18 Aug 2015

Dairy Malaise

Not only are we talking dairy malaise but also a general malaise that has 'egg-xacerbated' the whole farming industry worldwide for years. It is just that dairy price wars have featured on the French and British news lately, and pork price wars are doing the headlines right now. Yet to begin with, we do not need to look further than the antagonistic words 'farming' and 'industry' forcefully sitting next to each other as in 'farming industry', in order to understand the roots of the malaise. And there is no word - nor book title - more eloquent than CIWF's Farmageddon, to sum up the disastrous consequences that a drive for cheap brings.

The Honest Farm Toy by CIWF
Farming was once a history of small family-run concerns and pastoral endeavours that helped families sustain themselves, look after the countryside, build closely-knit communities, be self-sufficient and economically-independent, albeit modestly. The Industrial Revolution lured millions of rural families to the city lights that engulfed them into the darkness of coal mines and textile mills. From the 1920s onwards, farming increasingly became mechanised, and as such, less labour intensive. After World War II, it shifted to a lean, automated, extensive and intensive (monoculture-based), chemically-pumped, figure-churning, competitive industrial model set to satisfy corporate demands for their ever-increasing profit margins at the expense of farmer and flock. This has been amplified since as farming is currently being forcefully channelled into the global one-size-fits-all model. Except that one size fits not.

"Animal and crop rearing were once a happy partnership. Industrialisation divorced them." - Philip Lymbery, Farmageddon

As faceless as industrial models are, the first thing that happened to farming was a faceless revolution in the 1960s as flocks, herds and cattle were moved en masse from their lush pastures to concrete pens tucked away from sunlight and our sight, into barren sheds and hangars. Away from sight means away from the mind of the modern consumer, who associates their pack of sliced ham to a sandwich rather than to the pig it belonged to. And animals in their millions to be farmed for slaughter yearly (currently 70 billion worldwide) have become just that: an obscene number that defies the human mind capacity to fathom them as a collective of individual animals. The number appears as a desensitised distant emotionless global mass instead. Faceless in the hangars and faceless on the mind. Faceless on paper too as numbers are being tweaked and crunched to squeeze productivity out of farm animals to exhaustion, before they end up on the abattoir's conveyor belt on their way out of a short, brutal, confined, loveless - and ultimately pointless - existence.

(Available to purchase via Amazon)
Industrial farming means a serving of pain on your plate, and cheap animal produce (dairy, eggs, meat) is an additional serving of hurt. Now you may think I'm serving you the obligatory activist spiel as a vegetarian, but don't forget that I was once an omnivore, and pretty much oblivious to the fact that the whole farm-to-fork line is nothing more than a series of productivity processes that use and abuse animals to death. I am not seeking to discourage anyone from a meat-based diet, I just want to set the record straight so you get the facts in order to make up your mind for yourself.

I was brought up on a meat diet by meat-loving parents born in the 1940s who underwent full-on the changing consumer habits of the post-war Western world with all the false truths that went along, and for whom a meat-based regimen was (is) a sign of healthy living, social success and a status symbol. To be honest, I never was that much of a meat lover, but peer pressure and preconceptions meant I didn't question my own carnivore habits until only a few years ago.

A lonely calf peeping out of a veal crate... Photography by Jo-Anne McArthur, from her book We, Animals

Just to show you how out of touch with the reality of farming I was, I used to believe (well into adulthood) that dairy cows just so happened to naturally produce milk, without any intervention! The stark reality of dairy farming is that cows are perpetually made pregnant (by natural means or artificially inseminated), then separated from their calves at birth (sending their maternal instinct into disarray) or a few days later, and their milk - that should be feeding their young - is pumped away from them in order to feed us, humans. To the strain of repeated pregnancies, you add the trauma of a mother's separation from her baby, plus the painful milking process, and a life behind bars that ends up in the slaughterhouse, to realise that dairy is dreary!

As multinationals are forcing down produce prices and controlling the commodities market, animals (the very commodities at the heart of the farming industry) are forced to produce more, while their living conditions deteriorate further. And if farmers refuse to comply with the demands or refuse to bow to the pressure of turning their middle-size dairy farm into a super-farm, they lose their concerns to the banks, and the multinationals move on to source out cheaper milk from countries like Germany, Serbia or Poland, where cows have a tougher life. Farmers are as much victims as their animals here. They live from hand to mouth, work extremely long hours for a pitiful wage. Pushed to the end of their tethers by those unscrupulous men in suits, they resort to suicide (one suicide every other day in France). Now pause for a minute and consider the irony of it all: those (animals and farmers) who feed us are the ones who starve and suffer!

La Ferme des Mille Vaches (1000 Dairy Cow Farm) is France's first ever US-style mega-dairy farm, est. 2014.

My purpose is not to condone veg(etari)an practice at the expense of another, or sound like the newscaster of doom and gloom at every article I write. La Baguette Magique being about Lifestyle with Attitude, I am not going to follow the herds down the well-trodden middle of the consumerist road to ukulele you a song about Happy Meals! Instead we'll take one step back in order to get a clearer vision and stay ahead. My purpose is to raise awareness and then leave it up to you, dear readers, to think it over, investigate the issue further if it resonates with you, and decide - or not - to review your consumption habits. Let us bear in mind though that only collectively through our changing consumer habits will we be able to impact the faceless powers that are ruling our food shelves and ruining our food chain. Will you take that stance with me?

P.S: Be sure to watch CIWF's Farmaggedon - The True Cost of Cheap Meat. On a happier note, watch Karma the cow being finally reunited with her calf at The Gentle Barn sanctuary, after a life of misery. Who said cows have no feelings? Therefore no matter how well looked after dairy cows may be at David Homer's farm, they will still be missing their babies...

Further Reading:

[25-Sept-2017 Update]: For a quick and snappy visual idea of the cruelty of the dairy industry, please watch this French documentary preview, showing a cow and her calf who she had given birth to only a few hours prior. The farmer unceremoniously takes her calf away in his van while the mama runs after the vehicle in desperation for her baby! The calf is taken into a hangar where (if a male) he will be fattened up for the veal industry, or (if a female) fattened up to become a dairy cow. A dairy cow will be expected to produce milk for 5-6 years before being slaughtered for meat.

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