Do you remember a time when the cow came to your house to give your milk? When cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata and Hyderabad were but towns, they used to house animals inside the residential areas. Several dairies with five to 50 animals were located after every few blocks and either you sent someone to collect the milk or the animal came to you.
As the cities grew and cars increased, there came a general irritation with cows on the roads. Most of them were picked up and sold to butchers or sent to gaushalas where they died of neglect.
But the city residents still wanted fresh milk.
In 1980s, land was allotted to the dairymen by the government. They were to shift their animals to authorized dairy colonies. The object was to create hubs where animals could be housed together, provided with shelter, water, green feed, veterinary care etc. The location of these dairy colonies was at the periphery of the cities and, therefore, they are known as peri-urban dairies and they supply milk to individuals and to “fresh milk” companies.
Has anyone had a look at these dairies? In the last two years, we have been visiting all these peri-urban dairies and the conditions are appalling.
What fresh milk are we talking about? The milk which comes from these dairies is spiked with antibiotics, oxytocin, animal faeces and other contaminants. Milk is produced in an animal’s body. The fodder, water, and environmental conditions provided to the animal decide the quality of milk that will be produced.
These milk producing animals live in conditions that do not provide anything for their natural needs. There is no access to good quality drinking water, green feed, veterinary care or space to move around. Here is a description of what you will see if you bother to go to the peri-urban dairies in India, not far away from your own homes.
Cows and buffaloes are kept in dark dingy rooms with no ventilation. When a shed falls down they are kept in the rubble with no protection from the wind, sun, rains or storms.
The flooring material of these dairies is concrete, often cracked and uneven. The edges of the broken concrete are sharp. They are covered with dung and urine on which these permanently tethered animals are forced to sit and stand. Imagine yourself sitting on a sharp edged uneven floor covered with your own faeces. When given an option, milch cattle sit and lie on soft floors. Consequently, their joints are bruised and tender and most of them become painfully lame.
With dung and urine on the floor, and no fresh air, they develop diseases that range from mastitis, brucellosis (which is animal tuberculosis) to leukaemia. Mastitis is an infection of the udders, usually caused by milking with unclean and rough hands. It is strictly forbidden to draw milk from the animal when they have this condition. But milk is pulled out all the same and it contains fresh pus and fresh blood as well. Cow tails are often pulled by their owners in order to move them, and these develop wounds which develop maggots. They have to be finally amputated.
Dairy animals are provided with water only once or twice in a day. The quality of water is very poor and unpalatable. At some places, it is stored in storage tanks which have thick green deposits of algae and fungi. The same water is used for cleaning the troughs and washing milk vessels.
Cows and buffaloes are designed to eat green feed and roughage. At peri-urban dairies, they are fed with dry commercial pellets, dry fodder, stale bread, which is unfit for human consumption and a little oil cake.
Cows give milk if they are well fed, watered and exercised. Since all three inputs do not exist, their bodies have to struggle hard to produce milk. In order to get the milk, dairy owners inject them with an illegal drug called oxytocin twice a day. Oxytocin sends the animal into labour, so for two hours a day the animal is writhing in labour pains till the milk is squeezed out of her inflamed diseased teats. Oxytocin comes into the milk and results in hormonal imbalances in humans, who get diseases like tuberculosis, cancer, blindness in children etc. In fact, the single main disease-giving drug in India is oxytocin which is being smuggled into India from China by a mafia that is headquartered in Kolkata and Mumbai.
The animals in these peri-urban dairies are always sick, and antibiotics are given regularly in order to keep them alive. None of these drugs are prescribed by doctors as there are no veterinary services. They are given by illiterate workers at random so they have little value. They go into the milk and cause antibiotic resistance in milk drinkers.
As in all mammals, including humans, milk comes when a baby is born. However, male calves have no place in the peri-urban dairies. They are denied veterinary care at birth and half die on the spot. The remaining fifty percent are kept for a few weeks so that the mother gives milk as she sees them (buffaloes have strong maternal instinct and need to see their calves to let down any milk). During this time, male calves are provided very little milk. They can be seen outside any dairy, tied with short ropes waiting to be bought by the butchers.
Workers at these dairies are seasonal labourers. Most of them have no experience in handling animals. Beating with sticks, kicking and shoving are a common sight. No law says they need to be trained to work at dairies. They are not given any instructions on even washing their hands while milking or handling milk, cleaning the vessels or even bathing themselves. They give oxytocin and antibiotic injections freely to the animals with needles and syringes that are used till they rust and are washed in the same water described above. As a result, the animals have suppurating wounds at the injection sites.
If milk is an essential commodity why are these conditions so bad? The municipal corporations are responsible to ensure that the places are clean, well lit, and airy and that the sludge does not contaminate either the animals or the sewage system. But no employees ever visit the dairies.
Some states have written policies for dairies but there is no implementation. In Delhi, the municipal corporation has a policy called ‘Dairy Cattle Licensing Policy’ framed in 2010. To obtain a license, dairy owners must ensure comfortable housing which require sufficient space for milking, feeding and cleaning besides availability of floor area, space for water and adequate troughs, according to standards set by the policy. Dairy owners are responsible for the removal of dung and to ensure veterinary aid. The licenses are renewed annually, supposedly after an inspection. In actual fact, none of the dairies have obtained a license under this policy, registered their animals or reported any prevalent diseases. No one in the corporation has ever visited them.
In the central Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, there are Registration of Cattle Premises Rules, 1978. Under these rules any cattle premises with more than five head of cattle is supposed to be registered by the local authority. Rule number 4 says that ‘Every application for registration shall contain full information regarding the number and types of animals kept or to be kept, the purpose for which they are being kept or are to be kept, the provision made or to be made as respects floor space, flooring, ventilation, supply of food and water, disinfection, drainage, disposal of dung or unwanted matter, boundary walls and shall also contain such other information relevant to the matter as may be specifically called for by the registering authority.’ These rules not only ensure the welfare of animals but the quality of the milk. No city corporation has even read these rules, much less follow them.
The government funded National Dairy Research Institute in Haryana has published guidelines on milk production titled ‘National Code of Practices for Management of Dairy Animals in India’. No state government has adopted them.
The fault is yours. You, as consumers, are so disconnected from your food source that any rubbish can be fed to you with no consequences to the seller. Have you questioned your milk supplier, the milk company, the government cooperative, the municipal corporation? The companies and government cooperatives who procure milk must contribute funds as a part of their social responsibility to ensure that animals are provided with basic welfare that ensures conditions for clean milk production. With improved housing, food, veterinary care, handling and overall management practices, for milk producing animals, will come a better food product. At the moment, it is simply not safe for human consumption.