“Doodh doodh doodh hai wonderful,
Roz piyo glassful…”
Such was the popularity of this catchy Amul jingle released in 1996 that even now, there are days when I find myself humming the tune, not knowing how it crawled out of my subconscious. Along with the music, the image of chunky ice crystals being plopped into a glass of cold and refreshing milk against a black background flash in my mind.
The combination of a catchy jingle and effective visuals of people of all ages making something as mundane as drinking milk seem ‘cool’, marked the Amul ‘Doodh doodh’ advertisement as a landmark branding success in its ability to address and reverse the trend of children who had switched to consuming colas and juices instead of milk.
California had a similar problem in the 90’s with a slump in milk consumption.The “Got Milk?” campaign featuring celebrities of all genres and age groups sporting a milk moustache in provocative or funny poses transformed the simplicity of milk to a symbol of pop culture. Instead of focusing on selling a healthy product, the strategy used was to dramatise the effect of not having milk when you needed it. It was clever, sexy and incredibly successful.
Back to doodh, oh so wonderful doodh; tasty, creamy and in practically everything. It seems impossible to get by a day without cheese, butter, yoghurt or chocolates. Dairy has been assigned such importance in our diet that it is viewed as a food group in its own right.
FCB Ulka, the advertising agency behind the Amul ‘Doodh Doodh’ concept was given the following brief by Amul – to extend the marketing of milk beyond its mere nutritional value to something ‘cool and fun for all ages’. The advertisement aired on several major channels for almost six months, specifically placed between programs watched by children between the age 8 and 14. There was a rapid increase in consumption of milk across all age groups. The consumption of milk in 1995 was 198 gm/per day which has gone up to 250 gm/per day in 1998.
Today milk has become a product that we NEED. But at the root of this need is more than just the perceived benefits of milk, but an aggregation of marketing efforts by the government and corporations to convince us of their version of the truth fed over decades through media. Dairy products are more than just a food group, they are a commodity dependent on the forces of demand and supply. Seeing that the stakes are high, we ought to be asking some relevant questions and demand accountability.
How good is mass-produced milk to us? How much of our dependence is natural and how much cultivated by corporate greed? Is it really as essential to health as insisted upon by media and the government? What is the price being paid by millions of dairy cows to feed us?
Today, India is the largest producer of milk with an output of 400 million litres per day (2016 figures). This was not always the case. In fact in the 1950’s, despite having a sizable cattle population, we were a milk-deficient nation.
How did we propel to this status?
In 1915, Polson Dairy was the first Indian Dairy products brand established by Pestonjee Eduljee in Mumbai. Prior to its existence, families purchased milk from the local milkman who’d deliver raw, unpasteurized milk in aluminium canisters at the crack of dawn. Polson had government approval to function as a monopoly, thereby not giving farmers the option to sell milk to other buyers. Disgruntled farmers had to not only walk miles to the Polson plant to deliver milk which often got spoilt en route but on top of that be paid much lower rates due to the purchasing power established by Polson.
Thus in 1946, with the resounding support of farmers in Anand Gujarat, Amul (Anand Milk Union Limited) co-operative was formed. Verghese Kurien, an engineer by profession was instrumental in implementing ‘Operation Flood’ in 1970, a mission that spanned three decades with the objective of creating a nationwide milk grid linking 10 million milk producers through 96,000 dairy co-operatives, with consumers in more than 700 towns and cities. It has been termed world’s largest agricultural dairy development programme.
Today, Kurien is known today as the ‘Father of the White Revolution’. Perhaps it must be mentioned that Kurien never drank milk claiming he did not like its taste.
The co-operative model carries it one major complication- adulteration. As a homogenous product collected from multiple sources, it is near impossible to trace the source of dilution/ chemical addition. A 2015 report published by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) states, “According to sources, only approximately 20 percent of India’s total milk production is further processed or pasteurised via the organised sector, which includes government supported dairy cooperatives and licensed private sector dairies.”
It goes on to describe the food-safety challenge in this matter, and how there have been several reports on adulteration using water, urea, detergent, and fat in the supply chain. India’s own FSSAI nation-wide survey conducted in 2011 to check the quality of milk reported a shocking 68% of milk as being adulterated.
Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL) in Mysuru developed a cheap milk testing kit – “Ksheer Scanner’, a low-cost, portable system which can be used by anyone at home to detect contamination of six common adulterants in milk.
It is a grave matter of concern especially since milk forms an essential part of children’s diet and its potential toxicity could affect their growth and development. Food safety legislation is governed by the Food, Safety & Standards Act of 2006 which links punishment to the gravity of injury and states jail sentence from six months to six years, and in specific cases life imprisonment.
As of now, only Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Odisha have amended their laws to make adulteration a life-imprisonment worthy offence. Last year, the Supreme Court pushed the Centre and remaining states to impose more stringent punishment but till date, there have been no changes implemented by the Central Government.
The most important claim made towards the consumption of dairy is its calcium contribution. Calcium is one of the most abundant minerals in the human body, needed for bone and tooth health, muscle development and healthy blood pressure. Depending on age and gender, the average adult needs approximately 1,000-1,200 milligrammes calcium per day. Only 30% calcium is absorbed from consuming milk. Other more efficient absorbable sources are- oranges, oatmeal, ragi, almonds dark leafy greens, sardines etc. For generations, we have been fed the message of ‘glass of milk a day’, ‘three portions of dairy’ and have been conditioned to believe we need dairy.
Ideally, to gain the maximum benefit of drinking milk, we should consume it in its raw form from cows that have access to good fodder and are free to graze. Before the pasteurisation process (heating of substances to elevated temperatures to destroy certain microorganisms) was invented, this was how humans consumed it naturally. While this seems like an essential process in order to produce safe, drinkable milk, there are several side-effects. Firstly, this seems to give dairy factories a blanket excuse to allow cows to live in deplorable conditions. Secondly, nutritionally speaking, pasteurisation not only kills off the bad bacteria, but it also kills the beneficial bacteria, better known as probiotics, nutrients, and enzymes needed to assimilate the milk. It is due to the fact that lactase, the enzyme needed to digest lactose (i.e. a milk sugar), is destroyed during pasteurisation. And so is phosphatase – the enzyme needed to properly absorb calcium!
The precise purpose of drinking milk is obliterated due to a safety requirement. Sounds like a catch-22 doesn’t it?
Milk is also known to build mucus in the chest and spike insulin levels in the blood.
With an overwhelming dairy dependence that has been created successfully to sustain these industries, the process has become aggressive.
Like all mammals, cows must give birth in order to make milk. Their gestational period is similar to humans- nine months. Once they give birth, they begin lactating. But unlike us humans, this process is not solely for the nourishment of their own young but to feed people first. Calves are separated from their mothers within hours. To keep them lactating at maximum yields, cows are artificially and repeatedly and forcibly impregnated through artificial insemination. Even the milking process at a large-scale dairy factory is unkind with the use of rotary parlours which is a fancy word for machines that tug vigorously at udders.This constant cycle of forced pregnancy and birth creates a huge surplus of calves, some retained to join the fate of their mothers as dairy cows and the rest sent to slaughterhouses. A lesser known fact is that the veal industry is a by-product of the dairy industry.
Trapped in this cycle of forced impregnation, gestation, perpetual lactation whilst living in terrible physical conditions and bearing the emotional trauma of having their calves torn from them, most dairy cows produce less milk at around the 5-year mark at which point they are sent to the slaughterhouse or tannery. In natural conditions, cows can live 20 to 25 years. (Nowak RM. 1997. Walker’s Mammals of the World 5.1. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press.)
While the list of mindless cruelty inflicted is an endless one, the fact is that the levels of human connection have been made redundant. It would not be an exaggeration to state that the dairy industry involves as much, if not more, cruelty as the meat industry. What was once a natural process of letting a calf drink its share first before sitting with a pail and hand milking a cow, has turned into an assembly line system.
In light of the recent Jallikattu controversy in Tamil Nadu, several facts related to milk proteins came to light. A1 milk is found largely in Western breeds of cattle (Holstein, Jersey), while Asian and African breeds produce A2 milk. This production is determined by their genetic makeup. This is why even though it is cows that produce milk, the bulls of a particular breed are equally important in maintaining its production, which was one of the major arguments for preserving the violent sport which supported a system of farmers and livelihoods.
The main difference between the A1 & A2 milk is their protein component. A2 milk produced by indigenous breeds is better in quality as it has micronutrients like cytokines and minerals which enhances our immune system. A human clinical trial conducted at Curtin University in Australia did prove that there were significant differences in digestive symptoms between milk containing A1 and A2 beta-casein. A1 milk has been linked to digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and bloating.
Apart from the superior quality of milk, the other benefits derived from native breeds are the use of their dung as fertiliser and medicinal properties of urine.
The hidden reality behind the white revolution’s success is the decimation of the native breed population of over the years due to the increase in crossbreeding with imported foreign breeds for higher yields to meet the demands of mass-production. Of the 70 breeds that once existed, only 30 exist today.
Shakti Lumba, owner of Laksh Farms in Mangar Village in Haryana which produces organic milk says, “Imagine this – the Gir cow, which is a Gujarati breed, is now being imported from Brazil and the Brahmi Bull, which is another pure breed, is more popular in Australia. It’s ironic that people in these countries are drinking better quality milk from cows native to our country”.
While the government has been silent on this issue, the Jallikattu movement was instrumental in bringing these facts forward and raising awareness of India’s cattle biodiversity and the urgent need to preserve it.
The vegan movement, which emphasises on a lifestyle that refrains from using animal products in food and clothing, has grown in the recent years. Several celebrities swear that making the choice to go dairy-free has done wonders for their health. Some gourmet stores sell vegan chocolate and cheese, almond milk is the new ingredient for smoothies,
In all honesty, veganism is an extreme transformation that requires a lot of planning and adaptability in all aspects- grocery shopping, eating out or even rummaging through the fridge for a simple meal. As someone who has attempted veganism eight times and is giving it another go this year, I can safely say that being inflexible was one of the major reasons I kept failing despite caring about animal welfare.
Perhaps a more realistic approach would be to be more mindful about what we eat and finding ways to cut back rather than eliminate altogether. Watching portion quantities, reducing wastage and buying from small businesses that engage in more sustainable and ethical processes are ways we can play our parts in pushing corporations to re-think the way they’re going about dairy farming.
Although it is convenient to blame the dairy industry and government who’ve created an infrastructure that perpetuates animal cruelty and adulteration for profits, as individuals with purchasing power and access to information we need to take responsibility and start lobbying for change. As a consumer, it has become too convenient to walk into a supermarket and pick up a packet of milk without comprehending its true cost.
It seems impossible to surmount this monstrous machine we have created that entails such sacrifice on a daily basis. I have also been amazed at the number of people I’ve met who don’t realise that cows only provide milk when they lactate! The first step towards change is to educate ourselves and pressurise the government to enforce laws on dairy giants that ensure humane treatment of cows.
Actions that can be taken are: