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Cruel business of artificially inseminating cows

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By Maneka Gandhi

India has the world’s largest number of cattle. They are not being worshipped in the temples, they are not ambling through the countryside eating as they move. They are being hit by farmers in whose fields they come to eat, they are being thrown acid on by urban fruit sellers, they are being poisoned and taken away by people who strip their skin for leather, they are being kept tied in filthy small stalls for milk, they are being put onto overcrowded trucks and taken for illegal slaughter, they are being herded into jails called gaushalas, where they stand in their own faeces, till they fall down dead of starvation. They eat plastic, they drink from filthy gutters, they are hit by passing cars.

There are no happy cows or buffaloes in India.

Since 2014, when the BJP government came in with a vow towards stopping the export of meat, India has been the world’s largest exporter of cow meat (“beef”), even surpassing Brazil. Both countries now account for almost 40% of the world’s cow meat production. And we are the largest milk producer in the world across the globe, outranking the EU, the US, and China.

Most cows and buffaloes do not breed naturally any more. As a person who hires hundreds of vets, I know that they may know nothing at all about diagnosis and medicine, but all of them know about artificial insemination. This is the primary focus of all veterinary colleges.

To keep the milk and meat going, India has a large national breeding programme. Semen is extracted from bulls and sent across the country to be used by practically all those in the business of milk, to begin with, and meat later – 80% of all dairy cows are impregnated artificially. In natural breeding, one ejaculation produces one or two calves at most.

A study was done on the industry of sperm farming, and frozen semen technology, between 2014 and 2016 (Journal of Human Animal Studies, Yamini Narayanan, 2018). Apart from studying the documentation and doing hundreds of interviews with people involved in semen production, industry policy, and animal protection, the authors also studied the government owned semen stations in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, seeing firsthand the process of semen extraction, quality assessment, storage, and transportation to dairies. There, the semen would be used to artificially inseminate cows. A single semen extraction can produce hundreds of calves, since it is divided into amounts just sufficient to ensure conception.

So many Indians have stopped drinking milk because they are outraged about the abuse of dairy cows and male calves. But most are unaware of the extreme cruelties involved in sperm extraction.

The study found that bulls are taken at 18 months and tethered by their noses in small groups in barns with little space, or kept singly in isolation in small stalls for years. They become frustrated and agitated, and the ropes in their noses are used to control them, causing wounds and often maggot infestations. Each bull goes to the semen extraction centre twice a day, four days a week. A dummy cow is propped up and the bull has to mount her and ejaculate into an artificial, temperature-controlled vagina. Bulls that won’t, or can’t perform undergo the painful process of electro-ejaculation. This procedure uses a 12-24-volt jolt of electricity applied through a probe in the rectum. It is called “human-assisted extraction of semen” and was started in the late 1960s. (Imagine a man being made to ejaculate by having an electric rod shoved into his anus- twice a day for years). A single ejaculation provides 500 to 600 sperm ‘doses,’ each containing 20 million sperm. This happens to each bull for 5-10 years (depending on his semen output and quality) and then he is sent to slaughter. The semen is deep frozen in liquid nitrogen and then sent round India. This ghastly invasive reproductive technology was the reason for the “success” of the White Revolution, or Operation Flood, in the 1970s, making India a leading milk producer – but exchanging quality for quantity. Milk has never been of that same purity and quality ever again.

Indian animal husbandry departments have more than 60 frozen-semen farms and about 77,000 artificial insemination centres. There are no rules, no animal welfare protection for these bulls. The psychological and physical traumas of bulls are treated as irrelevant to semen extraction.

What is the effect of electro ejaculation on the bull’s body?
The rod or probe in the rectum has ring electrodes which surround the barrel of the probe. These electrodes stimulate nerves other than those required for electro ejaculation. In particular, the nerves of the muscles in the hind limb are affected, resulting in strong contractions of the muscles of the legs, thighs and back. These contractions are severe enough with, some types of probes, to cause haemorrhage and bruising of affected muscles and stiffness for a few days.

In studies done on the physiological distress changes in the plasma, cortisol level of animals were checked as an indicator of the degree of distress being experienced by animals. Plasma cortisol levels rose sharply in bulls 15 minutes after electro ejaculation and remained elevated for 2-4 hours, showing extreme distress (Source: Electro ejaculation: a welfare issue? Surveillance vol. 22). The Netherlands and Denmark have banned this practice due to its cruelty.

None of these farms – like most everything in the animal husbandry sector – run properly. Bulls should be examined for optimum physical health. They should be fed extremely well, exercised and kept happy in order to ensure optimal semen quality. This does not happen in a single centre. Most of the bulls are sick, underfed, never exercised and very rarely checked for disease.

So what has happened? India has a much lower rate of success than other countries, using artificial insemination, in spite of having the world’s largest artificial bovine reproductive breeding centres. The bulls are kept badly and the semen being sent round is often diseased, causing abortions in the cows. This has a direct bearing on human health, and the spread of tuberculosis has been directly linked to the brucellosis in milk cattle which comes through the semen. There are many more diseases that come through this extracted semen, and I will write about them in the next column.

Put yourself in the place of the bull. As long as you drink milk, this is what will happen to this young virile animal. Do you want to be responsible for this terrible cruelty?

(To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org)