Grazing – commitment or token gesture?
It is unsurprising, in the wake of the work we have done to raise awareness that not all milk is the same, others are now looking to establish labels providing an assurance that dairy cows are grazed in fields.
Waitrose launched a new TV advert in April, shortly after I appeared on BBC Countryfile talking about free range milk, to tell people that their milk comes from cows grazed in fields for 100 days a year. Simple statements appear on the screen to say “All of the cows that provide our fresh milk and cream have access to grazing” and “We are the only supermarket to guarantee this”. I have looked at the Waitrose website to try and find out more about what those words “access to grazing” really mean, but I struggle to find any clear definition. It would be nice to understand if it means all the cows have to be grazed and, if so, for how many hours each day? Can the cows be kept indoors at night time during the grazing season?
It is important that consumers understand what the word “access” really means. When grazing is limited to 100 days a year, it is worth bearing in mind that most cows spend around 60 days a year as ‘dry cows’. This is a period when the cows are waiting to calve and begin a new lactation, when they are not producing any milk. I have heard of some dairy companies issuing contracts that allow producers to just graze cows at the end of lactation and when they are dry, enabling them to a tick a box to say cows are grazed. It has long been a concern of mine that images of cows in fields are widely used to perpetuate the perception that all cows live in fields. When the truth is, there is no commitment to sourcing milk from herds that are grazed whatsoever, by those producing and selling the product. Back in May 2014 I wrote a blog post expressing concerns about others seizing the opportunity to promote a half-baked version of the Free Range Dairy concept. So, I am pleased Waitrose have not labelled their milk as ‘Free Range’. They have simply given an assurance that the cows supplying their milk “have access to grazing” for 100 days a year.
I took this photograph on the 7th September 2012, of me clutching a fistful of grass, when looking for a way to demonstrate my commitment to providing cows with the freedom to graze in fields and offer consumers a more informed choice about the milk they buy. This image has subsequently become the Free Range Dairy Pasture Promise logo, a registered Trade Mark, which you will only find on milk that comes from cows grazed for a minimum of 180 days (and nights) a year.
Having done much to break down the myth that all cows are grazed, I see many selling milk and dairy products now looking for ways to define grazing in the minds of their customers. Our organisation is not here to offer a token gesture to grazing cows, in an attempt to brand and sell milk. We are working with farmers who make a clear commitment to keeping cows in fields, to deliver a fair deal for them, their cows and you. We are happy to share our standards and tell you exactly what we mean by grazing, because we want to provide you with a more informed choice. 180 days at grass means that cows and dairy herd replacements on the farm, spend at least half of their life grazing in fields.
Please help us to establish 180 days and nights at grass as the recognised minimum standard for Free Range Milk in the UK, before others dilute the value we have established. If you are a farmer you can join us here. If you are simply someone who buys milk, wants to see cows in fields and support traditional British dairy farms, you can make the Pasture Promise now, to demand a more informed milk choice.
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