Ethics in the Food Industry-Dairy Farming

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A dairy is a business enterprise which is established for harvesting or processing of animal milk – from cows or goats, and also from buffaloes, sheep, horses, or camels – for human consumption. The word dairy refers to milk-based products, derivatives and processes, and the animals and workers involved in their production: for example dairy cattle, dairy goat. A dairy farm produces milk and a dairy factory processes it into a variety of dairy products. These establishments constitute the global dairy industry, a component of the food industry.


When it became necessary to milk larger cows, the cows would be brought to a shed or barn that was set up with stalls (milking stalls) where the cows could be confined their whole live while they were milked. One person could milk more cows this way, as many as 20 for a skilled worker. But having cows standing about in the yard and shed waiting to be milked is not good for the cow, as she needs as much time in the paddock grazing as is possible. Thus they are milked twice daily for a maximum of an hour and a half for each cow each time.

This daily milking routine goes on for about 300 to 320 days per year that the cow stays in milk. If a cow is left unmilked just once she is likely to reduce milk-production almost immediately and the rest of the season may see her dried off(giving no milk) and still consuming feed. Farmers who are contracted to supply liquid milk for human consumption often have to manage their herd so that the contracted number of cows are in milk the year round, or the required minimum milk output is maintained. This is done by mating cows outside their natural mating time so that the period when each cow in the herd is giving maximum production is in rotation throughout the year.

Much of the significant advancement in the twentieth century dairy industry has focused on maximizing milk production. Automatic milking systems (AMS) and automatic milking rotary (AMR) parlors represent the most recent technological efforts, offering the potential for frequent milking events without depending on human labor


Milk producing animals have been domesticated for thousands of years. Initially, they were part of the subsistence farming that nomads engaged in. As the community moved about the country, their animals accompanied them. Protecting and feeding the animals were a big part of the symbiotic relationship between the animals and the herders.

In the more recent past, people in agricultural societies owned dairy animals that they milked for domestic and local (village) consumption, a typical example of a cottage industry. The animals might serve multiple purposes (for example, as a draught animal for pulling a plough as a youngster, and at the end of its useful life as meat). In this case the animals were normally milked by hand and the herd size was quite small, so that all of the animals could be milked in less than an hour—about 10 per milker. These tasks were performed by a dairymaid (dairywoman) or dairyman.

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With industrialisation and urbanisation, the supply of milk became a commercial industry, with specialised breeds of cattle being developed for dairy, as distinct from beef or draughtanimals. Initially, more people were employed as milkers, but it soon turned to mechanisation with machines designed to do the milking.

Global scenario

While most countries produce their own milk products, the structure of the dairy industry varies in different parts of the world. In major milk-producing countries most milk is distributed through whole sale markets. In Ireland and Australia, for example, farmers' co-operatives own many of the large-scale processors, while in the United States many farmers and processors do business through individual contracts. In developing countries, the past practice of farmers marketing milk in their own neighborhoods is changing rapidly.

As in many other branches of the food industry, dairy processing in the major dairy producing countries has become increasingly concentrated, with fewer but larger and more efficient plants operated by fewer workers. This is notably the case in the United States, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

Plants producing liquid milk and products with short shelf life, such as yogurts, creams and soft cheeses, tend to be located on the outskirts of urban centres close to consumer markets. Plants manufacturing items with longer shelf life, such as butter, milk powders, cheese and whey powders, tend to be situated in rural areas closer to the milk supply. Most large processing plants tend to specialise in a limited range of products. As processing plants grow fewer and larger, they tend to acquire bigger, more automated and more efficient equipment. While this technological tendency keeps manufacturing costs lower, the need for long-distance transportation often increases the environmental impact.

Much of the significant advancement in the twentieth century dairy industry has focused on maximizing milk production. Automatic milking systems (AMS) and automatic milking rotary (AMR) parlors represent the most recent technological efforts, offering the potential for frequent milking events without depending on human labor.

Indian scenario

India has been the leading producer and consumer of dairy products worldwide since 1998 with a sustained growth in the availability of milk and milk products. Dairy activities form an essential part of the rural Indian economy, serving as an important source of employment and income. India also has the largest bovine population in the world. However, the milk production per animal is significantly low as compared to the other major dairy producers. Moreover, nearly all of the dairy produce in India is consumed domestically, with the majority of it being sold as fluid milk. On account of this, the Indian dairy industry holds tremendous potential for value-addition and overall development.

Along with offering profitable business opportunities, the dairy industry in India serves as a tool of socio-economic development. Keeping this in view, the Government of India has introduced various schemes and initiatives aimed at the development of the dairy sector in the country. For instance, the “National Dairy Programme (Phase-I)” aims to improve cattle productivity and increase the production of milk expanding and strengthening and expanding the rural milk procurement infrastructure and provide greater market access to the farmers. On the other hand, the private participation in the Indian dairy sector has also increased over the past few years. Both national and international players are entering the dairy industry, attracted by the size and potential of the Indian market.

The focus is being given to value-added products such as cheese, yogurt, probiotic drinks, etc. They are also introducing innovative products keeping in mind the specific requirements of the Indian consumers. These players are also improving their milk procurement network which is further facilitating the development of the dairy industry in India. Looking forward, the market is expected to reach a value of INR 21,971 Billion by 2024.

Unethical practices

Cows Used for Their Milk

Cows produce milk for the same reason that humans do: to nourish their young. In order to force them to continue producing milk, factory farm operators typically impregnate them using artificial insemination every year.

  • Calves are generally torn away from their mothers within a day of birth, which causes them both extreme distress. Mother cows can be heard calling for their calves for days.
  • Male calves are destined to end up in cramped veal crates or barren feedlots where they will be fattened for beef, and females are sentenced to the same sad fate as their mothers.
  • After their calves have been taken away from them, mother cows are hooked up, two or more times a day, to milking machines. Their reproductive systems are exploited through genetic selection, despite the negative effects on their health.
  • Artificial insemination, milking regimens, and sometimes drugs are used to force them to produce even more milk—the average cow today produces more than four times as much milk as cows did in 1950.
  • Cows may be dosed with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), which contributes to an increased incidence of mastitis, a painful inflammation of the udder. (In the U.S., rBGH is still used, but it has been banned in Canada and the European Union because of concerns about human health and animal welfare.) According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 16.5 percent of cows used for their milk suffer from mastitis, which is one of the leading causes of death in adult cows in the dairy industry.
  • A cow’s natural lifespan is about 20 years, but cows used by the dairy industry are typically killed after about five years because their bodies wear out from constantly being pregnant or lactating. A dairy-industry study found that by the time they are killed, nearly 50 percent of cows are lame because of standing on concrete flooring and filth in intensive confinement. Cows’ bodies are often turned into soup, food for dogs and cats, or ground beef because they are too “spent” to be used for anything else.

Calves Used for Veal

  • Male calves—seen as “byproducts” of the dairy industry—are generally taken from their mothers when they’re less than a day old. Many are shipped off to barren, filthy feedlots to await slaughter.
  • Others are kept in cramped pens or tiny crates, where they’re prevented from moving much so that their flesh will stay tender.
  • In order to make their flesh white, the calves are fed a diet that is low in iron and has little nutritive value. This causes them to fall ill, and they frequently suffer from anaemia, diarrhoea, and pneumonia.
  • These calves are killed after only a few months of life so that their flesh can be sold as veal. All adult and baby cows, whether raised for their flesh or their milk, are eventually shipped to a slaughterhouse and killed.

Ethics involved

The following basic guidelines should be adopted to govern the management of animals under human stewardship. No husbandry system should deny the environmental requirements of the animal's basic behavioural needs, a tenet clearly expressed in West Germany's animal protection act. Those needs, should include the following minimal environmental requirements: Journal of Dairy Science Vol. 66, No. 10, 1983 2224 FOX 1) Freedom to perform natural physical movement;

  1. Association with other animals, where appropriate, of their own kind;
  2. Facilities for comfort-activities, e.g., rest, sleep, and body care;
  3. Provision of food and water to maintain full health;
  4. Ability to perform daily routines of natural activities;
  5. Opportunity for activities of exploration and play, especially for young animals; and
  6. Satisfaction of minimal spatial and territorial requirements, including a visual field and 'personal' space.

Deviations from those principles should be avoided as far as possible, but where such deviations are absolutely unavoidable, efforts should be made to compensate the animal environmentally.

These are only a few of the guidelines. The National Dairy Development Board has put forward detailed guidelines as to how animals should be treated in the dairy industry.

Licencing bodies

  • The National Dairy Development Board(NDDB) have put forward a handbook for good dairy husbandary practices, which specifies in detail the proper way these animals are to be treated.
  • The ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship, under the government of India has introduced the Agriculture Skill council of India(ASCI). Their aim is to educate the farmers on good dairy farming practices.
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