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Dairy Sector and Climate Change

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  • 03 Aug 2021
  • 7 min read

Why in News

The dairy industry has been a subject of intense debate in recent years, fueled by climate change crisis concerns worldwide as well as the advancement of various plant-based alternatives claiming to be more sustainable replacements.

Key Points

  • About:
    • With the help of White Revolution, India has transitioned from a milk-deficient country to the largest producer of milk globally.
      • The Anand model (Amul), which has been replicated across the country, boosted milk production.
    • Harvesting animals for dairy and animal-based products is crucial for food security, poverty alleviation and other social needs.
    • However, there are harmful consequences of animal harvesting on climate.
    • Further, animal rearing has been criticized heavily by non-profit organisations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), for performing cruelty against animals.
  • Importance of Dairy Sector:
    • Economic Dependence: Harvesting animals for dairy and animal-based products in India is a major source of livelihood for 150 million dairy farmers.
      • The dairy sector accounts for 4.2% of the national gross domestic product.
      • Dairy sector is the second-largest employment sector after agriculture in India.
    • Social Importance: Dairy products are a rich source of essential nutrients that contributes to a healthy and nutritious diet.
      • With demand for high-quality animal sourced protein increasing globally, the dairy sector is well placed to contribute to global food security and poverty reduction through the supply of dairy products.
  • Impact of Dairy Sector on Climate Change:
    • GHG Emission: Agriculture contributes approximately 16% of India’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions which is released by cattle during dairy farming.
      • Methane from animal waste contributes about 75% of the total GHG emissions of the dairy sector.
        • Recently, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has developed an anti-methanogenic feed supplement ‘Harit Dhara’ (HD), which can cut down cattle methane emissions by 17-20% and can also result in higher milk production.
      • The three major GHGs emitted from agri-food systems, namely methane (CH₄), nitrous oxide (N₂O) and carbon dioxide (CO₂).
    • Increasing Pressure on Natural Resources: With this increasing demand for dairy, there is growing pressure on natural resources, including freshwater and soil.
      • Multinational companies such as Nestle and Danone have been accused of promoting water-intensive dairy industry in Punjab and the neighbouring states, which is fast depleting groundwater.
      • Unsustainable dairy farming and feed production can lead to the loss of ecologically important areas, such as wetlands, and forests.
      • The alarming loss of biodiversity is attributed to water- and energy-intensive crops needed to feed the cattle.
    • Growing Demand: Global demand for dairy continues to increase in large part due to population growth, rising incomes, urbanization and westernization of diets in countries such as China and India.
  • Others Arguments Against Dairy Sector:
    • Cruelty Against Animals: Despite guidelines for appropriate handling of cattle, cruel practices continue unabated to boost production efficiencies as demand for dairy and meat continues to grow. These include:
      • Artificial insemination,
      • Widespread use of growth hormones (oxytocin) to boost milk production,
      • Slaughter of male calves,
      • Abandoning cattle that are sterile,
      • Selling livestock to slaughterhouses and tanneries when they can no longer produce milk, etc.
    • Zoonotic Diseases: Animal exploitation through animal farming, destruction of natural habitats, livestock-associated deforestation, hunting and trading of wildlife are the leading cause of zoonotic diseases caused by germs that spread between animals and humans.
    • Food Adulteration: Milk and milk products in India are not free from adulteration.
  • The Proposed Alternative:
    • Veganism: Veganism is a way of living that attempts to exclude all forms of animal exploitation and replace it with plant-based products.
      • In developed countries, the vegan movement is gaining momentum due to ecological and health benefits of plant-based food including milk.
      • PETA is promoting vegan alternatives to replace animal-based foods.
    • Criticism of Veganism: Amul and its supporters argue that PETA’s moves may be a ploy for multinational companies to promote synthetic milk and genetically modified seeds through a misinformation campaign.
      • They have raised questions about the suitability of chemical-laden, lab-produced plant-based milk for human consumption.
      • Further, FSSAI notified that the word ‘milk’ cannot be used for plant-based dairy alternatives.

Way Forward

  • Alternate Employment & Social Forestry: With livelihoods of 150 million at stake, policymakers will need to identify alternative employment opportunities for the displaced masses.
    • Large-scale social forestry could be an answer to address this fall-out, with positive consequences to the planet.
  • Sustainable Dairy Practices: There is a need to proactively ramp up sustainable dairy practices, which may include:
    • In order to reduce emission intensity of milk, the sector needs to urgently act to realize the existing potentials for GHG emission reduction through technological and farm best practices interventions and solutions.
    • Fostering changes in production practices that protect carbon sinks (grasslands and forest) by targeting drivers linked to degradation of natural ecosystems, agricultural expansion and deforestation.
    • Reducing its demand for resources by better integrating livestock into the circular bio-economy.
      • This can be achieved by recycling and recovering nutrients and energy from animal waste.
      • Closer integration of livestock with crops and agro-industries at various scales to make use of low value and low-emission biomass.

Source: DTE

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