The Covid-19 pandemic has fundamentally altered our relationship with food, fauna, environment, health, and ecosystem.

Nature, science, and spirituality in a balanced form are needed for every living creature on this earth. These three components are the essence of life, but the human race has has ruptured the balance between these three. Science can be of great help as well as as harm.

This is the era of genetic manipulations which has altered our relationships with plants, microbes, and animals. The knowledge on genetic modifications can help us to get human insulin from bacteria, calf rennet from yeast, and high yielding crops. But their misue can also lead to a great deal of harm. The emergence of new diseases, their spread, antimicrobial resistance, and climate changes are the side effects of such scientific developments.

Uncontrolled use of genetically modified crops and foods is going to cause irreversible damage to mankind. We have started promoting synthetic foods, ultra-processed foods with a lot of chemicals and biological materials without knowing much about their short- and long-term effects.

The Vegan lobby is now finding fault with mil and milk products. The rearing of cow, milking and the use of dairy products in our society has started since Vedic times. Consumption of milk by infants and adults have given them the capability to digest lactose and has greatly benefitted the human race.

Our changed lifestyle and consumption of highly processed foods and chemicals has led to greater incidences of diseases such as cancer and diabetes.

Some animal rights activists are against the consumption of milk. If this gathers momentum it will hit the dairy economy badly.

Dairying alone in a broad area of animal husbandry gives livelihood to about 600 million people directly in the world. This also helps to maintain ecological balance. So removing a cow from this earth will lead to poorer nutrition, poorer economy, and will damage the ecosystem. It will also make a major dent in the UN’s sustainable development goals to reduce malnutrition and food security.

Generally, animals live on crop residues or pastureland, which is not suitable for growing crops. Without cows, the additional cropland needed to replace dairy would need to be generated. Can this be done by cutting down some extra forests to grow those crops?

The dairy sector is also being blamed for greenhouse gas emissions, but it is responsible for about 3 per cent of emissions. However, the sector plans to become carbon neutral by 2050. Compared to other sectors, industrial (21 per cent), transportation (14 per cent), the cows’ contribution is less. Further, cows primarily produce methane, which is very short-lived compared to the carbon emitted by fossil fuels, which remain in the environment for a very long time.

In India, dairying is dominated by small farmers and about 95 per cent of milk comes from the farmers having 3-5 animals. These animals are kept in the open, and hence emissions do not last long. In villages, there is a practice of drying dung and using it as fuel. Generation of biogas, making fertiliser, etc., makes dairying a non-significant contributor to adverse environmental effects.

It is time for society to become aware of changes taking place in the environment, food, and industrial development and critically analyse them without getting swayed by social media fads. It is time to use our wisdom and decide what is good for us. We need to protect our environment, go close to nature, respect ecology, and go for natural foods.

Prajapati is a Chairperson and Parmar is a Research Fellow at Verghese Kurien Centre of Excellence, Institute of Rural Management, Anand, Gujarat. Views are personal