation. They remind me of a saying I learnt at the time: “You live as if you’re going to die tomorrow but you farm as if you’re going to live forever.” These farmers looked after the land. They were custodians. They were also successful farmers, including financially. They let nature do its work brilliantly. They respected nature and animals.

A key part of farming is that you’re managing nature. A farm, of course, is an artifice or a construct. A traditional sense of farming allowed the natural system to play its role but it was tweaked as needed over the years. The best farm is a mixed farm in which grass and forage crops grown for ruminants are reared in rotation with crops grown for human consumption. This is a very balanced and sustainable system that mimics natural systems. It’s very productive and produces healthy foods.

Philip:  When did you leave farming and become an agricultural correspondent?

Graham:  I went to work on Farmers Weekly in 1972. I was there for five years and then went freelance. I left farming because I was frightened by how much money I would have to borrow to buy a farm. I always wanted to be a writer at school, including working on the local newspaper. I don’t think I would’ve made a good farmer!

I travelled the country for Farmers Weekly reporting on various developments. I saw how farmers were driven by the business of farming. I was quite disappointed that farming was like that. It was about profit and not the ideals of health and biology. It was also the time when we entered the Common Market or, as we know it now, the European Union. I could see what huge changes the Common Agricultural Policy was having. Centuries of development in very efficient mixed family farms, which were in balance with nature, were replaced with specialised farms, which only survived with chemicals and intensification. This is mostly how factory farming came about. These developments sadden me.

Philip:  Did you ever meet Peter Roberts, Compassion’s co-founder?

Graham:  No, I didn’t. I probably first heard about Compassion when I was at the Farmers Weekly. I heard more about you in the 1980s. Joyce D’Silva invited me to speak at one of your meetings in the 1990s.

Philip:  What is your take on animal welfare? Why is it important?

Graham:  I always had a feeling for animals. I always felt a sense of compassion. We have a small flock of Exmoor Horn sheep on three acres of very steep unimproved grassland. It’s so steep that it has never been sprayed. My wife and I have learnt so much from our eight ewes. They enrich our lives just by being sheep. I believe most farmers want to have this kind of relationship with their animals. But they think it’s impossible. I was a vegetarian but now eat meat only from animals where I know how and where they are raised. I believe pasture-fed beef and lamb are particularly healthy foods. My wife, however, has been a vegetarian since childhood.

Philip:  Please tell me about The Archers! How long have you been involved? Who is your favourite character and why? Is it a medium for getting the message out about better food, farming and animal welfare?

Graham:  I started listening to The Archers when I was a student at Bangor University. Then, when I was a freelance farming journalist, I sent in some scripts I’d written. Several months later I got a call and was offered a week’s trial episodes. This was in 1984. I’ve been there ever since. I was a scriptwriter for 10 years. There are about ten scriptwriters in total at any one time. I became the agricultural editor 14 years ago but retired this year to let someone else have a go. The agricultural editor is responsible for coming up with new story lines every month. I’m now back to writing scripts. The writer’s job is to tackle all farming issues in a balanced way. As a writer you inherit a group of fictional farmers who represent all shades of opinion within the farming community. My job is to put across all their points of view. There’s a sufficiently broad range of characters to play with so that a range of farming issues can be explored. It’s important to illuminate issues in a balanced way for an audience who may not know too much about farming.

The Grundy’s are my favourites. I enjoy writing them. I’m more comfortable with Clarrie, Eddie and Joe than with the Archers because I feel I know them the best. In a way they’re the inheritors of peasant farming dating way back to Norman times. They represent the best in peasant characteristics, including good husbandry, care of the land and making good use of resources even though they can be a bit foolish.

Philip:  Last year we visited Peter Willes’ zero-grazed dairy farm in Devon on the same day but at different times. As you know, he was proposing the mega-dairy at Nocton in Lincolnshire. Why was stopping Nocton so important?

Graham:  Quite simply because cows ought to spend their days on grass or pasture. They’re ruminant animals. We’ve bred them for 5,000 years to convert grass into pasture-fed meat and milk. Ruminant animals that graze produce healthier meat and milk to eat and drink. British farming should be based on the mixed family farm.

Philip:  Can we stop industrialised factory farming?

Graham:  Yes, consumers can stop it. But they need to understand the issues. This is what I’d like to see happen. I want to see a level of public consciousness which would make it impossible for animals to spend their lives in sheds. Industry is driven by the idea that milk is being repositioned as a low cost commodity for the world market in, for example, south east Asia. There’s an alternative vision, however. Milk from pasture based farming as an intrinsically healthy food. But the economic force is behind the infrastructure of mega-dairies, including machinery and buildings, which are all places where corporations make money.

Philip:  Tell us about Pasture Promise TV. What are its aims? Why is it important? How people can see it?

Graham:  Pasture Promise TV is a new project which explores in short documentary films different aspects of pasture farming. We will make them widely available on a dedicated site we’re calling Pasture Promise TV. Our central philosophy includes animal welfare as well as biodiversity, food quality, family farms and the environment, so we are four-square behind everything you do at Compassion. Our core funding is for films that will interest farmers, but we’re trying to find ways of making films that will be of interest to consumers, environmentalists, and indeed everyone.

Philip:  That’s an exciting project! Pasture Promise TV and Compassion have common themes. Our aims are convergent. I look forward to us working closely together.

Graham:  I look forward to it!

Farmageddon on film

Read the whole story

About Philip Lymbery

Philip Lymbery is Chief Executive Officer of Compassion in World Farming and co-author of Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat. He is an internationally respected authority on the impact of industrial agriculture on people, animals and the planet.