The dairy industry sent a strongly worded opinion piece to the Guardian today following the publication of a vitriolic article against alleged practices on dairy farming. Working with AHDB Dairy, the NFU, the NFUS, NFU Cyrmu, the RABDF, RUMA and the CLA, Dairy UK addressed serious concerns about false allegations peddled against the dairy industry. The full piece is expected to be published on the Guardian website in the coming days.
It takes a lot of passion and dedication to work in the dairy industry.
Rain or shine, farmers get up before dawn to care for their cows. Processors and manufacturers adhere to stringent rules to ensure that consumers can pick up a wholesome bottle of fresh milk from the shop every day. Vets will drive up to the farm in the middle of the night should a cow require urgent care.
So imagine our distress when we must fend off aggressive and gratuitous accusations which make for a good soundbite but do not stand scrutiny. Sadly, we know all too well that it is a lot easier for our detractors to use strong and empty words than to stick to the facts.
Our goals as an industry are quite simple. We want well-nourished and healthy people, healthy animals and a healthy planet. Animal welfare is paramount and we operate with some of the most robust standards across the world while always striving to surpass them.
Yet the author of "Dairy is scary. The public are waking up to the darkest part of farming" sets out to deliberately distort this.
Calf and cow welfare is at the heart of every good dairy farm in the UK. Dairy farmers want to provide the best standard of care for both the cow and the calf throughout their life, making effort to ensure the animals are healthy and prospering. The vast majority of dairy cows graze outdoors although like humans, they are grateful for shelter when the weather turns.
Hutches are seen by experts as one of the best systems of rearing young calves before they are moved into groups. They comply with all welfare requirements for animal well-being and general health and allow the all-essential social contact calves need without risk of bullying. This leads to better health and bio-security, and less antibiotic use. Done well and to a high standard, this approach is recognised worldwide as offering the best start for calves through a warm, safe and social environment with individual care.
The writer is completely misinformed about use of medicines in dairy farming in the UK and, in fact, in Europe, where no hormones or antibiotics can be given to animals to promote growth or production. These medicines are tightly controlled and any treatments must be prescribed by the farm's vet and only in the interests of the animal's health and welfare. Strict withdrawal rules for meat and milk during the period of treatment mean no traces of that medicine are able to reach the food chain.
Cows calve once a year, prompting milk production which lasts around 10 months before the cow naturally stops. This is the same for bovine animals on farms or in the wild. It's what has made cows so valuable to human nutrition for thousands of years.
Last but not least, what really matters is good management practice on farm, not the scale of the farm.
All consumers have a right to choose what they eat and should be able to do so based on correctly presented facts. As food producers, we have a duty to give the tools to make educated choices and we do so honestly and honourably.
So shoppers, let's chat! If you want to know the real truth about dairy farming, don't rely on the misinformation of someone who is intent on attacking the UK's dairy industry. Please get out there, visit a farm, talk to a farmer, ask a vet, look up how cheese or butter is made. We're proud of our industry and we're always happy to talk so people can make an informed and empowered choice next time they buy their daily pinta or favourite yogurt.
National Farmers Union
National Farmers Union Cymru
National Farmers Union Scotland
Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers
Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance
Country Land and Business Association