Yet again the UK dairy sector is in crisis, in a depressing repeat of similar events in 2010 and 2012. Each time more dairy farmers exit the sector. The number of dairy farmers is set to fall below 10,000 for the first time. There remains a need to fix the fundamental problem, what one witness called, the 'smoke and mirrors' of the milk supply chain, in a recent EFRA Select Committee evidence session, where many, many dairy farmers are still being expected to produce milk below the cost of production. There is little doubt that there will be even greater volatility in the dairy supply chain in the years to come, particularly after the abolition of Milk Quotas in April next year.
Falling milk prices, market volatility and the impending removal of quotas has led some in the dairy industry to promote the view that to survive dairy farmers need to dramatically increase the size of their herds and switch to an intensive indoor system where they will be able to use new technology to introduce economies of scale and production efficiencies that will increase yields and profits per cow.
Parliamentarians need to be aware that intensive indoor milk production is not the default answer to falling dairy prices.
Pasture based dairy farmers can increase profits by improving the quality of their pasture, using more robust species of cow and benefit from technological innovations just as much as intensive indoor dairy farmers, and additionally can add value to the milk they produce through labelling that guarantees it was produced from cows that grazed on grass for a proportion of the year.
The current crisis in dairy farming is a critical issue for World Animal Protection which has campaigned to keep cows grazing on pasture where they can express their natural behaviour. Unless a way can be found to create a sustainable and profitable future for our pasture based dairy farmers we could end up with consolidated intensive industry where cows in fields are a rare sight and most cows spend their entire lives in sheds.
The rapid change experienced in Denmark, where the percentage of indoor cows grew from 16% in 2001 to 67% in 2010, is an ominous indication of how quickly change can happen and a cause of real concern.
What are intensive indoor dairy farms?
Cows in intensive indoor dairy farms are likely to never graze on grass. Spending almost, if not all of their lives inside, they are unable to express the natural behaviours that come from being able to roam freely in fields.
Do they exist in the UK?
Sadly, the threat of factory dairy farming in the UK may be bigger than we think. There are already some intensive cow dairies in the UK and reportedly milk from these already makes up around 10% of the milk we drink, if not more. We campaign against these intensive indoor operations and champion free-range dairy farmers. Currently, it is very difficult to find out whether milk on the shelves has come from an intensive indoor dairy farm. We are calling on the UK Government to collect information on the types of dairy farm that are operating in the UK.
Why is World Animal Protection concerned about these farms?
As World Animal Protection, we believe in ethical farming. Farm animals should be kept in conditions that meet the 'Five Freedoms', as set out by the UK Farm Animal Welfare Council:
Freedom from hunger and thirst
Freedom from discomfort
Freedom from pain, injury or disease
Freedom to express normal behaviour
Freedom from fear and distress
We continue to hold serious concerns about cow welfare and the extra strain that is put on overburdened dairy cows in intensive indoor systems. Cows in factory dairy farms will never graze on grass and lose the ability to express the natural behaviours that comes from being able to roam freely in fields.
What are World Animal Protection doing?
World Animal Protection are calling on Parliamentarians to sign EDM 331 - Intensive Indoor Dairy Farms or raise this issue with UK Ministers or within the relevant Devolved Institutions if you can't:
EDM 331 - Intensive Indoor Dairy Farms (42 signatures)
That this House supports the vast numbers of dairy farmers across the UK who supply sustainable, high quality milk produced to high welfare standards in increasingly difficult and volatile economic circumstances; notes with concern the increased risks to dairy cow welfare from intensive indoor dairy farms in the UK; believes that without access to pasture dairy cows are unable to fully exhibit natural behaviours; and calls on the Government to determine the number and location of intensive indoor dairy farms in the UK where cows are given no access to pasture to ensure the public are themselves able to determine where and how their milk is being produced.