Monday, March 31, 2008

Brett the Vet - The Milky Way

Mammals are warm blooded vertebrates of the class secreting milk to feed the young. The word originates from the Latin mamma meaning breast. This is a phenomenon humans share with all other mammals ranging from shrews to elephants, including whales and dolphins. Instinct drives the newborn straight to the teat, the post umbilical lifeline.

Mother’s milk! There is nothing quite like it for the infant: A perfect blend of all the nutrients required to nurture the growing mammal, presented in the most sensuous manner imaginable. There is something immensely satisfying about babies suckling from their mothers. They convey all the signs of contentment and good health.

Strangely there is a market driven tendency in the western world to feed baby humans artificial substitutes for the sake of la bella figura. Animals must breast feed, unless they are calves born on a dairy farm where they are separated from their mothers soon after birth once they have taken colostrum. They are given milk substitutes in a bucket which inevitably gives rise to digestive problems. Cow’s milk bizarrely becomes part of the so called ‘balanced diet’ of humans where it can ironically also lead to digestive upsets and other health issues in some people.

The profit driven modern dairy industry is concerned with size and quantity. This comes at a price for cows that are treated like machines in a factory. The calves, particularly the males, are often grossly neglected or sold to inappropriate ‘farmers’ where they suffer and die. Or worse still, they endure brief and miserable lives as part of the veal industry: This so called delicacy is derived from the most indelicate process. Connoisseurs of veal demand soft, pale meat. To achieve this calves are raised inside dark barns, in cramped crates and fed nutritionally deficient rations. This process of deprivation and suffering turns out inferior flesh. It’s a shameful disgrace on the perpetrators and consumers alike.

The level of humanity found in small scale dairies becomes a serious consideration if we are to encourage and support good animal husbandry from farmers who truly care for their animals. When we choose a product of known origin we can make an informed decision about ethically sound agricultural practice.

In Prince Albert we are fortunate to have Gay’s Dairy where the well being of prize Guernsey cows takes priority. Cows graze on pastures as much as possible. They are even given names, reflecting a tradition of individual consideration and care. Calves, although removed from their mothers after a week, are given space, love and lots of attention. The heifers are raised to join the herd later, and the males are selected for stud. Any surplus calves are homed to carefully screened owners.

Pasteurization feeds into our fear based, insurance bound view of the world. We can indeed contract serious diseases from the milk of unhealthy dairy herds. Our main concerns here are brucellosis and tuberculosis. But if the herd is established free of these diseases by a simple test, and they are kept in dry, hygienic conditions, the milk need not be pasteurized, as is the case with Gay’s Dairy. We’ve all observed what happens when heat is applied to the white of an egg. A similar process occurs invisibly to the proteins in heated milk, which some say render it less nutritious and possibly even harmful to drink. Milk certainly tastes better fresh from the cow.

Food of animal origin always comes with a sacrifice the conscientious consumer simply cannot ignore, because he or she has the power to make a difference to the way animals are dealt with behind the screams.

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