The Environmental Impact of “Ahimsa” Milk Exceeds that of Beef


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“Ahimsa” Milk is milk that is produced without any apparent cruelty towards the cows. However, when we extract the maternal secretions of cows, we are essentially exploiting them. Further, we can show that the environmental impact of “Ahimsa” milk exceeds that of beef and therefore, “Ahimsa” milk production is hugely detrimental to wildlife. Here is the calculation:

The water footprint of milk is 1000 liters for every liter of milk. However, the water footprint assumes that we are ruthlessly turning the cow into beef as soon as she becomes “unproductive” at the age of 6 years. During this shortened lifespan, she produces milk for only 4 of the 6 years.

“Ahimsa” milk production occurs without such killing and therefore, the cow would live for a full life span of 20-25 years. The male calves would also be allowed to live out their full lives. Then the water footprint of a liter of milk would be 10,000 – 12,500 liters. The dry weight of a liter of milk is 140 grams, which means that the water footprint of “Ahimsa” milk is 71,430 – 89,290 liters per Kg of dry matter biomass. Please note that the water footprint would be proportionally greater if the calves partake of a portion of their mother’s milk.

The water footprint of beef is 2500 gallons per pound. Each pound of beef has a dry weight of 0.38 lbs. Therefore, the water footprint of beef is 2500X3.79X2.2/0.38 = 54,860 liters per Kg of dry matter biomass.

Hence, the water footprint of “Ahimsa” milk exceeds that of beef. Please Go Vegan as there is no right way to exploit another.

The Courage of Vegans
A Public Vegan Policy
Sailesh Rao
srao@climatehealers.org
2 Comments
  • Miles
    Posted at 06:37h, 01 June Reply

    Unlike conventional farming, cow feed is not separately grown in organic farming. Here, cattle feed will comprise of by-products & left overs from food production for humans. For e.g., in south India, the main cattle feed ‘vaikkol’ (rice straw) is a by product of rice production. Every 4 ton of rice production will leave behind 6 tons of rice straw. This completely changes the water footprint calculation made by the author. Because, in water footprint, most of the total volume of water (98%) refers to the water footprint of the feed for the animals. Drinking water for the animals, service water and feed mixing water account only for 1.1%, 0.8% and 0.03%. If the main feed for the cattle is not exclusively grown and is a byproduct or wastage of human food production, traditional-organically farmed cows are responsible for only 1.93% of what they’ve been blamed for. And if you take in to account the amount the carbon footprint cows reduce by giving natural fertilisers, pesticides and the bull (once a male calf) by replacing tractors (imagine the carbon imprint a tractor production will have!!), we will realise cows are the easy and perhaps the main source of sustainability. We need to understand that the way to live holistically is to acknowledge the way of nature (Dharma) and try our best to stick close to it.

    And btw, veganism is not enough for sustainable living. Organic, local & ethical consumerism is the key. The water & carbon imprint of an imported fruit like Washington apple is much more than of locally sourced meat!

    • Hiten
      Posted at 16:55h, 19 July Reply

      I hear and acknowledge the comments by you (Miles) regarding organic farming and the justification and need to have cattle around for it. So, as far as agriculture is concerned we might say there is perhaps room for doubt that we can do agriculture without animals (hopefully without abusing them). However, as far as meat and dairy is concerned, I do not have any such doubts that it is a collectively unsustainable choice today. There are enough reputed studies showing that now.

      Firstly, consider this plain simple fact that the population of the world has increased around 3 times (from ~2.5 billion to ~7.5 billion) and India’s population has increased around 4 times (from ~0.3 billion to ~1.3 billion) since around the 1940s. And, India, despite being the leading organic food producer in the world, is utilizing only around 2.6% of its total cultivation area for organic farming according to article (in https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/agriculture/india-has-the-highest-number-of-organic-farmers-globally-but-most-of-them-are-struggling-61289). So we cannot easily say that all this milk production is anyway nearly the by-product of organic farming. I even have enough doubts that milk production simply from organic farm feed purely for dairy can scale to feed today’s population’s milk demands. Are all these numbers lining up – milk demands, non-pasture organic farm feed needed, farm animals needed to replace tractors, etc. – for a low footprint organic farm feed, non-pasture based milk even if all land became organic? I don’t think so or may be we don’t know.

      What we do know however that there is certainly cruelty just due to the scale of today’s milk production. Organic or otherwise, the cows really don’t know that they have to repeatedly keep becoming mothers for all that extra milk (for 1 billion extra Indians)? Not to mention that our favorite dairy ingredients cheese and ghee require an order of magnitude more milk for production. I cannot think of this as anything other than wholesale abuse of cattle in the world. It only makes sense to me that much of the cattle animals are being specifically grown (and abused) for dairy-meat-leather; and it is the poor who is made to do that soul-destroying work to meet such demands. No surprise as India is the leading exporter of beef in the world according to latest 2016 reports.

      Our consciousness has now evolved to be wise enough to realize that there is really no need for such cruel behavior to our fellow beings. This simply does not appear to be the way of nature (Dharma). Besides, it is not difficult to find substitutes most of the time as far as nutrition is concerned. This is whole another topic on which I can share my ideas if anyone is interested; I did not simply give up on my nutrition to become vegan. There are many vegans around the world, and well-respected ones too.

      Veganism for me is not just a giving up of animal products (which although is largely needed today). I also do not believe in silver bullets. Veganism for me is about giving up unsustainable choices and engaging in sustainable ones (at least the ones that are so clear); it obviously even includes giving up imported Washington apples and being local as you mentioned. This is also the point alluded by the author in their documentary ‘A prayer for compassion’. Best wishes.

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