Do we need a diary or beef industry?
Posted on April 1st, 2019

Chandre Dharmawardana

Every one has by now heard of how a large number of cows have been imported in recent years, and how they had died causing severe problems to the dairy farmer. A recent report entitled Importing exotic cows which performed poorly under local conditions” by Ananda Wickremasinghe appeared in the Last Sunday Times.

In the 1970s, when I was a Director of the Leather Products corporation (DI became “Lanka Sam”) there was discussion that “Lanka Sam” should have its own livestock and dairy farm to ensure its autonomous supply of cattle skin. This quest was then linked with the more wider national program and the minster at the time, Mr. T. B. Subasinghe, requested me to contribute my views on it.

So, at the time I wrote a brief report, and my views were that of the odd man out, as I recommended that NO state sponsored dairy farming or cattle farming for beef should be initiated in Sri Lanka, where as if a householder or a farm were to have a few cows, such small-scale ventures should be fine.

Of course, my submission was rejected as everyone else supported developing an indigenous dairy and cattle industry.

My objections at that time have now proved to be 100% accurate. The objections are based on the following reasons.

(I) There is now (and there was then) a glut of milk production in the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand  and other countries with large areas of pasture land and low-density human populations. Sri Lanka is a densely populated country and further encroachment of the natural habitat for raising  cows  is something we CANNOT afford to do, as we can hardly accommodate the need for housing and food production for the increasing population. The urban encroachment has now completely transformed the country into asphalt and concrete. Even the Wilpattu has been razed.

(ii) Our cost of production per litre of milk or a kg of beef is actually much more than for the US or NZ farmer. It is much cheaper to import their product and save our land.

(iii)Pasture maintenance requires large fertilizer and water inputs, as well as antibiotics for the animals. One of our Sri Lankan scientists who emigrated to Australia is an authority on pasture lands (Dr. Pari Loganathan) and fertilizer usage. He has studied the gradual degradation of the lands there.  I was proud to hear that he  was briefly one of my chemistry students in the late 1960s!

(iv) Production of meat and animal milk costs a lot of resources compared to producing vegetables, lentils and such legumes. Meat production requires a much higher amount of water than vegetables. IME states (see attached table) that to produce 1kg of meat requires between 5,000 and 20,000 litres of water whereas to produce 1kg of wheat requires between 500 and 4,000 litres of water. One may think that to produce one litre of milk, you only need one litre of water. But that is incorrect, as the cow has to drink much more water to survive to produce one litre. Also, you need to count the water used to grow the grass or fodder. That is why one needs some 1000 liters of water to produce one litre of milk. That is factor of 1000. In the case of beef, it is a factor 15,000 or more!

Furthermore, cows and other grazing animals need a lot of land to graze or grow the fodder. A rough rule of thumb is that you can keep two cows per acre of land, but dairy needs more land than beef cattle, often kept corralled in for intensive farming. Grazed dairy cattle tend to need less antibiotics simply because they produce less milk. Having a high energy feed results in high milk output; however, increased milk output also increases the animal’s physiological stress, leading to a higher incidence of health problems and infectious diseases. Their effluent poisons the ecosystem.

This is why ecological reasons strongly favour the vegetarian diet and lifestyle. Even if one is not a strict vegetarian, it is better to adopt a diet which is high in vegetables and legumes (lentils, peas, “kadala”, mung etc). Milk is a nutritious food, but many civilizations did not use it. The famous China-food study

showed that rural Chinese are quite healthy, long lived and did not use milk or much meat.

However, I am advocating that we don’t NEED to produce the milk.

We can import milk products much more cheaply than if we try to produce them. We must count the huge costs involved in habitat loss, need for large amounts of land and water, to produce something which is available cheaply in the global market. Of course the elite rich classes will want their fresh milk and fresh butter, just as they clamor for “organic food” or French wine. They can pay premium prices for it, and so there will always be a niche market for it, or they can fly it in from Australia quite cheaply.

But Sri Lanka should NOT get involved in  dairy farming for meat or milk. That was my recommendation in 1973, and I further confirm it today.

Water consumption for food items in, litres  (rounded)  Source: IME

Chocolate        1 kg     17,200   

Beef                1 kg     15,400

Sheep Meat     1 kg     10,400

Pork                1 kg     6,00

Butter              1 kg     5,600

Chicken meat   1 kg    4,300

Cheese             1 kg     3,200

Olives              1 kg     3,000

Rice                 1 kg     2,500

Cotton      1 @ 250g    2,500

Pasta (dry)       1 kg     1,900

Bread               1 kg     1,610

Milk                 1 litre   1,020

Apple               1 kg      800

Banana             1 kg     800

Potatoes            1 kg     290

Cabbage            1 kg     240

Tomato             1 kg      210

Egg                   1           200
Tea     1 x 250 ml cup    30

Chandre Dharmawardana, Canada

3 Responses to “Do we need a diary or beef industry?”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    We certainly need dairy, beef and pork industry (in addition to what we have now).

    Of course these industries cost water and resources. However, not doing so is a disaster economically and in nutrition.

    The water requirement is totally misleading. Per capita rice consumption is around 100kg per Sri Lankan annually but per capita beef consumption is only 2kg. Per capita beef consumption can never equal 100kg!

    To produce per capita rice consumption, 250,000L of water is needed.
    To produce per capita beef consumption, 30,000L of water is needed.
    To produce per capita chicken consumption, 31,000L of water is needed.
    To produce per capita pork consumption, 2,400L of water is needed.

    No one can force people to eat restricted food choices! People should be free to eat whatever they like to eat while staying within the law.

    Sri Lanka ranks the worst in child malnutrition in Asia (only behind Afghanistan). The solution is local dairy production and diversification of protein sources. Beef and pork industries have tremendous potential.

    Good intentions of the Mahinda government and this regime must be commended for their efforts to increase local dairy production.

  2. Christie Says:

    We Sinhalese have been eating meat and fish for 100,000 years.

    Lentils or Parippu was introduced with Indian Colonial Parasites.

    Let the writer eat his Parippu with his Indian Colonial Parasites and fart all day.


    I remember DI shoes was the best in the market. Mr Chandre must have made a valuable contribution to the quality control. I love DI shoes, even though we pay more now, still I cannot find a SHOE LIKE DI. Good work Chandre.

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