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Jordi Casamitjana, the author of the book “Ethical Vegan”, reviews the new vegan documentary from New Zealand exposing the deception of the dairy industry.

As a vegan, I often think that I know everything there is to know about the dairy industry. After all, during my vegan outreach activism, I have been talking about it to thousands of people for many years. However, the new vegan documentary Milked I had the privilege to preview has taught me many more things I didn’t know about this dreadful human activity. About the harm they do, the lies they tell, and also about the fate that awaits them. It is a powerful well-produced feature documentary that exposes the whitewash of New Zealand’s multi-billion-dollar dairy industry.

Why should we care about what happens on one set of islands on the other side of the planet, though? The dairy industry is the biggest industrial sector in the country, and its products are an important part of its international trade. But that’s not it. We should care about it because New Zealand often sells itself as one of the cleanest, greenest, and more progressive nations in the world, and it turns out that it is no longer the case. 

We often think about New Zealand as a very environment-friendly country. With all its breath-taking green landscapes, you may be forgiven if you believe New Zealand’s politicians have applied effective measures to minimise the negative impact that human activity causes on Nature. But the truth is very different. And that is what I didn’t know before I watch this eye-opening documentary. A must-watch informative film I recommend to both vegan and cheese-eaters alike.

Milked will premiere on Saturday 6th November 2021 at the Isaac Theatre Royal in Christchurch, and will screen throughout New Zealand during November and early December as part of Whānau Mārama: New Zealand International Film Festival 2021

Who made Milked?

One of the main reasons I very much like this documentary — and why I found it very credible — is because of who made it. Sometimes well-intentioned filmmakers go abroad telling stories of problems that happen in other countries, missing important cultural points or showing a clear bias that taints the quality of their work. This is not the case here. This is a documentary about New Zealand made by New Zealanders. The authentic ones, I would dare to say.

The main protagonist, co-producer and narrator is Chris Huriwai.  Belonging to the Māori community, he is from the North of Aotearoa (the current Māori name for New Zealand) and has been vegan for 6 years. He has worked for the Māori health organisation Te Hau Ora O Ngāpuhi, mainly focusing on physical health/healthy eating programmes and community vibrancy. He is also a world’s champion unicyclist and an extreme sportsman. Chris is passionate about decolonial perspectives on veganism. He co-runs the recently formed activism project Aotearoa Liberation League along with his Iraqi partner. Their goal is to spread awareness of relevant vegan/social issues through a decolonial lens with a focus on te ao Māori (the Māori world view). 

The documentary is beautifully shot, directed, and produced by the award-winning filmmaker Amy Taylor. She is from Aotearoa’s charming Coromandel Peninsula and the founder of Ahimsa Films – a name I love as I am a particularly keen promoter of this Sanskrit term that is the root of the philosophy of veganism. And Amy is a committed vegan who has held this philosophy for around 30 years. 

The good quality of the narrative, graphics and visuals was guaranteed as the production team included very experienced top-class professionals: Keegan Kuhn (Cowspiracy, What the Health), Suzy Amis Cameron (The Game Changers), and Peter Eastwood (Diet Fiction, Takeout). They managed to produce an informative film very accessible to everyone, as it does not rely on graphic footage, but on clear facts, interviews, and storytelling.

Here is an interview of Chris and Amy by Jackie and Gareth from Vegan FTA:

The Milked story

Like all good modern documentaries, Milked relies on a very relatable proven story-telling technique: the treacherous journey of a protagonist the audience identifies with, who discovers the truth behind the curtains hiding powerful and dangerous forces, and becomes awakened at the end.  

The protagonist is Chris. A young activist who goes deep into dairyland where he takes on the giants of New Zealand’s most powerful industry “revealing how the sacred cash-cow industry has been milked dry” (beautifully put by the film’s promoters). By interviewing experts, farmers, activists and politicians, the journey ends up exposing the sustainability crisis and the dangerous denial of impending agricultural disruption of this dying industry.

Chris’ triggers into action are the US documentary Cowspiracy that alerts him about the global dairy industry conspiracy to deceive, and the Environment Aotearoa 2019 report, which alerts him about what is happening to his beloved country. And these set him on his journey to discover the truth.

With clear, powerful, and stunning graphics to illustrate their points, expert after expert reveal to us what the problem is: 

Genevive Toop, from Greenpeace Aotearoa, says:

“Industrial dairying is this country’s biggest polluter. It’s our biggest climate emitter. Emitting more greenhouse gases than the entire transport sector. It’s our biggest water polluter, and is also a major stressor for biodiversity and for soil health.”

“New Zealand holds the dishonourable title of having increased synthetic fertiliser use more than any other OECD nation since 1990”

Kevin Hauge, from Forest & Bird, says:

“We have seen a collapse of our natural ecosystems. Most of this collapse is coming about because of the pressure we’re putting on those systems from commercial activities like dairy farming. The consequence for nature has been devastating.”

“The reality is that we’re not clean. We might be green but it’s just because there’s lots of fertiliser coming on the grass making it look great.”

Along the way — landmarked with effective maps and majestic landscapes — Chris tells the audience what he is discovering, so you never get lost in his journey. For instance, he says:

“I discovered that in Aotearoa 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.”

Here is the trailer of the film:

The Bad Guys in Milked

All compelling stories have nasty villains, and Milked is not an exception. The top dairy industry companies — rather than the dairy farmers who are given the chance to have their say— are the bad guys here. In particular, the biggest company in New Zealand: Fonterra. A high proportion of the milk powder we may find unnecessarily added in many products come from this company, which exports it all over the world. Chris repeatedly tried to interview them so they could give their side of the story, but they seemed to refuse. He says this about them:

“The top five meat and dairy companies, which includes Fonterra, produce more emissions than the whole of the United Kingdom and its 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 seems to be talking about this.”

“It turns out that grass-fed cows produce more methane than grain feed cows. Methane has a global warming potential that’s 84 times stronger than CO2, and one dairy cow produces about 500 kilogrammes 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 was forecasting no reduction at all in emissions from cows. So much for a climate emergency.”

A Dammed Industry 

Milked does not leave any cheese unturned. It exposes the dairy industry dark side in all its facets. Its pollution of air and water (one Kg of cheese creates 21 kg of emissions compared with about 1Kg of emissions from growing most vegetables), the health problems it causes (one study found that even moderate amounts of dairy milk consumption can increase women’s risk of breast cancer up to 80%), its threat to biodiversity (Aotearoa has the highest proportion of threatened native species on earth), its corruption (the industry funds research and universities for their propaganda), the suffering of cows forced to produce milk (their cries when watching their calves taken from them is heart-breaking), and even the hardship of ordinary farmers (some of whom are thankfully starting to convert to plant agriculture, such as hemp production).

But one of the revelations that surprised me the most is how big is the current crisis of the dairy industry, and why. As a vegan activist, I am always tempted to believe that this is the fruit of persuading more and more people to ditch animal products, but there are stronger factors than that. One is economic reasons caused by bad financial decisions. Chris interviewed Peter Fraser, a former Government Official, who said:

In the last 20 years, farmers have borrowed over 30 billion extra. Debt has gone up. In 2000 was about 10 billion. Is now 40 billion. That’s a 400% increase in dept.” 

Another is technological advances that will soon make the role of cows in dairy production redundant. For instance, the use of microbes to produce casein and whey by precision fermentation, from which milk without cows can be made in a much cheaper way. Milk 2.0, if you like. This is likely to disrupt the industry much more than the growth of plant-based alternatives to dairy.

The Colonial Giant in the Room

As someone who embraces the intersectional approach in veganism, what Chris says here is what makes this documentary especially poignant to me:

“The more I thought about it, the stranger it seemed that we even consumed dairy at all. Māori 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 healthy food ignores our history. Chronic disease was almost unheard of before colonisation, but now, with one of the highest dairy consumption rates in the world, Māori suffer from higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, and cancers.”

I am originally from Catalonia, which for centuries has been attempting to become independent from Spain — as it belongs to a distinctive ethnic group with a separate language and world view. This is why I have a natural affinity with people from colonised communities who also struggle for sovereignty and independence. I am also an ethical vegan who deeply cares about all sentient beings and fights against the indoctrination generated by unscrupulous powerful profit-making industries which trample the world and everyone on it. These two causes — and others — intersect into the person I am today reinforcing each other, making me more resolute and grounded. I believe this is also the place the makers of this documentary are. And because of this relatable connection, I enjoy the film even more.

But I am sure I am not unique on this because what counts is not the precise intersections artists and their audience have in common, but how manifesting them creates something honest, truthful, and real that connects. This is what Chris, Amy, Keegan, Suzy, Peter and the rest of their team have accomplished here. 

A work of art made of truth.

Ehara koe i a ia!

Follow MILKED social media pages for further information regarding screening in your country.