Seeking solutions for the Australian dairy industry

 

The Senate inquiry into the dairy industry was instructed to find "a fair, long term solution to Australia's dairy crisis".

A lot of information about milk have emerged because of the enquiry, some pro dairy and others against. Some are mentioned in this article. Nobody has said anything about regulated raw milk yet, which is unfortunate, because it is a good start. Many dairy farmers in the UK produce and sell raw milk directly to the consumer (under a regulated system) while still supplying their milk contracts. Many have said that the profits from their raw milk sales (for human consumption) have enabled them to keep afloat despite low farm gate prices.

Raw milk examples in other countries show that consumer preferences are the driving engine.

ARMM have posted numerous examples of raw milk dairies elsewhere in the world on our website and Facebook Page. A raw milk industry is beneficial for dairy farmers, consumers, the animals and the environment. However it does not benefit large corporations because the profits go into the pockets of the dairy farmers and the community. Raw milk is a local food first.

Raw milk examples in other countries show that consumer preferences are the driving engine. These consumers want to visit the farm and ask many questions about how the raw milk was produced. They want to ask if the raw milk has organic certification, are the animals a 100% grass-fed, are there any animal welfare assurances or if things like anti-biotics, fertilisers or pesticides were used. The consumer want to have direct access to this kind of information because they care about the quality of the milk, the welfare of the animals and the wellbeing of the farmer. The dairy farmer want to have direct access to this information to create a niche product that consumers will love above others. This trend shows that consumer preference will dominate in a real free market. The industry and dairy farmers in Australia have lost touch with what the consumer really want. 

Protests against the wider dairy industry are on the increase and more people stop consuming processed dairy than ever before. It is time to look at making changes.

 

Animal welfare, ethics and Raw Milk:

We are seeing more compassion for animals in our food system and the quality of our food than ever before. Consumers want to know how the animals were raised, treated and fed. People care about the quality of the food and many are prepared to pay for the best. Raw milk is a nutrient-dense food and if allowed to thrive, it may once again become a staple in many people's diet. The quality controls on a regulated system allows a safe, low risk product and a long shelf life.

Criticism and Consumer Preference:

In the beginning of 2015, when ARMM started to advocate for raw milk legislation, raw milk consumers came at the receiving end of criticism and opposition. This was just a few short months before the release of the documentary film COWSPIRACY. This film is about the cruelty and waste of large industrial farming. Animal rights activists and groups were very active and outspoken on social media during that time. Raw milk supporters had to explain to activists that dairies producing raw milk for human consumption cannot be compared with 'factory farm' dairies portrayed in the film. They are two completely different industries. The two products are world's apart in terms of circumstances, expectations, standards and regulations. They have completely different standards and values. The attacks ceased immediately and we have not seen anything like it since.

Australians in general seem to know next to nothing about the anatomy of a raw milk industry. 

We now understand that this behaviour was due of lack of understanding. Australians in general seem to know next to nothing about the anatomy of a raw milk industry. Thus the need for discussions like this to create more awareness. To show that producing raw milk for human consumption is a natural way to both nourish human beings, and to express compassion for the animals. It's a wholesome way of life. 

Light Root Community Farm has produced this beautiful video below showing how a small raw milk dairy in the USA are typically run. Also featured are dairy farmers Mike Guebert and Michael Ilgert. 

Different systems, different values:

Many Australian dairy farmers love and respect their animals. However the demand for cheap milk and the low prices dairy farmers are paid make it increasingly challenging to farm in a sustainable way. The system demands that dairy farmers be profit driven. There is a push for production and for volume. The end goal is highest production and maximising the bottom line at the cost of animal welfare and environmental concerns. The Australian dairy industry is the third largest agricultural sector in Australia, with a combined farm, manufacturing and export value of $13 billion. This profit driven system angers people who care about animal wellbeing. This system do create some emotional disconnection, some ignorance to animal welfare concerns and offers little scope for change.

Installing a system for the production of raw milk for human consumption will address the many considerations in balancing the welfare and rights of animals, with the commercialisation of farming.

Here are three reasons why raw dairy producers can take better care of their animals and the quality of the product:

  • Profitability. Overseas examples show that selling raw milk for human consumption directly to the consumer is profitable. This income enables dairy farmers to step out of the rat race and make better choices. Instead funds can be invested into sustainable farming management, better conditions for the animals and perhaps to set aside land for wildlife. Australian dairy farmers need a good income to feed animals year round because Australia is a drought and flood prone country. Small farmers are able to claim a premium price for their premium raw dairy products. 

  • Animal health is paramount. The animals from raw milk dairies have to be healthy and grass-fed. The animals are meant to live happy, stress free lives on lush pastures. A 100% grass-fed dairy farm works best with small herds where manure is spread over pastures naturally as cows roam. It is a healthy system where harmful pathogens are kept at bay the natural way. Dairy farmers can give the required care and attention to their animals. Good animal husbandry is crucial. If the animals eat too much grain or are stressed out due to over-crowding, it affects milk quality. Large industrial or confinement dairies can never sell their milk raw, this milk has to be pasteurised.

  • The consumer influence. The personal relationship between the raw milk producer and consumer enables the dairy farmer to hear first hand about the preferences of the consumer. Consumers love to visit the farm with their families and see that the animals are well cared for. They want organic and ethically produced food. Overseas examples of raw milk industries show that consumer input significantly influences farming practises. It becomes the driving engine.

Video:  G & A Adderson Lodge Farm raw milk dairy in the UK is making more money with only 24 cows than before with 70.  Consumer Katie-Jo Gracie says she buys the raw milk for health reasons for her son, aged 8, who is autistic.

 

 

Examples of a new, compassionate system:

Here is more detailed information about how animal welfare issues are addressed when producing raw drinking milk. Please take the time to read these inspiring stories. At The Calf at Foot Dairy in the UK Fiona Provan is a pioneer and visionary. The calves on her dairy farm live 'at foot' by their mother's side and the cows all run together as a natural herd of all ages. The issues around bobby calves are also humanely addressed. Her compassionate farming model have a big emphasis on the welfare of all the animals. North Country creamery is certified by Animal Welfare Approved. This is proving to be of huge benefit for everyone. Hedgebrook Farm have been Animal Welfare Approved for more that 6 years. The Crawford's farm article explains how consumer preferences drive holistic farm management on a micro level. Another dairy in California who have been producing raw milk for human consumption for 17 years is Organic Pastures dairy. They are Certified Humane with Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC). Another organisation was recently set up to provide entirely slaughter-free milk. Ahimsa Dairy Foundation is a unique experiment into what happens when dairy cows and their offspring are allowed to live productive lives instead of being sacrificed in the name of cheap milk. This gives people a real ethical choice.

All of the articles show that raw milk is an alternative to the profit driven approach of big business. It offers real solutions. Animal welfare issues are dealt with in a natural and constructive way:  

The Calf at Foot Dairy - Suffolk

North Country Creamery and the Direct Marketing Model

Crawford's Farm

Hedgebrook Farm

Smiling Tree Farm

Ahimsa milk and the Hare Krishna

Two kinds of Raw Milk

What is Raw Milk?

For Australian examples of regenerative, new systems see the film Fair Food.

 

Define ethical eater?

Contrary to popular belief, being a vegetarian or vegan does not automatically make someone an ethical eater. A lot of food produced for these eaters pollute the world. Think pesticides, herbicides, neonicotinoids killing bees or the depletion of water resources. Think of the eco-issues of soy beans, corn or wheat in large scale production.

Ethical also includes supporting the local food producer, buying high quality foods direct from the small scale farmer and increasing demand for organic certification. It is about supporting eco-agriculture such as mixed farming, where manure fertilises the soil, low-intensity grazing, respecting fertile farmland on city fringes and leaving a smaller footprint. Also consider supporting sustainable farming, low impact farming, good animal husbandry and a high-welfare food chain. It is no longer about foods we choose to eat, it is about how it is produced and how it impacts the environment and everyone in it. For more: Why it's more important to be an ethical omnivore than a vegetarian


Considering the ethics of high production dairy farming in Australia:

On 5 March 2015 Voiceless Australia hosted their Voiceless Rethinking: Dairy Cows event. It was described as a ground-breaking seminar featuring a panel of renowned speakers who will consider the ethics of high production dairy farming in Australia and question our treatment of the dairy cow.  

"Dairy is often promoted as a ‘no harm’ industry, yet at the core of this multi-billion dollar business is the exploitation of the dairy cow and her calf."

"Like us, dairy cows must give birth to a calf in order to produce milk. To ensure she constantly produces a high volume of milk, she will be forcibly impregnated and made to give birth to a new calf every 13 months.

Every time, this calf will be taken from her soon after birth so her milk can instead be sold for human consumption.  The dairy cow’s reproductive system is repeatedly exploited over the course of her short life until she is no longer considered ‘viable’ and is slaughtered. "

For more information about the event read here. The video from the seminar is available to watch below.

Video:  Voiceless Rethinking: Dairy Cows was a seminar held in Melbourne on Thursday 5 March 2015. Chaired by Voiceless Head of Communications Elise Burgess, the seminar brought together a panel of experts to discuss the ethical issues associated with high volume dairy production.


Vegan Australia told the Senate dairy inquiry to phase out dairy farming:

Vegan Australia made a submission to the Senate Economics References Committee's inquiry into the Australian dairy industry. Vegan Australia said that "While the focus of this inquiry is on the economic wellbeing and health of dairy farmers, it also provides the opportunity to reflect on the intrinsic suffering of animals in the dairy industry." 

The submission suggests other ways for dairy farmers to use their land.

"This phase out can be an opportunity for farmers currently in the dairy industry to shift into growing plant foods. Currently, dairy farms occupy some of the most fertile land in Australia."

Vegan Australia's position is that animal exploitation is inherently unfair and in the article below it examines the impacts of the dairy industry not only on humans, but also on the cows and calves used by the industry.


Insight into dairy alternatives in Australia:

In fact the article fails to mention that the switch to raw milk has been described as explosive in the USA.

Recently a Landline story offered insight into alternative milk in Australia, now an estimated $150 million industry. It had grown into a mighty industry with the single purpose of being a replacement for dairy and to be used as a 'milk'. To see Landline's video about Nut Milk in Australia, click here. According to this article non-dairy milks now occupy 9.4% of the market by value and 6.1% by volume and have grown by about 30% in the past five years in Australia.

Many people cannot tolerate processed dairy anymore. A 2016 CSIRO study show 1 in 6 Aussies leave (processed) dairy. Three-quarters were eschewing dairy in an attempt to relieve stomach cramps, wind and bloating. The Landline story talks about the continuing trend away from traditional dairy in the USA. The article makes no mention of raw milk.

In fact the article fails to mention that the switch to raw milk has been described as explosive in the USA.Census data from 2010 show that almost 10 million Americans drank raw milk at the time. The US raw milk revolution took off after 2010, so who knows where that figure stands now?

Recently another Australian article asked: Should you give up dairy? The discerning taste buds of a gelati maker, a barista, a sommelier and a chef were subjected to popular alternative milks. "Mylk" is a term adopted by the alternative milk industry. The outcome: nothing beats the taste of real dairy.

If Australians were given the choice perhaps the nation may also naturally gravitate towards raw dairy. According to this article between 60 - <90% of Australians cannot easily digest lactose. This is partly because pasteurisation destroys the enzyme lactase needed to digest the lactose sugar. The dairy industry is in trouble indeed if it does not embrace change.

The complete guide to plant-based milks


An Australian dairy farmer speak out:

Well known Scenic Rim Queensland dairy farmer Greg Dennis, known as Farmer Gregie, recently spoke at the Senate Economic References Committee's dairy industry inquiry and streamed his statement live on Facebook. He ceased supplying the supermarkets and started his own brand that was sold to independent retailers.

His main concern was the effect of $1 cheap milk on Queensland dairy farmers in particular. Greg gave a very interesting look into the structure of the dairy industry. His perspective clearly showed why the current system is unsustainable for dairy farmers.  Read more here.


A report on the modern commercial Australian Dairy Industry:

Image:  read the Voiceless report here.

Most Australian dairy cows are raised on small family farms on feed appropriate to cows: green pastures. This means the cows are healthier and producing a higher quality milk. However the demand for cheap milk has forced many Australian dairy farmers to maximise the productive output of their cows, pushing them beyond their natural limits. The result of high production dairying on the modern dairy cow are a concern for many consumers. Although ARMM supports small scale dairy farmers in the conversion to raw dairy production, it is impossible for us not to ignore the concerns raised by concerned consumers about the current system. We have to share this information because there are concerns. Consumer preferences are important and demand to be addressed.

A Voiceless report provides a detailed examination of the welfare of dairy cows and the ethics of standard dairy industry practices. Key areas of concern are the continuous cycle of pregnancy and birthing, the separation of calfs from their mothers, the slaughter of newborn calfs, and the animal husbandry practices of dairy farmers (source).

Many Australian consumers are disturbed by the welfare issues of the modern dairy industry. They want urgent introduction of legal protections for dairy cows and their calves.

Voiceless proposes an assurance scheme. It is a set of established welfare standards that can be clearly identified by consumers on labels and packaging. It would enable dairy producers to grow and market their products in accordance with a set of established welfare standards. 

Read more on Voiceless Australia's website here and download the The Life of the Dairy Cow: A Report on the Australian Dairy Industry here. 

A statement promoting the report said: “this report highlights the need for change in the way these emotionally complex animals are treated."

"To date, the Australian dairy industry has avoided much of the scrutiny that has been levelled against other animal industries due to the false perception that dairy is a 'no-harm' product. The purpose of this report is to reveal what is happening to dairy cows and calves and to break the silence about industry practices, no matter how unpalatable they may be.”

Video:  Dr. Deidre Wicks, a Voiceless council member since 2010 and a contributing author of Voiceless's latest report The Life of the Dairy Cow. She raises some excellent points around animal welfare concerns.


The Price of milk

Sunday TVNZ published this story on the 9th of April 2017.  This is another look at large scale dairy farming but from the inside. This dairy has about 600 cows. It asks if our love affair with dairy farming are over and why farmers are copping much of the blame for polluted rivers and lakes. Journalist Cameron Bennett asks if we can afford to keep having bigger farms. He also asks why can we not buy raw cow's milk from the supermarket?  Read the article here and click on the link below for the video:

Sunday special: The price of milk - is our love affair with dairy farming over?


Compassion for dairy animals on the rise

Compassion for all sentient beings on planet earth will continue to increase. There may be more calls for the Australian dairy industry to transform itself in the near future.


CAFO / Feedlot dairies

Australian consumers prefer the image of cows roaming green pastures but this is not a realistic picture. Large scale confinement dairies do exist in Australia. The milk coming from these large industrial dairies are not labeled as such in the supermarket. Unless you buy branded milk from small dairies, there is little indication where it originated or how the milk was produced. The practises on these large factory farms angers many people. These cows eat a lot of corn, grain and perhaps other industry refuse and when the pH of the rumen (the first chamber of the cow's stomach) becomes acidic, this destroys some flora and increases systemic inflammation. This shortens the cow's lifespan and increases her risk of infection. Confinement large scale dairies also require more resources to grow grain crops and more chemical fertiliser and pesticide input. These unnatural diets, lifestyles and the impact on the animals are further explored in this article. More about factory farming in this article.

Below is the trailer for the documentary film Cowspiracy: 

Video:  COWSPIRACY: The Sustainability Secret trailer is a groundbreaking feature-length environmental documentary following an intrepid filmmaker as he uncovers the most destructive industry facing the planet today, and investigates why the world's leading environmental organizations are too afraid to talk about it.

 

Conclusion:

Grass-fed, organically produced raw milk for human consumption is a viable alternative to the industrial dairy system. It focusses on holistic care of both the animals and the land, rather than an end goal of highest production and maximising the bottom line at the cost of animal welfare and environmental concerns. The milk coming from cows raised in crowded and unsanitary conditions like those found in confinement dairies need to be pasteurised for a reason; because there are safety concerns.

It is worth remembering that raw milk was consumed for thousands of years before pasteurisation and industrialisation. Today raw milk is expected to be produced properly under strict hygiene controls and pathogen testing whether it is part of a regulated system or not.  

If we do not ensure that small scale dairy farming is viable in Australia, we may soon find ourselves without healthy pasture-raised milk. Dairy farmers say that if the Milk Crisis is not addressed within the next 2 years, we may have to import from New Zealand. We may even have to rely on Australia's confinement dairies for milk.

A good solution is to create legal avenues for raw milk to be produced and sold directly to the consumer. ARMM advocates for a regulated raw milk industry to ensure the quality and safety. It is the milk of human kindness. The Senate Inquiry into the Australian Dairy Industry began on the 26th of October 2016 and a report is said to be completed end of February 2017. We need alternatives and solutions now. 

 

End the censorship on Certified Raw Milk!

Legalise and regulate Certified Raw Milk Australia!