An interesting development took place last week. The Advertising Standards Agency approved an ad stating that ‘humane milk is a myth’. They were, of course right to make this decision because, as the advert says, humane milk is a myth.
There had been complaints from the dairy industry that the ad was misleading and inaccurate. To their credit the ASA were adamant that it was not.
Defra recommends that calves should be kept with their mothers for at least 12 and preferably 24 hours after birth. Quite rightly the ASA defended the ad as in their view there was not much difference between taking the newborn away after 25 hours or 24 hours.
Although a seemingly small and insignificant judgement, this decision represents a paradigm shift, because until the moment that decision was taken, no challenge had been made to the ethics of dairy farming.
So many people still see the countryside as a nursery rhyme tale of Old MacDonald Had A Farm with happy animals and a cosy farmyard. They could not be more wrong. Farming is a multimillion pound business and it has become an industry like no other.
Animals are not machines. They are sentient beings like us. The grief of having your baby wrenched away from you at birth speaks only of the trade -off between morality and money. In other words, where making money is concerned there is precious little morality.
Farming has to change. Farmers need to make money to survive, but they have to balance that with a humane level of care. Our farmers are obviously vital to the food supply of the nation, but they have been sucked into the vicious circle of subsidies, supermarkets driving prices down, and politics.
When I was a kid, the Milk Marketing Board did a very good job of persuading a whole generation of families that milk was essential to our diet. It is simply not true. Good nutrition is essential to a long and active life, and that does not necessarily include eating animals or animal products, and it most certainly does not prescribe cruelty.
The UK already has more than 800 livestock mega farms, and that’s the point. The ‘stock’ is alive. I am wholly opposed to keeping animals unnaturally, pumping them with hormones and antibiotics to try and mitigate the effects of overcrowding. I am wholly opposed to tearing baby calves away from their mothers at less than one day old just so that we can drink their milk.
If Brexit is to make this worse, (many believe there will be an increase in megafarms as the competition for ever cheaper foodstuffs increases), I think that more people will think about the utter cruelty forced on these harmless creatures, and eat fewer animal products.
The link between nutrition and animal products has to end. There is 3.4 grams of protein in 100 grams of milk and 20 grams in the same weight of beans.
More and better calcium actually comes from plants. Better sources than milk include dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, kale, cabbage and watercress. Dried fruits, nuts, seeds, pulses (peas, beans and lentils) are also excellent sources of calcium.
Not only is humane milk a cruel and ugly myth, but the whole nutritional argument about milk is a myth.
I want our farmers to be happy, but not at the expense of the animals we entrust them to rear. The challenge is to educate ourselves away from stone age tradition, and into a healthier, kinder way of eating. That way the farmers are kept in business, and the rest of us turn away from illness and obesity – with a very clear conscience.