School of Veterinary Science, University of Bristol. VEGA weighs in on the evidence of deplorable shortcomings in dairy farming husbandry. The cow is a victim in an offensive industry of human madness and stupidity.
The RSPCA, to its credit, sponsored this authoritative meeting, which appraised the validity of assurances implicit in its own Freedom Foods monitoring scheme, as well as others, including organic requirements. VEGA and Soil Association representatives took part in the discussions, but discreditable absences marked the betrayal of the cow and her calf by organisations otherwise strident in their protestations on animal welfare.
With emphasis in the question variously pronounced in the Workshop’s theme the unequivocal message for the 2003 Dairy Event is yes: most farmers and stockpersons fail to manage their cows humanely and need training or dismissal. Licensing cannot be much delayed. The RSPCA’s scheme is flawed in various ways as much as other systems: standards of husbandry are deplorable. The evidence reinforced VEGA’s complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority on ads and claims (themselves contradictory) that we condemn as brutally honest or deceptively innocent.
Missed instances of lameness by farmers and stockpersons purporting to be experienced were inexcusable. The Workshop hardly touched on the cognate problems for calves and bulls, nor the imminent effects of CAP and DEFRA intentions on the over-thirty-month scheme, decoupling and the end of special premiums, and welfare, hygiene, environmental, and financial consequences of disposals of culled unwanted newborn calves and casualty and fallen stock (e.g. downer cows, such as those with milk fever in which, as with lameness, the animals included in the RSPCA’s assurances were the most likely to suffer), especially when the hunts’ knackering services are withdrawn. Nonetheless the RSPCA is launching at the 2003 Dairy Event a Freedom Food scheme for Dairy Industry Opportunities “to boost local economies and profit for producers” in the form of yet another scheme, “joining forces with Rosette Foods to provide an outlet for dairy-bred calves”. Without mention of the dread 4-letter word this represents a renewed attempt at passing off “rosy welfare-friendly veal”.
Dr. Dick Esslemont, of the University of Reading, an agricultural economist at the Workshop, repeated his calculations that bad husbandry accounted for losses of 4 to 5p a litre the heavily-subsidised dairy industry could and should avoid. The Workshop ended with a review by a market consultant on labelling and claims on assurances on welfare in the production of food products. This entailed our naming and playing stakeholders. The cow’s eligibility for this involvement and status was accepted with guffaws.
The consultant’s omission of the challenge of the dairy-frees, examples of which VEGA thrust into the consternated proceedings, emphasised how poorly animal welfarists and the retailers of alternative dairy products are pitching the relevance of the milks of human kindness. Dick Sibley, MRCVS, a vet with much experience of the dairy industry, had addressed the Workshop on Motivating Farmers to Change Husbandry Practices; he is also a spokesman for the British Cattle Veterinary Association and is due to address a seminar at the British Veterinary Association Congress on 25th September at Edinburgh on Farm Assurance – a Paper Exercise or the Real Future?
Dick Sibley called for sales of lame-free milk. VEGA produced real examples of sales of lame-free, mastitis-free… cruelty-free dairy products, already widely available in supermarkets and health-food stores. Animal welfarists such as the RSPCA should now ally – as they did with Beauty Without Cruelty over cruelty-free cosmetics – with the promoters of cruelty-free food, with valid assurances.
Cows are neither “mad” nor “stupid”. They deserve respect, not disparagement nor indifference and neglect. We have the wit to turn crops into food in gleaming stainless steel vats rather than stuffing them into miserable, mastitic, and limping cows. We need to heed what our guts tell us: that we overcome our nature by curtailing our sojourn at the breast and latching on instead as mother-suckers with a lifelong attachment to the udder and as baby-snatchers of a particularly malign unkindness.
For information on the forthcoming Dairy Event, click here