Ahimsa and Veganism - Some Information on Dairy Production in India

Published: 31.03.2009
Updated: 30.07.2015

Some Information on Dairy Production in India

Jai Jinendra.

I posted information about my discussion with Dr. Kachhara on a discussion list, Jain Vegans (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/JainVegans/), and a member, of the group, Sagar K. Shah, posted the following message. Sagar is a postgraduate student at the London School of Economics. He recently attained first class honors in his undergraduate degree at Oxford University. He is founder and chair of the LSE SU Vegetarian Society, a founding member of the Jain Vegans Working Group, and a former president of the Oxford University Jain Society.

With his permission, I am providing his message, which is highly relevant to my discussion with Dr. Kachhara.

Dear Gary,

Thank you for sending out a link to the debate that you been having with  Dr. Narayan Kachhara (http://www.herenow4u.net index.php?id=5638). 

Based on research and my first-hand observations of dairy farms in India, I am in the opinion that the belief that treatment of cows and buffaloes is “not that bad” is highly inaccurate.

Although I claim not to be an expert on the dairy industry in India, I spent 7 weeks in India this summer working in the rural banking division of ICICI Bank. I was given a project to design a financial product for dairy farmers (to enable them to purchase more cows or working capital) and hence spent a lot of time studying the dairy industry of India and visiting dairy farmers in rural Gujarat (which apparently treats its milch animals better than most other states).

I visited over 5 farms (small village level farms with herds of 2-30 milch animals) run by members of cooperative societies in Gujarat (there is a general consensus amongst people that I came across in India that milk from a cooperative society like Amul is likely to be cruelty free), and I believe that none of the farms met the conditions of being 'not that bad'. In fact, I found strong evidence of: culling / sale for slaughter of bull calves; premature selling of milch animals for slaughter; use of breeds of cow unsuited to the climatic conditions; separation of mother and calf; and cruel reproductive regimes involving artificial insemination.

My observations on slaughtering and culling on the farms:

  1. There were no bulls present at any of the farms that I visited (an indication that bull calves are either culled or  sold for slaughter)

  2. There were no milch animals (either cows or buffaloes) over the age of 10 years on any of the farms I visited. When I asked farmers if they loved cows, they responded by saying that they love cows, and looking after cows is in their blood. When I asked why they did not have any older milch animals, they said they started to produce less milk and were too expensive to keep. When I asked them what they did with older cows, they said sold them on (generally for about 30% of the price of a milch animal of a similar breed in its 1st lactation). When I asked what the purchasers did with the milch animals, they went silent or said "whatever they want to do with them". Sometimes I would also ask why someone would want to buy them if they were too expensive to keep, and I would get a similar response. These responses are a clear indication that these animals were sold for slaughter, and also the farmers were not comfortable to talk about it.

  3. Although many states outlaw slaughtering of cows, these rules do not apply generally to buffaloes (which make up around 50% of Indias herd of milch animals), and appear not be enforced when considering; a) the culling of young calves b) the selling of animals across states for slaughter in the destination state.

  4. NABARD (the Indian state-owned National Bank for Rural and Agricultural Development) and the Dairy India Year Book (by Pr. Gupta - regarded as the 'bible' of the Indian Dairy Industry) have published best-practice dairy farming articles recommending that all bull calves are culled within 10 days of birth. The head of a village level cooperative society (VLCS) in Gandhinagar confirmed that this practise is being actively promoted by cooperative societies. 

My observations about the treatment of animals kept on farms:

    1. It was clear that the cows I saw were not natural breeds. They were hybrids of Holstein- Friesian Cows or Jersey cows mixed with Desi (domestic Indian) breeds. Though these breeds have high milk yields, they are not suited to the Indian Climate. It is highly unlikely that these breeds were created without cruelty, and most of the breeding / testing centres are in the states of Haryana and Punjab (meaning long transport times - probably in very uncomfortable conditions).

    2. Most of the animals were tethered to trees or the ground (not free to graze), with very little room to move, and were not provided with adequate shelter from the scorching sun.  

    3. Calves were kept separate from their mothers. Many of the farmers indicated that calves were not allowed to suckle milk before milk was extracted for humans, though in some cases calves were allowed to suckle for a short period of time as a way to encourage milk secretion.  

    4. Although I did not see any direct violence, the milch animals were clearly afraid of humans (both visitors and farmers), indicating some sort of violent conduct towards the animals. This is a stark contrast from the cattle that I have observed at animal sanctuaries in the UK such as Hugletts Wood farm. 

    5. It was clear that many of the cows and buffaloes suffered from mastitis (inflammation of the udders)

    6. Most of the cows were impregnated by artificial insemination by a veterinary doctor, although two farmers indicated that they 'leave the cows in different field with a bull from another farm let god do his work'.

The conclusion of my observations is that although conditions on cooperative society associated farms at a village level may appear to by idyllic for a passer by and 'not that bad' in the eyes of many people (especially Indians in India), like all other dairy production units, they are still of cruelty inflicted to poor animals and hence full of himsa. It is thus clear that even in India, the baseline diet for anyone who adheres to ahimsa should be a vegan one. 

Furthermore, while a substantial proportion of the milk available commercially is procured from cooperative societies, a substantial proportion may also come from industrial private dairies and ‘tabelas’ Although I have not got first hand experience observing the treatment of milch animals at either, a number of animal welfare organisations and individuals (including Gandhi) have documented concerns about the conditions of animals in such institutions, and I understand that both are worse (in terms of treatment) than cooperative societies.

Industrial private dairies are said to treat milch animals like machines, and rear them in factory-farm conditions. ‘tabelas’ are said to keep milch animals in filthy conditions, inject animals with dangerous chemicals such as oxytocin, provide inadequate veterinary care, and are also known to doctor the milk products.

The role of the government and other dairy experts (in cooperative societies, banks and other research institutions) in promoting cruel practises in order to increase efficiency present an additional cause for concern. These organisations and individuals actively promote activities such as early culling of bull calves, premature slaughter of cows and buffaloes and use of non-native hybrid breeds. In fact, it is generally not possible to get a loan from a private bank unless these activities are already taking place.
The research I performed also indicates that the Indian government views alternatives to dairy milk as a threat to the Indian dairy industry and has been publishing anti-soya propaganda as it views soya as a Chinese product (and hence a massive threat).

From my observations and research, it is very clear that the only practical solution to the cruelty taking place in milk procurement is to go vegan, and I believe that this should be the baseline diet for any adherent of Ahimsa. I believe it also clear that violence towards cows and buffaloes in India is likely to increase in the future, and thus it is of critical importance that a successful non-violent, vegan education movement develops there.

Micchami Dukkadam for any offence I may have caused you in writing this e-mail

Best wishes,
Sagar Shah

Sagar's observations confirm that there is a high level of himsa involved in supposedly more "humane" dairy production on small cooperatives in India.

If this information offends anyone, Micchami Dukkadam.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University
New Jersey, U.S.A. 


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