Saturday, 8 October 2011

#4 Holy cow - the environmental impact of bottle feeding

FACT OF THE DAY: Making cow’s milk formula for all the young babies in India would need an additional 114 million lactating cows. And that’s just India....

I love the fact that someone has worked this out. It’s such a different angle to look at the breastfeeding/bottle feeding question. After 6 months I used infant formula with all three of my children, but I’d never thought about formula from this point of view.

I mentioned this to my husband, and being a typical mathematician, he immediately tried to work out if they have got it right.

We got roughly as far as working out that about 28 million babies are born each year in India, but then got stuck as we have no idea how many cows it takes to feed one baby.
However, whether this number is correct, it's probably in the right ball park.

I then wonder where all these cows would live, how much land would 114 million cows need? Who would look after them all? How much water would they drink, grass would they eat, and methane gas would they release into the atmosphere?

A quick scout round Google, suggests that for every two dairy cows you need a hectare of grazing land, so that would be 570,000 km2 for this herd of cows – an equivalent of 17% of India’s surface, or an area the size of France or Kenya. I suppose battery cows would take less space, but this gives us a rough idea of what would be involved.

If all women in the world decided to bottle rather than breastfeed then an area the size of Australia would have to be completely taken over by lactating cows to provide infant formula for all the newborns of the world.

Whereas mothers are already living on the land that they live on, and producing milk that is perfect for their babies at a cheaper price than infant formula. Lactating mothers seem to be the answer, not lactating cows.

Infant formula is one of those Western conveniences – like cars, electricity, flushing toilets – where the environmental impact would be enormous if everyone around the world used them.
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If you would like to read more yourself, have a look at:

Jelliffe and Jelliffe (1978) Human Milk in the Modern World OUP : Oxford


  1. Wow - that never occured to me, I'm breastfeeding at the moment - better try to continue for as long as possible!

  2. Thank you for this, it's absolutely fantastic and so interesting..I am a breastfeeding