Unspoken Cultural Costs to India’s First Mega-Dairy: Part I

Unspoken Cultural Costs to India’s First Mega-Dairy: Part I

Dairy cow from a small-scale farm in Jharkhand

Last year, Bhagylaxmi Dairy Farm in the city of Pune opened as India’s first industrialized mega-dairy with a total of 3000 Holstein-Friesian cows. Although India is currently the world’s top producer of cow’s milk, the burgeoning middle class is increasing demand for more westernized diets, including meat, eggs, and dairy. Subsequently, the industrialization of dairy is on the verge of taking over India’s current village coop model.

Bhagylaxmi Dairy promotes their farm as producing a more hygienic cow’s milk and presenting improved welfare conditions for the animals. However, as supporters speak greatly of the benefits, they fail to mention the costs of introducing intensive dairy farms to India, including costs imposed upon India’s cultural values. This is the first of two blogs examining just a few of these unspoken cultural costs.

Currently, the Indian government considers the dairy sector as a source of both rural empowerment and poverty elimination, and is comprised mostly of village cooperatives. Additionally, coops are comprised predominantly of women and offer an opportunity for women to independently hold a small business and contribute to her family’s income. However, if India makes the decision to continue the trend towards more industrialized dairy farming practices, how will this impact poor rural and women farmers?

Furthermore, the sanctity of indigenous cows is an identifying facet of India’s traditional Hindu culture. However, if India decides to make the agricultural shift from cooperative farming to factory farming, will the country’s perception of these animals begin to shift from reverence to complete utilitarian? And will the traditional clout of the sacred breed be able to outweigh industry’s attempts to “improve indigenous stock” by introducing high milk-yielding pedigree breeds to local farmers? Or is it conceivable that India’s holy animals are facing an emerging threat of their eventual eradication?

For more on issues of equity and animal welfare in India’s dairy industry, see our policy paper, Veg or Non-Veg: India at the Crossroads and other related materials.

Photo courtesy of premasagar, Flickr