MILKED - White Lies In Dairy Land [OFFICIAL DOCUMENTARY]
- [Graeme] We have said that sustainability is a key part of our new strategy, right? That's the heart of what we're gonna be doing. What's the news angle you're looking at? - It's- - [Graeme] Is it sustainability on farms? Is it that sustainability on packaging? Is it sustainability in our factories? - We're talking about climate change, water quality, potential longevity for our farmers. Are those topics that you believe Fonterra would like to comment on? - [Graeme] We get these requests all the time, Chris. We've got people here who've got a business to run. - [Lee] What angle are you taking, how's it gonna work? - We wanna hear every side of the story, basically. - [Lee] There aren't sides to the story.
There's only one story. I'm assuming that's the angle you're taking, 'cause that's the only angle, that is the truth of the situation. - Kia ora. I'm Chris. This is where I'm from, the rural north of Aotearoa, New Zealand. Surrounded by nature and fortunate to have the family home next to our local river, Mangatawa.
Growing up, we tried our best to protect and live with the land. We grew a lot of our own food and raised all the animals you'd expect to see on a farm, chickens, goats, pigs, sheep and cows, Like most Kiwi kids, I started the day with milk on my Weet-Bix and never thought twice about it. I was already worried about the state of our planet when I came across this film. "Cowspiracy" showed how animal agriculture is the driving force behind the environmental breakdown that's happening and how people were too afraid to talk about it. I was shocked, but I thought that's America, not Aotearoa.
We have grass fed cows and look after our land. And then I saw the "Environment Aotearoa Report" showing the massive impact dairy is having on our country. I made a video about the dairy industry that got a big response on social media.
Let's hear what Fonterra has to say now. And I was surprised when Fonterra commented, inviting me for a coffee and a chat. But, when I tried taking them up on the offer. - [Recorded Message] Welcome to Fonterra.
After the tone, please record your message. After the tone, please record your message. After the tone, please record your message.
- Why the change of heart? What did our country's biggest company have to hide? I wanted to meet with some people who were speaking out about the environmental impacts of the dairy industry and see what they could tell me. - Industrial dairying is this country's biggest polluter. It's our biggest climate emitter, emitting more greenhouse gases than our entire transport sector. It's our biggest water polluter. And it's also a major stressor for biodiversity and for soil health.
Around the world, we've seen a massive increase in a thing called oceanic dead zones. They're basically areas of the ocean where there's been so much algal growth, there's no oxygen, there's no life in there anymore. That is what we are risking on New Zealand's coastlines. - We are seeing a collapse of our natural ecosystems. Most of that collapse is coming about because of the pressure that we are putting on those systems from commercial activities like dairy farming. The consequence for nature has been devastating.
- New Zealand used to be a land covered in forest. We've bowled down the forest, we've lost the biggest chunk of wetlands in modern history in the last 100 years to put more cows on paddocks. - [Chris] discovered that in Aotearoa our dairy industry creates more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, trucks, boats, planes, and trains combined. And although we brag about producing the most sustainable milk in the world, the total emissions from our booming dairy industry has increased 132% in the last 30 years. 132%! It's a global problem too.
The top five meat and dairy companies, which includes Fonterra, produce more emissions than the whole of the United Kingdom and it's 66 million people. That's also more than the oil and gas companies ExxonMobil, Shell and BP. One study even showed that in the next decade, Fonterra will make up more than 100% of New Zealand's total emissions target. And yet no one seemed to be talking about this.
Dr. Jane Goodall is one of many well known scientists who have been warning about the impacts of climate change long before it was all over the media. - If you consider we're on this little ball, this little beautiful planet of ours, and we're now surrounding it with these so-called greenhouse gases, which is trapping the heat of the sun, which is leading to the changing weather patterns that are being so destructive to the environment, to people and to many, many animals.
- [Chris] And while the worst is yet to come, the balance of life on the planet is already way out with farmed animals and humans making up 96% of the biomass of mammals and only 4% is wild mammals. I also found out Aotearoa has the highest proportion of threatened native species on Earth. - No wonder we have a biodiversity crisis.
I'm not angry at the farmers. I'm not blaming the farmers. They do what they have to do. And most of them do really care about the environment.
But the system that they're caught up in is totally flawed. Just sticking to what we are doing now has no future. - [Chris] The dairy industry is having a similar impact around the world. And with the global demand for food doubling by 2050, how could all this be produced sustainably? Scientists warn that we'd need at least five Earths by then, if everyone on the planet eats as much dairy and meat as countries like the United States.
- It was Mahatma Gandhi who said, "The planet can produce enough for human need, but not human greed." - [Chris] Do we have to keep doing things the same way? What if we could produce that food without all the resources and waste? From what I was discovering, it looked like there are other ways, including something the dairy industry doesn't want us to know about because it threatens their very existence. But first I had to understand how this mess all started and why we're still in it.
Just over 200 years ago, British settlers introduced the first dairy cows to Aotearoa, a land mostly covered in ancient forests and inhabited by the indigenous population of Māori. Most of our native forests were cut or burnt down and almost all our wetlands were destroyed to make way for farms. Today, we have over 6 million dairy cows and we're not doing this to feed ourselves. 95% of our dairy products are exported.
Kiwi farmers used to be known for farming sheep, but when white gold fever hit, they switched to cows, increasing the average dairy herd size from 100 to over 400. - Over the last 30 years, we didn't increase the amount of land. We just got rid of sheep and replaced them with cows and they have so much bigger output. - The dairy herd of Aotearoa produces over 150 million liters of nitrogen rich urine every day. And each cow has the equivalent effluent footprint of 14 people. That means the cows in this country create the same amount of waste as nearly 90 million people.
And with almost no wetlands left to filter that waste, it's no surprise that our waterways are in trouble. - New Zealand's like your beautiful friend that's just gone and got cancer. And so what's the source of the cancer? Well, it's primarily the dairy industry.
So there's a particular New Zealand mode of economic development where we have these bonanzas, and the bonanzas are based on cashing in our natural resources. The dairy industry for the last 20 years has been a throwback to that 19th century style of development where we cash something in. And what we've cashed in is our fresh water.
- It's simply been impossible for Kiwis to ignore. You used to be able to swim in our rivers and lakes in New Zealand without risk of getting sick. That just isn't possible, in bulk because of the impact of industrial dairy. Every year, we are losing 192 million tonnes of soil.
You know, this is actually our most precious resource as a country, our top soil, is simply washing out to see every single year because of our land-use practices. - It's all about destroying our natural capital, which is the exact opposite of what we should be doing. - [Chris] In Te Ao Māori, the Māori world, water is sacred. We pushed for our country to be the first in the world to give a river the same legal status as a person. It worried me to know how much of an impact dairy farming was having on our fresh water, by you using it and by polluting it. Just down the road from my family home was an alarming example of what could go wrong.
I met with some community leaders who are trying to protect their lake. What did it used to be like back in the day when lake was healthy? - Being by the lake, we were able to catch fish. We just did everything in there.
- [Chris] And now you can't do any of them? - We can't do any of that. Not even our children. The kids used to come down here and they just lived down here, swimming in the water, but the children had this sickness. It wasn't until all that algae started over here that we realized that there was more to it than that. - I've seen farmers spreading their, the manure and it's all blowing into the lake.
- Further up the catchment we found there was a dairy farm and they had a consent to dump effluent. And if any nutrients get into the water, and especially around January, it's perfect for an incubator to actually just create an algae bloom. - You can't have the water for the children to play in. There's no one coming to the lake.
- We're talking about other things like water storage for when there's a drought, and the drought is heading our way right now, as I speak. And people are gonna want water, but what they want is better water than this. - Water is gonna be the next gold.
The water is the life force. And if we don't look after the water, then all of us will perish. - How could Fonterra be claiming to care about communities and environmental sustainability? I had to go call them again to see if they'd meet with me. We got your email about you guys declining to be part of the documentary.
I just thought if environmental sustainability is at the heart of what you're doing? I just think this is a massively missed opportunity for you guys to share your initiatives with the New Zealand public. - Yeah. - Are those topics that you believe Fonterra would like to comment on? - [Graeme] We can comment on any of them, but I mean, then you'd end up with a three hour video just on us. There's already a lot out there. - Yeah, but you'd probably admit that it is a bit confusing for consumers, kind of the messages that they're getting these days? - [Graeme] Mm-hmm. Well, we're a big player. It's a dairy industry thing, if that's what you're looking at? And you're better off dealing with DairyNZ.
- Yeah, I mean, Fonterra, Fonterra is New Zealand's largest company. - [Graeme] Yes. - So, you know, we thought it'd be best if the story's coming directly from you guys rather than anyone else. - [Graeme] Yeah, but I mean, while we're big we're also part of a big industry. - [Lee] What angle are you taking? How's it gonna work? Because New Zealand is pretty simple in terms of farming practices, which makes us more carbon efficient, the most nutritious milk in the world. So is that the angle you're taking? - We definitely want to get you on camera talking about that, talking about your side of the story in terms of what milk means to New Zealand.
- [Lee] Well, we don't even need to say it on camera it's so well documented. - [Chris] What was going on? Why were they avoiding an interview? I was told to go on the DairyNZ website to see their facts. NZ dairy is 64% more emissions efficient than the global average. But I had to wonder where this information came from, and wasn't reassured when I saw it was from industry-funded research.
It also doesn't include the huge amount of coal used to make milk powder, Fonterra's main export product. I did find someone from the industry who was willing talk with me though, a rep for the South Island Dairying Development Centre. - So our vision is to be a great place for animals to live, producing high quality food to feed the world and having, you know, a sus- not an impact, a negative impact on the environment around us. So we're all about transparency at SIDDC.
We try to share all of our data publicly and that's why I'm here speaking to you today. - [Chris] Canterbury seems to be quite a very dry region. Why have we seen such an increase in dairy farming in Canterbury, and do you think it's a suitable place for dairy farming? - Can I pass on that question? - How is synthetic fertilizer made and what is it made out of? - Yeah, I'll pass on that one. (chuckles) - Do you think we are putting our future food security at risk? - I don't wanna answer that. I dunno. Yeah.
- [Chris] Well that was confusing. And what was even more confusing was all the media about the good things the industry was doing. Maybe they actually were heading in the right direction and things were improving? - You see, our waterways are a huge part of who we are. That's why thousands of Kiwis, including dairy farmers, have been working hard to make a difference. - The "Environment Aotearoa Report" in 2019 said that 82% of waterways are unswimmable in farming catchments.
- I think if we look at water, and we're doing a lot of investigation at the moment, the water is not as bad as perhaps those stats might indicate. - [Chris] But why was government and industry saying one thing and the science saying something else? - What I get really annoyed with is what I just call the bull that the dairy industry seems to enjoy. It's dishonest. It's greenwashing. The issue I've got is not with farmers.
The issue I've long had, has been with farming leadership and the lack thereof. There's a complete level of just non-reality that pervades the dairy industry. We have environmental awards that are sponsored by fertilizer companies. - The reality is that we're not clean. We might be green, but it's just because there's lots of fertilizer going on the grass, making it look green.
- [Announcer] New Zealanders really care about the environment. Even as one of the lowest emission dairy producers in the world, we continuing to work on new ways to reduce our carbon footprint. - [Chris] Industry greenwashing was everywhere I looked.
This carbon zero milk is less than 1% of their total milk production, and it's achieved by buying carbon offsets instead of actual emission reduction. Likewise, with their plant-based milk bottles, a container made from plants, not plastic. But otherwise, the same old milk. - What the farming groups tend to hear is so much propaganda from their own industry and so little honest reality that they tend to be shocked when they first hear it, and they run back to the industry to get the story that suits.
- So it doesn't create the burning platform for change that actually the real facts would demand. - I searched online and saw that New Zealand's biggest greenhouse gas emitter is Fonterra with a huge 22 million tonnes every year. But if that seems bad, it gets worse. I found a report that shows Fonterra are massively under-reporting their emissions. Instead of the 22 million tonnes that Fonterra claims the researchers discovered it was over 44 million tonnes.
That would mean Fonterra alone produces more than the whole of Sweden, a country with twice the population of Aotearoa. I was surprised to find out that almost all dairy emissions are from the cows themselves. Methane comes from their digestive system and nitrous oxide comes from the soil when effluent and fertilizers are broken down. - These animals produce gas, that's methane, and that's a very virulent greenhouse gas.
So CO2, everybody knows about, everybody knows about the burning of fossil fuel, but people are not talking about the methane. - Other countries, you can see the smokestacks and the pollution pouring out. We've gotta remember, in New Zealand, our farms are our factories. - [Chris] It turns out that grass fed cows produce more methane than grain fed cows.
Methane has a global warming potential that's 84 times stronger than CO2. And one dairy cow produces about 500 kilograms of methane. I wanted to know what Fonterra's plan was to reduce these emissions on farms. I was astounded to find out that the Zero Carbon Bill created an exemption for methane from farm animals, with only a 10% reduction required by 2030. Despite this super low threshold, Fonterra were forecasting no reduction at all in emissions from cows. So much for a climate emergency.
- What do we want? - Climate reduction! - When do we want it? - Now! - [Chris] Along with the methane produced on farms, the dairy industry also creates emissions in other ways, like using fertilizer made with fossil fuels and coal to dehydrate milk. - There's just so little understanding of just how much we are dependent on fossil fuels, not just for everything we do and how we transport ourselves, but in our food as well. - And the fact that Fonterra alone is burning 410,000 tonnes of coal every year to dehydrate milk gives you a sense of the industrial scale we've gone down industrial agriculture, big time, and we've got industrial-sized emissions.
- Climate change is affecting the world everywhere, it's happening now. The ice is melting, sea levels are rising, floods and droughts and hurricanes are getting worse and more frequent. What are the measures that will be taken to address that emergency? Practical measures, things that will actually happen? Not things that we just talk about. We know we have to control emissions.
We know we shouldn't have billions of animals. - [Chris] Emissions aren't the only major concern. If water is the new gold, we're not investing it very wisely. Every year in Aotearoa, we're using 4.8 billion cubic meters of water
for the dairy industry. That's 11 times the water use of the country's human population. - Lots of water is used to change vegetable to animal protein. Dwindling supplies of fresh water are important in New Zealand. - Entire rivers are drying up in summer now because big, irrigating dairy farms, are taking too much water from them. - [Chris] An example of this crazy high use is one dairy company taking more water from the Waikato River than the whole city of all Auckland with over 1.6 million people.
Regional councils around Aotearoa are responsible for enforcing regulations, but it seems they aren't quite doing their job properly. (gentle guitar music) I heard about someone who was taking on the fight for better water monitoring, a former boxer who gave up his job to become a river ranger after discovering the river he'd swum in as a boy had been ruined by dairy effluent. - My uncle and I, we went out to our homestead, we just couldn't believe how bad the river was. Fully urine, excrement from cattle, and the stench, the cattle everywhere.
Yeah, and I started to cry, you know, at the enormity of it. I understood that day, it's totally unmonitored. So at that point in time in my life, I just decided to get myself a boat suitable, just for rivers, just try and do some reporting. DairyNZ and Fonterra say, "Oh, we're 97.5% fenced off now." Ah, but is your fence fit for purpose? Many farmers raising both sides of their fence, so they open their gate and put the cattle on the riverbank. One of the river water quality tests I done up at the Whangārei Falls up here, it was 10 times over the safe limit for swimming.
- So this water looks nice, but is that not the case? - You can't drink it. You'd have to think twice about letting your kids swim in it. Nitrate is huge. You know, huge problem.
We can't see it. It's penetrating through the ground to the rivers. Aotearoa has got a problem with water quality. For sure. - [Chris] After talking with Millan, I wanted to find out why nitrates seemed to be one of the biggest issues for water quality. - In nature, all plants need nitrogen to grow, but nature will provide it for us if we let it Instead, big agribusinesses like Ravensdown and AB Balance here in New Zealand, sell synthetic nitrogen fertilizer.
New Zealand holds the dishonorable title of having increased synthetic fertilizer use more than any other OECD nation since 1990. - All through nature for the 10,000 years that humans have been doing agriculture, it's about natural balances. What we've done now is a one way system where the way we have so many cows is we put heaps of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer on made from fossil fuels. We're the biggest importer of palm kernel in the world.
So we put all of this stuff on the farm to have this really high stocking rate. We could never have that stocking rate without all these inputs. And so, the more you pour into a farming system from the outside, the more leaks out bottom, and the leaking out the bottom we're seeing as the impacts on our waterways. If nitrate turned our rivers red, you know, we wouldn't have the problem. It's only 'cause people can't see it they don't know it's there.
As you get more nitrate in drinking water, the chances of getting colorectal cancer, and a bunch of other things, but we'll just talk about the colorectal cancer for a start, really increase. We've got nitrate levels just ramping up in drinking water in Canterbury. - So in Canterbury, where I'm from, we have the highest stocking rates in the country and the highest rates of the use of synthetic fertilizer. We are already seeing drinking wells showing up levels that are associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
In rural Canterbury, pregnant mothers are being advised by health officials that they need to get their private drinking water tested for fear that it will cause fatal blue-baby syndrome from increased nitrate contamination. It's not just dirty rivers that we are talking about here. We're talking about people's health and wellbeing. - I needed to talk with someone at Fonterra about everything I'd learned so far. I decided the only option was to just turn up and see who I could find. We're working on a documentary.
We're wondering if we could speak to someone from Fonterra who can represent the New Zealand dairy industry to have a chat with us? - Okay, yeah. - I'll probably ask Kayley about that. - Okay.
I wanted someone to front up and answer the questions I had for them that no one else could answer. - If you can just pop onto your- - But instead I was asked to leave another message. Website or Facebook? Can't say, I didn't see that coming.
I'd already called the number they gave me a few times and hadn't heard back from anyone, but, I left one last message anyway. "Sustainability and social responsibility are a fundamental part of the way Fonterra operates." - Dairy's important for good nutrition, especially in young growing bodies.
Fonterra milk for schools helps make sure primary school kids in New Zealand, not only get to enjoy our milk, but also learn about the nutritional power it has. - [Chris] With all the claims to be producing healthy food I wanted to know if this was the reality or just another illusion. So I contacted some health professionals to find out.
- It's not beneficial, not required, associated with lots of diseases. The science is there, it's just, we need people to catch up with the science. So industry often talk a lot about calcium. You gotta drink milk because it's a good source of calcium, but I think they are kind of moving away from that. - A lot of those old ideas they've cunningly backed off.
Unfortunately, of course, the damage has been done because that's what a lot of people, I guess, even my age learned when we were kids. In fact, what we see is that the countries that eat the highest amounts of calcium have the highest rates of hip fractures and osteoporosis. - [Chris] A New Zealand based study clearly shows there's no evidence that increasing calcium from dietary sources prevents fractures.
Yet, that's what most health professionals are still telling us. - I think it would be very, very beneficial for society as a whole if doctors we're trained in nutrition, but they're not. They get very limited amounts of nutrition training. So basically what they teach is what's the popular opinion. - The main issue is that the majority of the world's population cannot digest the lactose in milk, particularly in Southeast Asia. And there's good evidence that in the Pacific and Māori, there's higher rates of lactose intolerance, but also it increases the amount of mucus and sinus inflammation that people get.
Kids are very vulnerable to it. If they can cut out the dairy, they can really respond very quickly. - We know that there's numerous issues with dairy. That is one of the things that really annoys me about the milk in schools.
The implication by having the milk in there is that this is something that's healthy, that they should be eating. There's a very good chance that it's actually hurting them. - Fonterra milk for schools is one of the best ways we can look out for our communities, nurturing the next generation by sharing the natural goodness of dairy. We are Fonterra and this is Dairy for Life. - They want you to start off young and they want to get into the minds of our youth population so that once you've got that person hooked on your product, they're gonna be a customer for life. - [Chris] In the 300,000 year history of modern humans, the earliest people drank milk from other animals was only 10,000 years ago.
Humans are the only species that drinks milk after infancy and the only ones that take milk from other animals. Cows were the obvious choice in most places. But if our aim was to get a milk supply with similar nutrition to our own, we could have gone with zebra milk, or maybe even chimpanzee milk.
But I guess that's not so easy. What about dog milk for convenience and an extra boost of protein? Not sure if Fonterra could sell that idea though. And we aren't even meant to consume high amounts of protein. Human milk is perfectly designed for us and has the lowest protein amount of any mammal's milk. - [Luke] Everything that's contained in any of these dairy products or in any animal product, with the exception of vitamin B12 of course, comes from the plants essentially. And so by having the animals eat them first and then us eating the animals, it's a very inefficient way of us getting to that nutrition, which we could have just got from the plants in the first place.
We don't need to filter our nutrition through animals. We'd do a lot better going straight to the source of nutrition in the first instance. - [Chris] It makes sense that we can skip the middle cow like our early ancestors did. And it turns out we also filter other things through cows like antibiotics and hormones.
- They're routinely fed antibiotics. The bacteria build up resistance and people have already died from a small cut, which becomes infected, and there just isn't an antibiotic strong enough to cure it. It's one of the big fears in medicine that we're gradually reducing the number of antibiotics that can be effective. - [Chris] Antibiotics are often used for mastitis, a common and painful inflammation of the udder that causes white blood cells to leach into milk. A liter of milk can have up to 400 million of these cells before it's considered unfit for people to drink. - Given that it's got these kinds of things in there, is that really something you wanna be consuming from another animal? The processing that they have is because it's a dairy product, you know? It's got a lot of stuff in there that can make you sick.
Everyone knows what it smells like after it's been, you know, left out for a day or two. It's nasty. - This is not a food that was ever designed to be inside a human being. 'Cause you've got these cows, they're pregnant, they're lactating at the same time so the female hormones in a dairy cow are really, really high. And so you've got things like estrogen, which is in the milk.
What this also does is it will grow cells that are abnormal really quickly. - That's probably one of the reasons why it is associated with hormone sensitive cancers. So that's your prostate cancer, breast cancer. - Definitely a very strong link with prostate cancer, possibly even stronger than there is with smoking and lung cancer.
It's full of stuff that blows up a small calf into a huge cow within, you know, a year or so. - [Chris] One study found that even moderate of dairy milk consumption can increase women's risk of breast cancer up to 80%. And yet this isn't even mentioned on our national Breast Cancer Foundation website who are still promoting dairy products, saying they're important for bone health, that same old idea. - People need to be informed of what they're buying and the risks of it. - Why would you promote anything that's been associated with any kind of cancer? - These conversations made me think of my own family and the loved ones I've lost.
Māori men are 70% more likely to die from prostate cancer than non Māori. And if the link between dairy consumption and prostate cancer was common knowledge, maybe I could have met my grandfather. The more I thought about it, the stranger it seemed that we even consume dairy at all. Maori have historically been some of the tallest, strongest, fittest people on the planet and we didn't have dairy until Europeans showed up.
So we obviously don't need it to be healthy. Dairy being marketed to us as a health food ignores our history. Chronic disease was almost unheard of before colonization, but with one of the highest dairy consumption rates in the world, Maori suffer from higher rates of diabetes, heart disease and cancers. Hello, Chris speaking.
- [Philippa] Chris. Hi. This is Philippa from Fonterra. How are you? - Philippa? Hi, yeah, I'm good, thanks. We are really hoping to get someone from Fonterra to talk to us. Does that sound like - mm-hmm.
- Something you'd be able to help us with? - [Philippa] New Zealand's dairy industry is the most sustainable in the world. And actually the farming practices here are the least emissions efficient, sorry, the most emissions efficient out of any in the world. - But what we are noticing as well is what's happening to our waterways. What's happening to that footprint of greenhouse gas emissions coming out of the sector. I was asked to email them again with the same information and realized that to get some honesty, I had to find farmers to talk with instead. I was surprised with what I found out about life on the farm.
- The family's been farming here for 95-odd years, and we've always dairy farmed here. I was born here and yeah, I'll probably die here. Hopefully. But not too soon! We work seven days a week.
We're up at 3:30, 4:00 in the morning, home by six o'clock, maybe at night, worse in the spring. Lucky if you get a bit of breakfast in the morning, some days, you know, it's full on. And with all the other, you know, everything coming at you from all sides, nah, the motivation to be continuing to dairy farm is gone. If people aren't appreciative of what you're doing, then that motivation disappears pretty quick. And then, you don't see a vat full of milk to feed people.
You see a vat full of money. Now talk about sustainability. No one considers the sustainability to the farmers, the sustainability of human, um, life, because a farmer, it's not sustainable if farmers are all hanging themselves left, right and center or, or sort of letting your farm go to wrack and ruin because they just have lost the plot and don't care anymore. And that's happening. It's a reality I know is happening and that's gotta be a crucial part of sustainability. And that's why I feel if dairying's getting too much for people, then perhaps dairying's not the game you should be in.
- Another farmer was willing to talk about his experience with the bacterial disease, mycoplasma bovis. The Ministry for Primary Industries is attempting to eradicate it, at any cost. - If MPI finds one of your animals with the disease of mycoplasma bovis, they kill everything, everything. I've had 34 years in this industry and I go during middle of the night to check on my cows to make sure that the birth process is going all right, and if there's a calf that's not well you get it inside and nurture it.
And then all of a sudden you're being told you have to kill these calves. And, oh that, I think that particularly afterwards it was very traumatizing. And I'm still not over it, actually.
- [Chris] So how many days did this take? You killing the calves? - [Henk] Probably 80, 90 days. - [Chris] How many calves do you think you were killing per day? - Some days might be one and some days might be six, seven. We had another farm as well affected with mycoplasma bovis and the farm manager there, he had to kill the calves on the farm there and he was calving more cows than I was. Couldn't hack it anymore in the end and he tried to commit suicide. And, my son... My son found him and got him out and now he's left New Zealand.
He's gone. 23 year old. Fucked his life. For this. - Email from Fonterra. "Morning, Chris, thanks for the opportunity, again, to be part of your video.
We currently have other opportunities for our sustainability program and have decided that we won't be participating in your documentary." Surely if sustainability is important for Fonterra, then they can make time for a short interview with us about sustainability? I decided to give up trying to get answers from them. Since they'd refused to talk, I'd have to keep finding people who would. (gentle guitar music) There seemed to be a lot in the media about regenerative agriculture being the climate change solution everyone's hoping for, and how healthy soil can actually store carbon. - Carbon sequestration in the soil is a really valuable, easy, cheap, you know, immediate tool that we can start employing in greenhouse gas emissions. Farmers are not only on the front lines of change, but they also represent our best opportunity to combat things like climate change.
They're the heroes of the story. - That sounded impressive. But then I found a major international report that disagrees. It shows that any carbon sequestration from grazing cows is substantially outweighed by the greenhouse gas emissions they generate. It turns out that selling that idea as a climate change solution is just serving up false hope. - There are too many cows on this planet and we can't keep farming them, even if every single one of them is farmed regeneratively.
We cannot be having these land uses which are all about producing milk, or all about producing meat. We have to diversify into plant-based production. That's what the science is telling us. - Even plant-based foods transported from the other side of the world are more carbon efficient than animal products. And I was surprised to see that one kilogram of cheese creates a staggering 21 kilos of emissions, compared with about one kilo of emissions from most vegetables and other plant foods.
I also discovered there's a secret ingredient the industry uses that boosts milk production, causing even more devastation. - Fonterra is selling New Zealand's milk as grass fed, seeming to forget that we're actually importing two and a half million tonnes of palm kernel to feed those cows. Fonterra's key supplier of PKE is linked to ongoing deforestation of tropical rainforest and human rights abuses. It's massively destroying habitat for endangered species like the orangutan We are farming so many cows in New Zealand that we completely surpassed any kind of environmental limits here. We're actually cutting down forest in Indonesia to feed a bloated dairy herd that is trashing our environment here, but also endebting dairy farmers who are holding around, collectively, $38 billion worth of debt.
This industry is not working for anyone. - [Chris] It didn't make sense how farmers could be in so much debt. Why had this happened? And was Fonterra also in financial trouble? - In the last 20 years, farmers have borrowed over 30 billion extra. Dairy debt has gone up from, in 2000 it was about 10 billion. It's now 40 billion. That's a 400% increase in debt.
- We now have so many people in New Zealand struggling under so much debt, irresponsible debt, that was given out just because the dairy industry has so much clout, and they're now in a financial position that they don't know where to go, because how do you get out from millions of dollars of debt? - Definitely, that was a direction Fonterra went in a few years ago when they were pushing for volume that wasn't to everyone's agreement, definitely. And looking back it's like, "Wow, we were duped." How did they pull that one over you may well ask, you know? - We know that it's not economically problematic for dairy farmers to reduce stocking rates, but for Fonterra the opposite is true. They have built a lot of milk dehydrators around the country that require a large volume of milk.
So what works financially for the fancy Fonterra HQ in Fanshawe Street, Auckland, does not necessarily work for New Zealand's dairy farmers. (soft electronic music) - When I was working for government, I got an incredibly detailed insight into Fonterra, deep down into the bowels of the company. The Fonterra dream is over. It's long since gone. The conversation for today is, will Fonterra even survive? 'Cause its numbers are that bad. If some really smart person in a white coat comes up with a dairy alternative, but is a quarter of the cost and doesn't have the environmental impact, then I'm sorry dairy, you're toast.
- [Chris] I couldn't believe that our dairy industry could be that fragile. Isn't it meant to be the backbone of our economy? Could a cheaper and more sustainable dairy alternative really wipe it out completely? And I had to wonder why we're still using so much land for dairy when we could get more profit from growing plants instead? A government funded report shows that Aotearoa has a huge amount of land suitable for growing crops and potential for $80 billion from plant-based crops compared with only $28 billion from animal agriculture. I met with the dairy spokesman for Federated Farmers to find out what he thought about transitioning. Do you think there are some dairy farmers that will stick with dairy no matter what? - We all just wanna make a dollar. And if it's a better returns growing some alternative foods, show us some money. I think some farmers would be quite happy to hang up the apron and grow crops if that was a better return on investment.
I don't mind changing. If I can provide a better future for my family, I'll change. I'll stop milking those cows and I'll jump ship. It's got simple really, innit? - [Chris] But it might already be too late for some farmers to take up new opportunities. One research project looked into using dairy land to make oat milk, which uses 13 times less water, 11 times less land, and creates 3.5 times less carbon emissions than cow's milk.
- It was way more protein per hectare, way more energy efficient. Everything that you could measure was so much more efficient without the cows. It was a fantastic example of where you would be much better off not having the animals there and you could make this really good product.
The thing that you need to make plant-based milk of course, is nice clean water. And when they started looking at the groundwater in the vicinity, in some of those bores, there was five or six times the World Health Organization limit for nitrate in that water. So you just wouldn't be able to make the milk out of it.
It's just a classic example of here's a good option of how we could do it better, but we've already shut the gate on that option because we've already polluted the water past limits where you could use it. - So we have current farming models that are potentially harming our future? - [Mike] Yep. When you pollute the water and you pollute the soil, it really limits your options for the future. So if the true costs were being paid, then we wouldn't be doing dairy in this country. - [Chris] An example of this cost is Aotearoa taxpayers giving dairy farmers $130 million not to farm in the Topo and Rotorua Lake areas to reduce the water contamination from nitrates. If we paid all our dairy farmers to stop polluting water, that would cost over $20 billion.
- As a business person, and you had to pay that, you would go, "Right, we stop doing it, you know, because there's no money in this, it's gonna cost us to do it." It's only because the cost is being passed on to the rest of us. - This is an industry making profits off of the destruction of our environment, and it is us, everyday New Zealanders, who are going to, and are already, paying the price for that. And there are very powerful companies that want to keep it that way, despite the costs to New Zealand.
(bus whines past) - [Chris] I did some more investigating and found out even the country's nutrition guidelines are influenced by the dairy industry. Consultation with key stakeholders meant that Fonterra had a say, and three out of the four issues they raised were changed, including the removal of milk alternatives. I'd heard some strong reactions to dairy alternatives from industry representatives and politicians also, trying to stop any possible threat. - [Shane] This notion that veganism and almond powder or something akin to that is gonna replace genuine red meat, genuine dairy milk, it needs to be stopped in its tracks.
We should not tolerate. We should not acquiesce for one inch of the political journey with these people who are continuing to stigmatize and demonize our legacy industry. - If it's not a milk, if it's a nut juice or something else, just call it for what it is and create your own brand and create your own marketing strategy and leverage off that. Don't leverage off the dairy industry. - [Chris] Then, a well-respected magazine came out with this on the cover.
After reading about all the so-called benefits of meat and dairy, I looked online and found that the featured scientists were from the Riddet Institute, which has close ties with meat and dairy companies, including Fonterra. What's it gonna take to change these organizations? - Probably one thing is not to be funded by dairy. A lot of people who put out studies, and it's been shown very well, get funded by dairy sources, whether it's overtly or whether you have to dig around. - So a huge amount of money that comes into universities is from the industry.
And so you start speaking out against that industry and your options start to close down really, really quickly. Who do you believe in an argument, is you follow the money. - Especially in New Zealand, the farming industry, you know, you're seen to be almost unpatriotic if you're not supporting it by having lots of dairy, having lots of meat. - You've got an industry that has been incredibly powerful for an incredibly long time. And it's deeply entrenched.
Now, once you realize in New Zealand, that five million cows are a lot more important than five million people, then everything else in New Zealand politics suddenly makes a lot of sense, because the cows are more important than we are. - Some people who are really heavily invested in status quo and you are threatening their income, and so they will be very angry if somebody's speaking up and pointing out harm that you're doing, you try to shoot them down. - [Chris] An animal rights group found this out first hand when they took out an ad in an international newspaper, highlighting cruelty on New Zealand dairy farms. - When we placed an ad in "The Guardian," we got a lot of abuse. We got a lot of threats, a lot of death threats. I've had death threats right throughout my 30 years working for animals, but this was bad.
This was seriously bad. - [Chris] This industry's power scared me. And I wasn't alone. Many people I talked with had been too frightened to even speak on camera.
I'd already been warned about the backlash against me after making a film that exposes these issues. - Death threats happen. People will make serious threats and allegations against you because they're seeing their livelihood being threatened. And so, they see you as a threat.
I want you all to be aware like, this is a reality of this. Like, you guys are going up against the biggest company and then the biggest industry in the entire country. That being said, it absolutely needs to be done.
The fear of reprisal can't outweigh the fear of not acting, right? Like not speaking up, not showing this truth, is the real danger. They're destroying the planet. They're killing these animals and people are dying, and people are literally dying because of this, and it's all for the sake of making money. - [Chris] I never considered that my life could be threatened by exposing this industry. But I realized that revealing the truth could also have a powerful impact and help create the change I want so badly to see. I decided that I had to continue with the film no matter what the outcome.
The industry claim that dairy is essential for us was starting to sound a bit desperate to me, along with their recent strategy of targeting the Asian market. With population growth and rising incomes in these countries, it's an obvious business choice. - People all around the world are actively seeking products that they know they can trust to feed their families. And today our world class dairy products are available in over 140 countries around the world. We're dedicated to sharing this goodness with the world.
- People are being told that they need lots and lots of dairy. There are a lot of populations around the world where dairy wasn't a part of their cultural diet. - If you look at Asia, which is actually where we're trying to market this stuff, which is just bizarre because lactose intolerance rates of almost 100% in many parts of Asia. So we're not doing them any favors. - So exporting dairy to Southeast Asia, it's a business decision, but at the same time, you're exporting your diseases offshore in return for money.
- You can already see this happening, like diabetes rates in India and China have just gone through the roof as they start adopting a more Western type of diet, and dairy is a big part of that. - Everywhere in the world that this European diet is forced on people, people go from the healthiest to then the sickest. It's easy to push these white lies and that's all this industry is doing.
It's like, they're pushing just outright racist lies. - We're excited and we're proud to be able to make this connection between the way we at Fonterra create world class milk and the products our dairy shows up in to nourish people around the world. - It's quite a difficult situation for New Zealand to turn that sort of spotlight on itself or whatever, and say, "Actually, maybe what we are producing here isn't actually very healthy for people. And maybe we are not doing the right thing by producing this and marketing it to the rest of the world."
- How far do you go with justifying what you do because there's a profit in it? I hear that classic, "We're feeding the world," story. I think the reality is much more that people would be better off if we didn't provide it. Just because there's a market for something doesn't make it right. - [Chris] To go towards meeting this increased global demand for dairy, Fonterra had predicted a 40% increase in milk production in the 10 year years from 2015 to 2025. With the environment already struggling, how could this increase possibly be sustainable? And what about the cows? From what I'd seen they were already being pushed to their limits having been selectively bred to produce more than double the amount of milk they would naturally produce.
Dairy cows are usually worn out after about five years, then sent to the slaughter house to be killed and turned into hamburger mince. I was curious to see what the people who produce ethical dairy products think of this, not so happy ending. Your brand is kind of centered around this compassion for these animals. - Yeah. - Happy cows. This seems to be a bit of a obstacle for you these cows are gonna be eventually sent to slaughter. - Mm. - How do you deal with that?
How do you communicate that with the consumer? - Yeah. Well, I mean, that's true. And it's animal agriculture. We should try and extend their life as much as possible without profit always being the core driver, I suppose. But then again, she will, she will die. - Hmm. - That's what we say.
- [Chris] Like many New Zealanders, I'd watched the undercover footage of the dairy industry from Farmwatch, a volunteer organization showing what goes on away from the public eye. I join them to see for myself what happens to the animals in dairy country. - You never know what you're gonna see, or when, so you just gotta do the time on the road. Most people drive past paddocks just like this and they just see cows eating grass, and they think that that's all there is to it. But when you think about the fact that they're artificially inseminated, the fact that they are then pregnant and being milked for nine months, and then they have a baby that's taken away from them every year, I think a lot of people don't know that that happens. - [Chris] Do you get any negative backlash from the public or from farmers? - We're pretty careful.
Like if we get down a road and we feel unsafe and we see kind of any movement we'll just leave. We've had too many close calls to take risks like that. We don't like feeling trapped down dead-end roads.
Are you able just to pull over for a minute, just, thank you. - Any cows that are gonna go to slaughter will be placed in that crate, picked up by a truck, and then taken to the slaughter house. - Car in front. - [Chris] Someone behind us, too. - Just on the road. Car hums.
- [Chris] Since you started in 2014, have things become harder to document? - [Debbie] You drive through today and you see almost nothing. It's all hidden, now, it's all off the road. So it's definitely harder.
Once you've exposed industry, they definitely will try and hide it. - Are youse all right? - [Debbie] Yeah. We're all good. - I'd like you to leave. - Okay. - Now. - Don't come back - [Driver] There's a big cow straight ahead of us - Big cow? - Oh, fuck me! - [Debbie] Oh, fuck! This particular cow has a calf half out of her, so she's clearly died giving birth.
And then just been thrown on this pile of dead bodies. So, I'm pretty sure on the left it's calf skins. And... Those are skinned calves. There's a person there.
Okay, we're gonna have to, he's coming towards us. When we do investigations that require hidden camera placements and going out at night, I mean, it's utterly terrifying. It's work that nobody should have to do. And the more you look, the more awful shit you see, and you can't really ever unsee a lot of that stuff. We've seen just so much death and suffering out in dairy country. It always makes me laugh when I see, "Fonterra for Life," or "Dairy for Life," because this industry to me is just full of death and suffering.
It's an industry based on death. - [Chris] I was sickened by what I had seen. My experience with Farmwatch made me realize how most people have no chance to see what really happens behind the industry's marketing machine. - Well, initially, you believe that you're going to have all the fields around you, the animals, you've got all these sort of visions in your head of what you see on the ads. But the difference between actually seeing it and doing it is night and day, night and day. That's when it really, truly hits you what's going on.
That it's not just lush fields and happy cows. - We just have to make sure that what we do is the right thing and not be trying to hide anything. - The industry is there to make money as much as possible, and basically hide truth from people. They do not want you to know the full picture. And their job really, is to sweep that dark side under the rug. - It is very, very secretive.
If the animal experimentation industry wasn't so well hidden and people could actually see the research and tests that cows are used in they'd know that it's not natural. If people who go and buy their natural milk from the supermarkets saw a fistulated cow that looks more like a Frankenstein animal than a natural cow running about in a field like they probably imagine, it would be pretty clear to them that there's not a lot natural about the dairy industry. - And it's ridiculous really that we have to rely on volunteers to basically show what's going on on the farms.
And what they show that goes on the farms is just not like the Fonterra open days on the farm, of course, where you can have a look and pet a little calf. No, they actually shows what's going on on the farm. - Farmers are just trying to get through their day the best way that they can, and they're exhausted.
And you're also in a place where no one's watching. So it's rife for abuse. - Whenever activists put cameras out there, they record deliberate infliction of suffering on animals. - It's much more convenient for them if they believe that the animals, just because they're bred for food, they're just things, and they don't have these emotions.
And of course, it's completely untrue. - My first morning in the calf pens, I stood there and there were all these tiny babies, lots of them still with bloody navels, some of them still had afterbirth on them that were calling out for their mums basically. And it hit me like a force field that this is what it took to get that milk. - They bellow, and they cry. They cry for their mums, mums cry for their babies. It became quite clear that you were listening to pain.
And so you can't really forget that once you know that. And, it then forces you as a farmer, I think to say, all right, "Well, what is the greater good that that pain's delivering to?" I don't really wanna get into the bobby calf thing if that's all right? - Back in the day they used to pay one bob for them because they were considered so worthless. Now we have around two million a year that are considered bobby's. We're slaughtering two million newborns over eight weeks. - If you talk to many dairy farmers, they will say they will struggle with this whole bobby calf issue and taking these calfs away from the mothers, they struggle with that themselves. - "So, we're really kind to our bobby calfs."
Bullshit! You know, where those calfs are going? - There were a lot of things that I questioned when I was farming, and I was just sort of told that's way it has to be. It has to be this way because of production, because you know, the industry needs milk, the people need this, this is our job. What we are doing is necessary. It's just generations, and generations and generations of conditioning. - You have to desensitize yourself to it. If you don't, yeah, you may end up a shivering wreck and be unable to continue.
- Just because there's pain and suffering built into a system doesn't mean that the system's bad or wrong or evil. So, I am not afraid as a agricultural storyteller of talking about things like institutionalized animal cruelty because it makes it real. And you know... Think about where I'm going with this. No, I think I will leave it there. - [Chris] I just couldn't understand how all this could be happening for a product that we don't even need.
And why are we're still putting so much into propping up the industry instead of transitioning out of it. Could the power of the dairy industry be the only thing that's stopping any positive change? - We know what the problems are and we're just dancing around the solution. So rather than cutting it off at the source and moving away from animal agriculture, what we are doing is we are trying to reduce the negative impact on the environment.
It's just a desperate attempt at trying to keep that industry alive. - If you are doing something that's stupid and you then actually apply a silver bullet, you know, you are trying to continue the stupid. - All we are gonna do by these techno fixes to dairy, so, "Oh, put them in a barn or give them methane vaccine or change their feed." That's just shifting environmental problems around. - The best way to reduce the number of animals is for more people to go to a plant-based diet. What New Zealand and other countries can do is to reduce our demand on milk and dairy products.
And the farmers of course, will rise up in arms because it's their livelihood. And so if you're going to say, "Okay, no more, you can't keep cows anymore." There must be an alternative for those farmers because you've taken away their livelihood.
- [Chris] One of those alternatives could be growing hemp. Larrys Gold hemp products are made by a family who are trying to find their way out of the dairy industry. So you're a fourth generation dairy farmer and you're considering out of the business. Why is that? - It just seems a bit crazy growing plant protein to feed animals to produce protein. So much less protein is produced per hectare of animal prot