Burning Questions
Fellowship Award Winners

Jesse Robbins

Location: U.S.
Academic field: Sociology
Award category: PhD Holder

Guidance Memo

  • Title: Dairy production in India: Animal welfare implications and public perceptions
  • What We Learned From It:
    • Dairy consumption in India: 1) India is the world's largest dairy consumer. 2) Fluid milk and ghee makes up 3/4 of all dairy products consumed. 3) India's growing population, affluence, demographic changes, and liberalized trade policies are expected to contribute to increased dairy demand.
    • Dairy production in India: 1) Launched in 1970, Operation Flood spread the cooperative dairy model throughout India and vastly increased dairy production. 2) Today, India is world's largest milk producer with more than 80 million farmers and 500 million cattle. 3) Both cattle and buffalo are raised for milk production but productivity per animal is very low. 4) Most dairy farms are very small, but large commercial dairies are increasing. 5) Most dairy goes through unorganized markets; organized sector consist of cooperatives and private companies.
    • How animal welfare is assessed on dairy farms, and the major dairy animal welfare challenges in India: 1) Size of a farm is not associated with welfare status of the animals on that farm. 2) Most animal welfare challenges faced by dairy animals in India relate to lack of basic animal care, poor/uncomfortable housing, tethering and abandonment. 3) As dairy production in India intensifies, animal welfare will likely improve, but new animal welfare issues will emerge.
    • India’s unique socio-cultural context and how this shapes public debate about dairy cattle welfare: 1) Cattle has sacred status. 2) India is home to the D'harmic religions which place high value on the principle of non-harm to animals (Ahimsa). 3) Cattle slaughter is banned or restricted in many states, leading farmers to abandon unproductive cattle. 4) Indians appear divided on the implications of intensified dairy farming for animal welfare.
    • Recommendations for front-line persons interested in the animal welfare implications of the Indian dairy sector. 1) Prioritize public outreach to most receptive demographic (younger, educated, affluent, females, pet owners). 2) Conduct pilot studies to benchmark dairy animal welfare and actual consumer demand for animal-friendly products. 3) Organize symposia where farmers, dairy scientists, animal ethicists and religious authorities can discuss relationship between dairy farming, animal welfare, and religion in India. 4) Focus on animal welfare issues, not farm size/type.

Some of the Things We Really Liked when We Read the Application:

  • Dairy production in India is an increasingly important issue as India is currently the world’s largest dairy producer and consumer, and although most dairy production in India consists of small subsistence farms, large-scale operations are becoming much more common. 
  • Welfare of dairy animals in India is a complex and nuanced topic that is rarely studied and raised. Many people assume that as cows are revered in India, these animals' welfare is guaranteed. But public perceptions and actual well-being of the animals may not align. One needs to have a better understanding of the real life situation.


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