The Milk Roadmap, published this month by Defra, presents a 'cradle to grave' assessment of the environmental impacts of UK liquid milk production and highlights areas where efforts can be concentrated to reduce those impacts.
Livestock production is responsible globally for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Methane emitted by cows is a major contributor.
Unfortunately, the Milk Roadmap focuses too strongly on increasing yields per cow. This means fewer cows are needed to produce the same amount of milk. Fewer cows then produce less methane.
However, producing more milk brings welfare risks for cows. Increasing production over the years has been associated with higher levels of lameness and infertility. The life expectancy of the cows has declined as lame or infertile cows are sent early to slaughter. Making these hard working animals work even harder is not the right solution to this problem. Cows deserve a work-life balance too.
There are some good suggestions in the Roadmap. Encouraging farmers to adopt herd health plans would be good for welfare and for production. Ensuring that more dairy calves are reared for beef rather than shot at birth, as recommended by the Beyond Calf Exports Stakeholder Forum, would be a positive step.
We need an integrated approach that meets the needs of both animals and the environment. Policies should aim to:
- Breed a more robust dairy cow with increased health and longevity
- Encourage the use breeds of dairy cow which produce male calves suitable for economic beef production
- Encourage more moderate and sustainable consumption of meat, eggs and dairy products in line with nutritional recommendations
- Compassion in World Farming's Submission to Defra on milk roadmap project ( 35.33KB)
- Calf export stakeholders media report ( 211.79KB)
- Global warning: climate change and farm animal welfare ( 297.93KB)
- Global warning: summary ( 277.16KB)