One often wonders what the beef eating countries feel about the movement in India, advocating ban on cow slaughter as cow is only an economic tool in these countries for the beef industry there and a good source of food for the consumers. The way beef industry is organized in the US is indeed the envy of any other country in terms of management efficiency and the technological prowess that goes into beef farming. In contrast many Indians venerate cow and beef eating is relatively rare in the country with West Bengal and Kerala refusing to put in place a policy to ban slaughtering of cows. A larger question is why the very same cow venerated in India are slaughtered mercilessly in other countries and whether the cows in India are much different compared to western cows? There might not any answer to this vexing question.
The eternal debate, on the desirability of going back to century old tradition of rearing cows in open pasture lands from the present massive industry scale farming where cows are restrained in limited pace, will continue with no satisfactory answer. Modern dairying business calls for rearing the cows in well ventilated and sanitized covered stables with adequate lighting because automatic milking machines are used and hygiene is an important part of such a regime. Unlike in India, milk is not "cooked" at home in countries like the US and just pasteurization is done to inactivate pathogens, enough to withstand the rigors of refrigerated transportation and distribution. Since raw milk can stay well at 4C for a couple of days, pasteurization extends its life further to 15 days under refrigerated conditions. In India milk is literally cooked destroying all pathogenic vectors and same is consumed within 12 hours. Probably hygiene plays a lesser role here and chilled milk reception centers in production regions linked to modern dairies makes it possible to pasteurize the milk within 12 hours. The rearing conditions in rural areas are not the best one can encounter and it is truly amazing how India has become the top producer of fluid milk for which the nation must pay homage to late Dr Varghese Kurien and the operation Flood program started by him.
The cooperative dairying pioneered by late Dr Kurien did not go for the centralized production and processing mode though under such closely controlled system the economic and safety features are easily manageable. In stead village level cooperative societies with milk producers as members were organized with technical and financial support extended by National Dairy Development Board (NDDB). Though there was all round skepticism regarding the practicality of cooperative organizations out side Gujarat state, the success achieved by NDDB was phenomenal with practically every state making the program a success. District level cooperatives working under the guidance of the State Federations are recognized power centers to day serving millions of consumers and protecting the interests of millions of milk producers in the rural areas. To day India can be rightly proud of its "Milk Power" and literally it has become a country where milk flows as envisaged by Mahatma Gandhi!
One of the features of rearing cows for milk production in India is that it involves small scale farms, if one can call them that, which are part and parcel of a village community of agricultural families. Each house hold with a few cows bestows personal attention to the well being of its cows and in spite of lack of most modern technologies for milk production, they are able to compensate by giving their love and affection to these mute creatures. With the cow dung becoming a valuable source of energy via the Gobar gas plants or dried fuel source for hearths and good fodder available locally, the dairying is an economic activity which is sustainable in India. In contrast Dairy farms in the West have hundreds and thousands of cows restrained in limited space with no freedom to move around and lack of exposure to fresh environment. Between freedom and comfort, it is a universal truth that many living creatures will prefer the former and that makes the Indian cow a happier animal compared to its Western counter part. Probably many may not agree with this concept though animal psychologists will swear by this scientific reality.
The fact that many Western dairy farms are switching over to free range farms where cows can roam in vast areas without any restraint cannot be wished away and this goes to prove that Indian traditional system is better as far as dairying is concerned. From a practical angle it may be foolish to expect that the commercial dairy farms as they exist to day will be converted to free range farms at any time in future. There are huge practical constraints in doing so, the most important one being severe shortage of people for managing large number of small farms. Already, if recent reports are to be believed, the farming community in the US and other industrial nations is shrinking rapidly and it appears just two percent of US population supports remaining 98% through agricultural activity. In contrast in India almost 65% of the population reside in rural areas with agriculture being their main avocation. There fore small dairy farms make eminent sense.
One of the reprehensible features of Western animal farming system is the total insensitivity to the sufferings of animals raised for milk or meat. Though there are some basic guidelines regarding practices to be followed when dealing with animals, they are ignored more often and most animals are not treated in a humane way. Many people do not understand that animals also have emotions, feelings and a sense of well being and ignoring them can be considered as cruelty. It is a consolation that consumers are getting more and more educated and a resurgent consumer community is increasingly demanding animal products made through humane practices. Milk and Meat from free range animals and poultry birds raised in larger cages are being demanded with consumers willing to pay premium prices! Organic foods are often made by building into the production system ethical and humane practices and the galloping demand for organic foods is driven partly by such feelings by the consumers.
According to some farm owners in the US, animals locked up in huge dairy barns living on grains and hay are just like machines pumping out milk and most of them are not healthy, not able to live long because of such inhuman treatment. Cows are reported to be happier, more contented, able to live longer, producing better quality and quantity milk if they are treated well. There are some farms where cows are individually named and the owners deal with them as if they are their friends and well wishers. Such farms report dramatic changes in their profitability. Even those cows who are old and not giving milk are well looked after, allowing them to live as long they can. Some of these old cows are even used to suckle steers! This is similar to the philosophy in India where there are hundreds of "Goshalas" in some parts of the country where old and uneconomical cows are accepted and given a decent "retired" life in stead of sending them to the butchers.
Some believe that talking to cows or providing them with streamed music can improve the milk yield. May be true but is costs money and how many cow owners will do that?. An inconvenient question is what about buffaloes and bullocks? They are also living creatures and it is but logical that they are also treated humanely, though bullocks are not relevant to the farmers after the advent of mechanical tractors and other ploughing tools. Same applies to chicken also and to day's economic scenario may never give a chance to poultry birds, even the layers, to be free roaming and they will always be "bonded" slaves of the meat hungry section of the population. Present moves in many countries to make it mandatory to use larger cages is at best a consolation! The million dollar question is why man should kill any animal at all for food when plenty of good and nutritious plant foods are provided by the Mother Earth! Such abstinence from killing them would be the most articulated expression of humaneness!