Posts Tagged ‘dairy’

Urgent action needed on dairy

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

The recent focus on UK milk prices has put a fresh spotlight on an old problem. We have shaped our agriculture over decades through the way we shop, the way we buy and the way we make laws. Modern dairying is going down a path that we ourselves have made for it and the result is a system that fails farmers, communities, animals and the environment.

Dairy farmers have either to run ever faster, or lose their farms. Dairy cows are increasingly kept indoors where they are pushed beyond their limits, producing more and suffering ill-health in the process. As dairy farms’ size increases, so does their ability to pollute, consume the world’s precious grain stocks and damage our countryside.

At Compassion, we believe that dairy farming in the UK, and indeed throughout the world, deserves a food and farming system that gives farmers a fair price – for a fair product. And a fair product is one that is fair to us all; that supports our environment and our rural communities, that provides us with high quality nutritious food and our dairy cows with a good life.

Reform is clearly needed, and it provides us the opportunity to make farming work for people, for animals and for the planet. It’s an opportunity we would be fools to waste.

We are calling for urgent action to ensure that a fair price is paid for a fair product.

What can be done to encourage humane sustainable dairy farming?

  • Government can provide appropriate mediation and/or ombudsman services to ensure that the interests of farmers and society are given full regard in setting the price structure for a fair price for a fair product.
  • Government and industry can work together to provide a statutory guarantee for farm gate milk prices that allows farmers a sustainable price that includes a living wage, room for investment in the business and delivery of good dairy cow welfare.
  • The EU can agree legal standards for dairy welfare.
  • The EU can also provide mandatory labelling for animal products, by method of production.
  • Industry can consider premium payments for high welfare systems and good welfare outcomes.
  • Government can ensure that tax and other fiscal measures make farmers pay production’s hidden costs to the environment, while rewarding moves to humane-sustainable agriculture.
  • All groups can raise consumer awareness of food and farming, with particular reference to livestock production.

Our team here is committed to lobbying both UK and EU Governments to achieve a fairer farming system for all. We also engage directly with the food industry to improve the welfare of animals throughout the supply chain. Your support is hugely appreciated.  Thank you so much.

The bitter taste of cheap food

Friday, July 13th, 2012

During the successful campaign to stop the proposed 8,000 cow mega-dairy in Nocton, Lincolnshire, one of the leading farmers involved in the opposition campaign was dairy farmer, Neil Darwent.  With arguments raging over the price of milk in the UK, this article by Neil caught my eye.  I reproduce it here with Neil’s kind permission and that of Free Range Dairy.

The bitter taste of cheap food

Was it you?

Did you go into your local supermarket and demand cheap milk?

No. Well, who was it then?

Who said it was okay for retailers and processors to pay dairy farmers less for their milk than it actually cost to produce?

You see the supermarkets tell us that they only stock what the consumer wants. So, if I’ve got this right, people have been going into the supermarkets and saying the following:

  • I don’t care what is in my milk.
  • I don’t care what kind of life the cows that produce my milk have.
  • I am happy to see dairy cows vanish from the British landscape.
  • I am happy to get my milk and dairy products from distant shores with no knowledge of how it was produced.
  • All I care is that the price is low.

Now whoever you are, it’s time you owned up. Because, you see, the reality is there is really no such thing as cheap milk. Somewhere, somebody pays the real price and, right now, it’s the farmers and their cows.

Cutting prices to farmers

The milk buyer Wisemans (now owned by those Muller people who make those lovely yoghurts) have just cut the price they pay to farmers by two pence a litre. Ouch! That will hurt their suppliers.

But wait, there’s more – from August the 1st they propose to cut the milk price by a further 1.7 pence a litre. But Wisemans are the only ones to have ‘declared their hand’ for August until now and you can bet your bottom dollar others will soon follow in their wake.

Costs of production: 30 pence plus; price received by some will be minus 25 pence.

Farmers stand to lose a lot following the two price cuts I mentioned above and many will find themselves on a milk price of less than 25 pence a litre this summer, whilst costs of production are widely quoted in excess of 30 pence.

But what’s that I hear you say? Sainsburys have just increased the price they pay to farmers by 0.26 pence a litre to something over 30 pence. Yes, you’re right, around 324 lucky farmers are getting a price that covers their production. You see, these guys supply Sainsburys with their liquid milk – a line fiercely defended by large retailers because it’s a basic staple that get customers through the door to buy other things.

Just ask them what milk price the farmers who supply milk for their cheese, cream, butter and yoghurts are getting and I think you’ll find it’s substantially less. .

Apologies if I sound like a whining farmer. I’m not begging anyone to bail out poor, down-trodden milk producers. But what I am asking is that you take time to understand why we and our cows are worth more. That’s what Free Range Dairy is all about. So please take a look at the website  if you haven’t done already and start asking questions about where your milk comes from.

Finally, you – yes you – the one who asked for cheap milk – our cows are very disappointed in you.


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.

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.