A Gorakshya (Cow Protection) Perspective by Syamasundara Das
I am submitting a response to an article I read very recently by Jennifer Mishler in Sentient Media. Plant-Based Companies Call Attention to ‘the Cow in the Room’ at COP26 (https://sentientmedia.org/plant-based-companies-call-attention-to-the-cow-in-the-room-at-cop26/)
In Jennifer Mishler’s article she mentions ‘environmental harms of animal agriculture, often left out of climate change discussions—and most importantly—not addressed in climate policy or action.’ At first glance we might think yes, we would agree with that, we have heard it so many times that it practically rolls off our own tongues. But I ask you to hold on for a minute and pick out the various issues and wonder if we agree with the premise then. In the article the environmental harms are not specifically sited and hence we don’t know what is being referred to. It is clear throughout the article that the drive is towards a plant-based diet and a reduction if not elimination of animal agriculture. In this article I am not going to talk about all the many types of animal agriculture as that is not my focus, here I want to bring our attention to Cows or specifically Cow Protection or Gorakshya and how this might be affected by articles like this. So let me restate then my understanding of the article with cows in mind. The lobbyists are proposing a reduction in dairy production and consumption.
“We simply cannot afford to ignore the cow in the room any longer—the science is clear that targets to reduce meat and dairy production and consumption are crucial if we are to meet internationally agreed-upon climate targets,” said Claire Bass, Executive Director of Humane Society International/UK.
I am sure the regular readers of Danavats will not disagree that meat eating should be reduced or better still negated and certainly would not support the raising of cows for slaughter. Yet we want to balance any position we hold when exposed to the liberal statements where Srila Prabhupada sets out conditions when meat eating, even cows, could be available.
Srila Prabhupada ‘…But don’t eat cows until after they have died a natural death. We don’t say, “Don’t eat.” You are so very fond of eating cows. All right, you can eat them, because after their death we have to give them to somebody, some living entity. (conversation with Yogesvara Das cited in Journey of Self Discovery).
Within our realm of Gorakshya there is a place for those who don’t have plant and dairy based diets. Just wait a while it will die anyway. Something must be done with the body. You can have it then, even to eat. Hare Krishna’s are not going to be eating any cows even those that died naturally but for the general society there is a natural source without any killing. There is scope within the practices of Gorakshya to provide dead cows for the general society. From a purifying your consciousness perspective we would say don’t eat meat, or at least reduce your intake, however from a societal perspective Srila Prabhupada has outlined a practical step so those who cannot or will not completely give it up can continue within a limited setting.
In regard to having a discussion with the leaders of society about animal-based agriculture, we are likely to have many points we would like them to consider. One that comes to my mind foremost is if we want to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels then why not increase our dependence on animal traction or in our case ox traction. Really? Using oxen for transportation. That is very controversial, forward looking but drawing from the past, sustainability but at a slower pace, not high tech but locally available low tech. Certainly this is going to go in one ear and leave quickly through the other of any leader exposed to such a notion. Come to think of it we might want to have this discussion with our own inhouse leaders as a precursor to our attempts to save the world.
The article goes on ‘Research shows that factory farming is accelerating the climate crisis. Despite only providing 18 percent of the world’s calories, the livestock industry uses 77 percent of the land used for agriculture—and contributes more than 16 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. One recent study found the animal agriculture industry’s impact to be much higher, at nearly 57 percent of total emissions.
Here we must take a serious pause and consider what is being said here and wonder does this support a gorakshya position. Here the word factory farming is used and is likely to get many emotional reactions. We can talk about this point a bit later in the article. Here the comparison is on the calorific output of land used for plant-based foods compared with food from animal agriculture. There is a saying give a dog a bad name and hang him. I think this is the same here. Give cows a bad name and then reduce them or eliminate them without really considering the issues. If you want to bamboozle the population talk in terms of calorific output and then compare different rates of calorific output. When any of us consider our food for the day we have an eye on calories if we are trying to lose excess weight, however, I dare say, hardly any of us seriously consider calories in our food choice and aspects of our meals of the day. We mostly choose from our likes and dislikes. We choose foods that satisfy us in some way and are available at our local producer or supplier. To compare a field of beans with the calorific output of dairy cows per acre is an irritation to our normal thinking. I suggest a more realistic question would be how can we provide nutritious food for everyone and in our particular setting with a dairy element. As dairy producers we naturally must ensure the food production is sustainable environmentally, socially, economically and spiritually. The calorie component might be interesting but it not the key consideration. A key question to ask would be can we provide food for the cows we need to provide our dairy, and can we provide the food we need to feed the worlds population. A topic of another article could be where is there a food shortage on the earth and why.
If you are interested in calorie comparisons, then why just compare beans with dairy. Why not compare the calorie measurement of the food production. For example, how many calories are used in growing beans in the machinery manufacturing, in the fuel consumption etc. In the cows you may also want to give a credit to the calories in the dung and what its calorific energy potential is. Bamboozle the readers by talking about something they know little about and then prescribe a solution to a problem you have injected. What we do know is that dairy consumption is at the heart of Agricultural production outlined by Krishna in the Bhagavad- Gita. Tilling the land, Cow Protection and Trade are the natural work of the merchant community. Cow protection or Go-Rakshya is about producing milk and ensuring the cows are protected.
Factory Farms. Dictionary Meaning –a system of rearing livestock using highly intensive methods, by which poultry, pigs, or cattle are confined indoors under strictly controlled conditions. I would say that this method of cattle rearing does not appeal to a cow protector on face value. Our idea is cows grazing the fields and ranging as they wish. However, in the UK, where I am writing from, the cows are generally kept indoors during the winter months for about 5 or 6 months as the ground cannot take the cows hooves during the wet months as this leads to poaching of the soil. So, a normal cow herding system in the UK requires a period of confinement indoors. The notion of highly intensive methods does not ring too well in our minds as it gives the connotation of not really taking care of the cows in a loving environment. Such methods also suggest a strained numerical relationship between cows and their handlers and carers. If you want to save money have less people and more mechanization. Cow Protection is a method of close interaction of the cows and their protectors and if you are choosing the preferred method of hand milking then you have a milking cow to milker of about 8 cows per milker. Natural milking then has a higher labour requirement and a related expense associated with it. This is quite different to the modern milking parlour where one person milks over a hundred cows, or even more extreme an automated system that has a person observing from afar. When we look at our own larger goshalas in Vrindavana and Mayapura we note that for them to have a working goshala in their locations they have adopted a practice of large pens and the fodders brought in. The cows are happy and contented and all their needs are met. Ok some improvements can always be cited, however if you visit and observe the cows you will note how well they are cared for and how happy the cows are. I bring these two goshalas into the discussion as point of reference when we consider what might be wrong with a ‘Factory Farm’ for cows. Having a lot of cows together, some herds have 28,000 cows, is a problem in that such a large quantity of cows together are hardly going to get appropriate pasture opportunity to graze and eat their fodder directly from the land. Again, if we draw on my examples so far. The UK herds are winter housed and so are not grazing 6 months or so a year, our large goshalas in India also do not have sufficient grazing for all their needs. Both examples require fodder to brought in and fed during the times when grazing is not available. Half a year for one example and all year for the other. I am saying this so we can balance our views about what might be wrong with a factory farm for cows system that we could clearly say is a problem. Having a well managed large herd in itself is not a problem if properly run, we are reminded of the massive herds of cows attributed to Krishna and his village in Vrindavana, Ok he had a distinct advantage of having unlimited resources and was able to stretch land use and movement but I think we can draw on a point that we can not be against large herd numbers per se. Our point could be that we are against large herds being poorly run. In a large concentration of cows contained in barns or yards you are faced with the manure and urine resource and how you handle it for the improvement of the land and society. The farmers want this manure and urine for their own crop production and so the manure is not a waste product but it is a resource of added value that needs to be appropriately placed and handled. If a large farm allows its manures to enter water sources then naturally the nutrition content of the manures can overload the ability of the water and its inhabitants to bare it. The solution being done overload the water sources with manures and cow urine. It is not the problem that cows give us dung and urine it is the problem of how their bodily surpluses are used. Often times we find figures where those proposing no cows or less cows calculate the total amount of manure the worlds cows produce and then describe it negatively as being a burden to the earth. Far from it the manures of all the worlds cows is a benefit to the world, but handle it properly.
Methane Gas. Much is being said about the gaseous discharges of the cows from belching and flatulating and usually in a non-too supportive way. We are led to believe that the cows are contributing to the heating of the plant by their methane contributions and that the heating of the planet is a bad thing and should be curtailed. One of the areas of propaganda is that there are too many cows and if there were less the methane load would be reduced and we would have a colder planet. Frankly I am very doubtful about many of the claims being made about the impact of cow gases. Practically speaking all that we know about the cow is beneficial to the cow and to the land. How can we accept that the things we can’t really measure like where has their gas gone be detrimental? It does not seem logical. To find what is the science behind cow methane in the atmosphere you find a maze of information. Which information is authoritative. How much time can a layperson spend dredging through myriads of misleading notions and statements. For me as cow protecting focused person, I cannot accept the idea that cows are detrimental to the planet. Where is such evidence. Statements about it is not evidence. If anybody has a simple study (for my mind) that can settle my doubt I am very interested. Everything we know about the cow is beneficial, why should we assume the gas is not part of this benevolence.
More from the article “We simply cannot afford to ignore the cow in the room any longer—the science is clear that targets to reduce meat and dairy production and consumption are crucial if we are to meet internationally agreed-upon climate targets,” said Claire Bass, Executive Director of Humane Society International/UK.
‘The science is clear’. Is it, where is this clear science. Why should there be a global reduction in dairy production. Why should there be a global reduction in the numbers of cows. How much dairy should each person have available to them in any case. Perhaps we might consider Srila Prabhupadas conversation in New Vrindavana West Virginia in 1974 as a guide
Prabhupāda: So everyone is getting milk? How much?
Kīrtanānanda: As much as they want.
Prabhupāda: As much as they want, then jaundice. [laughter] Too much is not good. They may take minimum half pound per head.
Prabhupāda: Minimum. And maximum one pound. Not more than that. But “Because there is enough, let us eat,” no. That is not good. But children must get at least one pound milk. If they drink more milk, they become stout and strong. ¶
Here in Srila Prabhupadas own words he acknowledges that too much milk can lead to health issues and he gives a recommendation of half a pound to one pound of milk per person per day. For a global population of 7.9 billion people, we might wonder how many cows we need to produce that amount of milk. An internet search informs us that there are about 1 billion cows on the earth. In a comparable study of the UK and what a national cow protected herd would look like I came to a ratio of humans to cows as 6.6:1 and each person would be getting 0.28 litres of milk per day. Simplistically speaking if extrapolate the same ratios globally we can estimate that for a total world population of 7.9 billion we would need a herd of 1.2 billion cows, bulls, calves and oxen. Of course, this simple analysis is not taking into account the differences between bos indicus and bos taurus type cows and their respective milk yields. However, if we were to take into account that bos indicus give less milk then the total global herd would need to be larger. My simple cow protection analysis informs us that there are not too many cows on this earth there are not enough to provide the dairy needs of the whole population if they wanted it. As the world can provide for the present and expanded herd so it can for the food supply.
Drutakarma Prabhu writes ‘The world is far from being overpopulated. A simple calculation shows that all five billion men, women, and children on earth could be placed within the 267,339 square miles of the state of Texas, with each person occupying about fifteen hundred square feet of space. But what about food? A study by the University of California’s Division of Agricultural Science shows that by practicing the best agricultural methods now in use, the world’s farmers could raise enough food to provide an American style diet for ten times the present population. And if people would be satisfied with an equally nourishing but mostly vegetarian diet, we could feed thirty times the present population.
The notion that there are too many cows and they should be reduced is an anti cow position and we as cow protection aspirants should be cautious about how we are exposed to these ideas and how we might use the information in our own presentations. We might support that people should not eat meat because it is not good for their consciousness, and we would certainly say the cows should not be killed. However, we are mindful of Srila Prabhupadas ideas he presented in being able to provide dead cows for those who must continue. It is the management practices of large farms and their attempts at increasing profit at the expense of local environments that we can raise concern about, and our appeal is that land and cows should be farmed responsibly and sustainably. I suggest to you that we are not against the current global herd size, but we are against harmful practices that are overloading and draining local requirements. Hare Krishna