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Drinking milk only from animal welfare stables


More animal welfare, including in milk: This is now also available in the own brands of supermarkets and discounters. The entire trade has switched to a better husbandry level.

Barbara Berner

Anyone who buys their milk in a supermarket or discounter will increasingly see a new label on the packs: husbandry level 3. The four-stage husbandry labeling with 1 as the legal standard and 4 as the premium category has now been extended to drinking milk – previously it was available for meat.

Discounters like Lidl and Aldi are using the new labels and are showing above all: “Only milk from Germany goes into the bags,” emphasizes Henrik Wiedenroth, who is jointly responsible for the changeover process at the discounter giant Lidl. And competitor Aldi also relies on German stables. Dairy farmers with comfortable stables are therefore being sought all over Germany.

Only happy cows in the stable?

One of them is Michael Dörr from Roßdorf in Hesse. He has 300 dairy cows in his stable. There is plenty of space here, the cows can move freely and have lots of light and air. The large fans under the stable roof turn on when the temperature reaches twelve degrees Celsius, because: “Cows don't like it when it's warm,” explains the farmer.

He began the conversion to provide more animal comfort 20 years ago. “Out of conviction,” he says, “even if it didn't bring in more money.” By changing his trading now, he feels like he's finally being rewarded. The dealers pay him three cents more per liter of milk for the product from happier cows – documented by husbandry level 3, which appears yellow on the milk carton.

Animal welfare as Threat to existence?

But of the 51,000 dairy farms in Germany, only a third provide husbandry level 3. “The question of animal welfare quickly becomes a question of existence,” says the dairy farmer, referring to colleagues with older stables.

And the Bavarian Association of Milk Producers (VMB) is “concerned” about the nationwide introduction of the higher husbandry level. In the Free State in particular, half of the farmers work with box stables without an outside climate – and therefore at a maximum of husbandry level 2. And so it becomes problematic for the farmers who cannot change quickly or at all. By the end of the year at the latest, the entire range of drinking milk from the discounters' own brands should have been switched to the higher level.

The Billion dollar business with the milk

The milk market in Germany is huge – the supply level is 120 percent. There is more than enough milk for the 163 dairies in the country. Nevertheless, the milk trucks are currently driving through half of the country to collect livestock level 3 wherever it is available. For farmer Dörr alone, the milk truck comes more than 200 kilometers from the Hohenlohe region. The dairies have to serve the trade, and “then it doesn't matter where the milk comes from,” the farmer adds, shaking his head.

After all: Because the market for animal welfare milk is small and the commercial demand is high, there is more money for the farmers. Depending on the dairy, your surcharge varies between three and four cents per liter. Consumers, on the other hand, do not pay any more money for private label milk with husbandry level 3. Good for the image of the grocery store.

Regional versus feel-good milk

But it's not always as good as it sounds: Not every dairy is enthusiastic about the food trade's advance. Neither does the Hessian Schwälbchen dairy. Here they deliberately do not rely on husbandry level 3, but rather on regionality. 200 farmers supply the milk. And for them, emphasizes CEO Günter Berz-List, she “also bears responsibility.”

At the Hessian dairy, regionality and solidarity come before animal welfare. “We want to take our farmers with us, and we are currently switching to more animal welfare. But not to 3,” explains Günter Berz-List. For many farmers, going from the legal standard to animal welfare level 2 is the first step.

And cheese, yoghurt and quark?

A look into one of these stables in which cows are kept at husbandry level 2: They are not tied down for 365 days, but can move around and – if possible – go to pasture at times. The head of the family business proudly says that their farmers have been feeding their food without GMOs for years, even if this is not actually a requirement for husbandry levels 1 and 2. This is still important for Schwälbchen. And there is something else that concerns the dairy: Not all milk is the same.

The smallest amount of milk produced by German cows becomes drinking milk. The majority is further processed into yoghurt, quark or cheese. And this amount comes predominantly from husbandry levels 1 and 2.

The first food companies are now also relying on a higher quality level for their own brands of cheese. But the truth also means that it no longer only contains milk from local farmers in Germany.

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