Importance of preserving native cattle breeds
The White Revolution was launched in 1970, with a view to making India milk sufficient. It made India into the world's largest milk producer, surpassing the USA in 1998, with about 17 percent of global output in 2010–11. In 30 years the official story is that milk production has again doubled. But this cannot be true because all the cattle going for illegal slaughter now are milking cows and this figure runs into lakhs. Also the government’s own FSSAI reports are that as much as 80% of milk on the market is fake. From time to time a survey of the number of cattle is done. This is mainly concocted by bureaucrats sitting at a ministry desk and it is done so that more money can bebrought into this sector. Vets on the ground in the districts are never involved in any headcount and there is no methodology till today by which a headcount can be done. It is like the tiger count during the eighties, a mathematical exercise done by doubling numbers and then multiplying them again. When a methodology was worked out, and a proper survey was done, the numbers were not 25,000, as the government claimed, but only 1,400. The same thing will prove true of cattle. After all, we are the largest exporters of beef in the world — you cannot have milk and meat from the same animal. If there was enough milk why is half of India drinking reconstituted dried milk, falsely labelled fresh?
India has 37 pure cattle breeds. Five of these — Sahiwal (at 2000-4000 kg/lactation on average), Gir (2000-6000 kg/lactation on average), Red Sindhi (2000-4000 kg/lactation on average), and Tharparkar and Rathi (1800-3500 kg/lactation on average each), — are known for their milking prowess. These breeds are now on the verge of extinction, thanks to the White Revolution.
Merely helping small farmers increase their cows’ food and water intake, and living conditions, could have had miraculous results. (Indian cows, for instance, are doing really well in Brazil. In 2011, a pure Gir named Quimbanda Cal broke its own 2010 record of delivering 10,230 kilolitres of milk a year, with a daily yield of 56.17 kilolitres). But instead of focusing on — and improving — the reasons why the yield of these cows was low in India, the government in the 1960s started crossbreeding Indian cows with imported bulls and semen.
One of the main reasons for India’s presently looming milk crisis — and the disappearance of India’s desi cows — is a faulty premise in official thinking about exotic crossbreeds, which no government has tried to revise. Add to this, a deliberate misrepresentation of the viability of desi cows ( so that we can keep importing cows, and officials can keep going abroad to look at them) and it is entirely believable that India will become a milk importing nation. In the next 10 years, the projected demand for milk in India will touch 180 million tonnes (as I said before, most demand is now being met with fake milk). The National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) warns that if India cannot keep pace, it will have to start importing milk, leading to much higher consumer prices.
Cattle improvement was linked to the sole methodology of bringing in alien breeds of Jersey and Holstein-Friesen and using them in a nation-wide cross-breeding program to improve the domestic milk production capacity. The imported Jersey purebreds, on an average, produce 3,000 to 5,000 litres in a lactation year. But the resulting Jersey crossbreeds, that were born, do not yield more than 2,500 to 3,000 litres. Imagine if the country had, instead, gone in for developing the yielding of its own indigenous breeds, India’s milk production would have surpassed all global records.
Indiscriminate crossbreeding of Indian cattle with foreign breeds, under the Intensive Cattle Breeding Programme (ICDP), has already put more than 80 per cent of Indian cattle in the nondescript category. But, official data continues to be fudged: when official data records the average yield of indigenous cows as 2.2 kg daily, it clubs non-dairy draught breeds together with the five top milch breeds. This deliberately undermines the performance of India’s best milch cows — such as Girs and Rathis — to establish the supremacy of exotic cattle.
Meanwhile Indian cattle breeds are doing exceptionally well abroad, in the US, Australia and Brazil.
We are losing out not just on milk output but the quality of milk. It is now a known fact that there are two kinds of milk: A 1 and A 2. A 2 milk is from indigenous breeds, and scientific evidence shows Indian (zebu) cattle give A 2 milk. European varieties of cattle, like Holstein, give A 1 milk, and evidence has started piling up linking A1 protein (present in allEuropean breed milk) with high risks of type-1 diabetes, coronary heart disease, allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, arteriosclerosis, sudden infant death syndrome, autism and schizophrenia.
Since we have almost wiped out all our own cattle, what should be done with the half breeds? They cannot work in the fields, nor are they strong enough to be draught animals. In any case, the demand for draught animals has dropped, as mechanization increases. So, farmers don’t keep males any more. Half breeds are not kept for breeding. In any case, the government has put so much emphasis on artificial insemination that one bull can inseminate thousands of cows.
So, it is the male calves that fill most of the trucks going illegally for slaughter. India’s anti-slaughter laws do nothing to prevent cows and bulls, and male calves, from being sent to legal and illegal slaughterhouses, where they are killed for beef, veal and leather.
India retains its top spot as the world’s largest exporter of beef, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and has extended its lead over the next highest exporter, Brazil. According to the data, India exported 2.4 million tonnes of beef and veal in 2015, compared to 2 million tonnes by Brazil and 1.5 million by Australia. India itself accounts for 23.5 per cent of global beef exports. This is up from a 20.8 per cent share from 2014. This is the recorded amount.
Unofficially it is almost double. It is estimated that almost two million cows are smuggled, across a 2,400-mile poorly-patrolled border, from India into Bangladesh every year. Inside India's borders, people dodge the law by smuggling cows to states (Kerala, West Bengal, Arunachal, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim) where there are little or no penalties for cow slaughter. India reportedly has about 3,600 legal slaughterhouses and 50,000 illegal ones, many of which slaughter cows. Much of Indian beef finds its way to the Middle East and Europe from Kerala and Bangladesh. The trade is unbelievably barbaric and much of the money earned is by criminal gangs. According to U.P. police officers, much of the revenue goes into guns.
So how can we stop the males from being killed. May I suggest that we not produce them at all. That the animal husbandry department put its resources into sex selection.
Already in the West, a lot of dairies now use gender selected semen when breeding their cows. Sexed semen is semen in which the fractions of X-bearing (female) and Y-bearing (male) sperm have been modified from the natural mix, through sorting and selection. The method works by staining sperm with a DNA-binding fluorescent dye. The bovine Y-chromosome bearing sperm contain 3.8% less DNA than the X-chromosome bearing sperm. Because of the dye, the male and female sperm can be electrically charged differently and separated by a fluorescence-activated cell sorter. The method is fairly accurate, with 90% of the sperm containing the desired sex. Using this technology, farmers can breed only female calves.
There is an American company that sells sexed semen to India. I took up this matter with the ministry and was told that the American firm was extremely expensive. But why is no Indian firm working on this?
I would suggest that the government do two things: use its resources on sex selection in cattle, so that males are not born and killed with so much cruelty, and preserve indigenous cow breeds, rather than continuing to fixate on unsuitable exotic breeds.
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