Climate crisis: Way forward for dairy giants in India

Source: Down To Earth

Synopsis: Activists and experts are advocating plant-based alternatives to dairy food.

Significance of Dairy sector:
  • Harvesting animals for dairy and animal-based products in India is a major source of livelihood for 150 million dairy farmers.
  • The products are a source of nutrition and food security for a significant population as well.
  • The dairy sector accounts for 2 per cent of the national gross domestic product.
  • Besides the holy significance of the cow in Hindu tradition guided by age-old traditional wisdom, turmeric milk, desi ghee and cow urine have been considered a panacea for several diseases.
  • Milk, ghee, paneer and milk-based sweets and products have been an inseparable part of the Indian palate.
Need of plant-based alternative to dairy sector:
  1. First, harmful consequences of animal harvesting on climate. Agriculture contributes approximately 16 per cent of India’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Methane from ruminant belching and animal waste contributes about 75 percent of the total GHG emissions.
  2. Second, India is increasingly becoming water-stressed due to exploding human and cattle population growth. A typical crossbred cow consumes about 1,100 liters/day. Multinational companies such as Nestle SA and Danone SA have also been accused of promoting the water-intensive dairy industry in Punjab and the neighboring states.
  3. Third, animal exploitation is the leading cause of zoonotic diseases. Evidence suggests that the adoption of plant-based diets and lifestyles, referred to as veganism, may result in a decrease in the threat of zoonotic diseases.
  4. Fourth, the appalling conditions in cattle rearing have been widely condemned.
    • Such as artificial insemination, widespread use of growth hormones to boost milk production, injecting oxytocin into milch cattle, the slaughter of male calves, abandoning cattle that are sterile, and selling livestock to slaughterhouses and tanneries.
Challenges:
  1. First, 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, with positive consequences for the planet.
  2. Second, PETA implored Amul to introduce vegan alternatives due to ecological and health benefits of plant-based food, including milk.
    • However, Amul recently launched an advertising campaign challenging PETA’s claims that plant-based alternatives are the way forward to create a sustainable food system.
    • Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) notified that the word ‘milk’ cannot be used for plant-based dairy alternatives.
    • Also, questions have been raised about lab-produced plant-based milk for human consumption.
    • 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.
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