The Plastic Cow Project
THE PLASTIC COW
A Collective Effort to Save the Indian Cow from Plastic
What is The Plastic Cow?
In India, one of the most striking images is the cow wandering on the road. In cities, towns and villages numerous cows and bulls sit or wander peacefully, settling down to chew the cud. It gives the impression of a society living together peacefully with animals. The holy cow, the Mother of India is revered by all and, in most states, is not allowed to be slaughtered.
India has an open garbage system, which means open garbage bins on the roads overflowing with stinking waste. Dogs, monkeys, pigs, rats and cows eat whatever they can find to survive. The numbers of stray dogs, rats and monkeys are equal to the amount of garbage on which they feed and multiply.
In cities and towns, large numbers of cows on the roads eat from garbage bins, foraging for fruit and vegetable leftovers, anything edible and smelling like food.
Since plastic bags have invaded our lives, almost all garbage and food waste is disposed in plastic bags. These bags spill out either on the road or from municipality dustbins. Since the plastic bags are knotted at the mouth, cows, unable to undo the knot, eat food leftovers including the plastic. Slowly, over time, they build up a huge amount of plastic inside their stomachs. It gets entangled with different materials and it becomes hard like cement inside their rumens, which is the first belly of the cow.
These cattle, owned or stray, often obstruct traffic and cause accidents. The municipality removes the animals from the road to be sent to go-downs, goshalas (shelters designed for cows), temples or they are simply dumped at the garbage landfills on the outskirts of the city. From there they “disappear” into trucks for transport to slaughter.
What are these cows doing on the road anyway?
There are many small “urban” dairy farms in cities and big towns. Dairy owners send their animals out on the road to forage for food as there is no green grass and little or no space to keep the animals at home. Still the owner milks his cows. These cows share the roads with abandoned calves, young and old bulls, old and dry cows. They scavenge between the garbage bins, the vegetable markets and hotels and finally end up on the municipality garbage landfills outside the town.
In places where there are cattle markets, there are more “owners”. These owners (brokers) buy the animals from farmers or cattle markets for very little money. The new “owner” simply leaves them on the road to fend for themselves. They mark the animals as their property. Whenever it suits them and the animal “looks fat”, they sell them off for a lot of money to an unsuspecting real farmer or for slaughter. When the farmer feeds the cow natural food and grass, the animal, having eaten garbage all its life, dies from indigestion and the farmer and the cow are both victims of a cruel and immoral practice.
The Holy Cow Reduced to a Dying Scavenger
There have been anti-plastic campaigns in India. At present there is a ban on plastic bags up to 40 microns in many states. But no one has focused on the hazardous effects of plastic on the animals and their right to live a life free of plastics. It is the basic right of the cow to live and graze on natural food and not have to eat garbage tied up in plastic bags. This is an acute form of cruelty. The noble cow has become a scavenger.
Rumenotomy, the surgical removal of plastic up to 70 kg from the cow.
Karuna Society for Animals & Nature is based at Puttaparthi, in Andhra Pradesh (South India), 70 Kms away from Anantapur. In December 2010, Karuna Society received 36 stray cattle from Anantapur town for permanent custody. Soon after their arrival one of the cows died. The post mortem conducted by our veterinary surgeon revealed that the animal’s rumen was full of plastic. After examination of all the animals, he advised us to start surgeries to remove plastics from their rumens to save their lives.
From the moment we received the “plastic cow” from Anantapur town, we realized that there are hundreds of cattle on the roads feeding on garbage, including plastic. They are sentenced to a slow and cruel death if they do not receive help in time. This is a cruelty most people are not aware of when they see the animals “peacefully” walking on the street. Think about big cities like Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore where tens of thousands of animals are walking around with their bellies full of plastic.
It has been a life changing experience for all of us who witnessed the surgery and the removal of plastics and other waste items from the rumen. We are horrified by the suffering of animals caused by the human garbage system and the problem of letting cows and bulls loose on the road.
The Unobserved Disaster – The Plastic Effect on Wildlife
Along India’s rivers, there are thousands of temples, villages and towns, where untreated sewage and garbage flows in the water. Hundreds of kilometers away, garbage and plastic are deposited at places where wildlife feeds and drinks. Many animals die a painful and unobserved death. An elephant was found dead with 750 kg plastic inside its stomach. Turtles, fish, birds, wild pigs—no animal can escape!!
Pradeep Nath from VSPCA (Visakha Society for Protection and Care of Animals), Vishakapatnam has for many years been involved in rescuing endangered turtles and other wildlife and his observation shows that many animals suffer from plastic ingestion or get entangled in plastic bags and suffocate to death.
The Plastic Cow Project
Karuna Society, having realized that all cows on Indian roads are full of plastic, wrote a “Plastic Cow” report to all our contacts including the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organization (FIAPO) network, to find ways to stop this cruelty. Philip Wollen of the Kindness Trust, Australia, responded immediately and he told us to continue the rumenotomies with the assurance that the Kindness Trust would fund 100 surgeries as a pilot project at the cattle hospital at Karuna Society.
The “Plastic Cow Project.” started with four people, seriously concerned about the ban on plastics and violation of animal rights. It is a work in progress, with multiple strategies being devised to end this problem. The ‘plastic cow’ represents an icon for all animals exposed to the human garbage system.
Surgeries on Plastic Cows
Public Interest Litigation
Plastic cow campaign including documentary and website
Surgeries on Plastic Cows
The rescue of individual plastic cows from the road by the qualified rescue centers. These animals need surgery (Rumenotomy) but they can never go back on the road or to their owners, they need lifetime care and protection. At present the surgeries are performed at the Karuna Cattle hospital Puttaparthi and at VSPCA in Vishakapatnam and at some veterinary colleges such as IPAN (India Project for Animals and Nature) in Ooty.
The general opinion about rumenotomies is that the procedure is not always successful. Many animals develop post-operative problems and die some time afterwards. Owners of plastic cows feel financially more secure if they sell the animal. There is a shortage of cattle hospitals where aseptic surgery can be performed and the veterinary surgeons lack experience which adds to the problems.
Karuna Society started with the same doubts, but after several surgeries and improvements of the procedures the success rate is high.
Performing rumenotomies is not the answer to the plastic cow, only a total ban on plastics and removal of animals from the garbage-dump will solve the problems. We continue the surgeries as it is a life-saving procedure for the individual animal. As a pilot project, funded by The Kindness Trust, Australia, it gives us more information about the problems, the surgeries and the rate of survival.
Public Interest Litigation
The Plastic Cow activists filed a case in the Supreme Court of Delhi, for animal’s rights and the complete ban of plastic bags.
M/s VSPCA, Vishakapatnam, M/s Karuna Society for Animals and Nature, Puttaparthi, and three individuals Pradeep Nath, Clementien Pauws and Rukmini Sekhar are the litigants in this case supported by Senior Lawyer for Supreme Court Shyam Divan and assisted by Pratap Venugopal.
The respondents in this case are the Central Government and all the States of India, through their Animal Husbandry Departments, including the Animal Welfare Board of India.
While there may be a couple of cases pending asking for a total ban on plastic bags as an environmentally hazardous pollutant, this team has specifically filed it as an animal rights litigation. This is clearly a case of the state violating its own laws where the Constitution guarantees the right to life to all living beings and yet, the plastic bag issue is not being either monitored or implemented by the state. We have also asked for a better garbage disposal system where there is no interface between animals and plastic. As the case will unfold over time, many more aspects can be brought to the attention of the Court and the public.
On May 7, 2012, the Supreme Court announced in its first hearing that it may be considering a total ban on plastic bags. This made huge national and international news.
Excerpts from the Economic Times of India
8 May, 2012, 05.10 AM IST, Dhananjay Mahapatra, TNN
NEW DELHI: Excessive use of plastic bags and their unregulated disposal has been choking lakes, ponds and urban sewerage systems, the Supreme Court said on Monday while warning that it posed a threat more serious than the atom bomb for the next generation.
This observation from a bench of Justices GS Singhvi and S J Mukhopadhaya came on a PIL filed by two Andhra Pradesh-based NGOs drawing the court’s attention to 30-60 kg of plastic bags recovered from the stomachs of cows because of irresponsible disposal of plastic bags and defunct municipal waste collection system.
The court issued notice to the Centre and State Governments on the PIL seeking ban on use of plastic bags in municipal areas which did not have a prompt garbage collection, segregation and disposal system. The NGOs said absence of prompt garbage collection, segregation and disposal system allowed cows to rummage through garbage bins and eat foodstuff disposed of in plastic bags, which get stuck in their stomach.
But the bench wanted to address the larger questions arising from indiscriminate use of plastic bags, which not only posed a grave threat to nature and environment but also to the human race itself. It suggested that the petitioner make the manufacturers and a television channel, which has been running a campaign against use of plastic, parties to the PIL for a wider scrutiny of the important issue.
“All of us are watching how our lakes, ponds and urban sewerage systems are getting choked by plastic bags. We want to expand the scope of this petition. Unless we examine a total ban on plastic bags or put in place a system for manufacturers mandating them to collect back all plastic bags, the next generation will be threatened with something more serious than the atom bomb,” Justices Singhvi and Mukhopadhaya said.
Appearing for NGOs Karuna Society for Animal and Nature and Visakha Society for Protection and Care of Animals, senior advocate Shyam Divan said the problem was more acute in urban areas where people had a habit of disposing leftover food in plastic bags in municipal bins.
“Apart from the plastic completely choking the digestive system of the cow and causing excruciating pain to the animal, plastic residues enter the human food chain through dairy and animal products,” he added.
The petitioners sought following the directions from the court:
* Prohibit or phase out in a time-bound manner open garbage disposal system and remove open garbage receptacles
* Implement door-to-door garbage collection and prevent animals from moving around garbage storage facilities
* Municipalities must segregate all plastic waste from other waste
* States must issue directions prohibiting use, sale and disposal of plastic bags in all municipal areas
* Provide animal shelters and treat cows and other animals suffering from stomach ache due to ingestion of plastic.
The Plastic Cow Campaign
An outreach effort on National Scale is growing into an organic root level movement
The Plastic Cow Documentary
The Plastic Cow Documentary, made by Kunal Vohra from Altair films with inputs from activists, toxicologists, government authorities, householders, students, journalists, etc.
Philip Wollen wrote the following synopsis of the documentary:
“The Plastic Cow uncovers the ghastly truth about the impact of plastic waste on the innocent Indian cow, which is now reduced to being a scavenger. The film focuses on the ubiquitous plastic bags, the exemplars of human negligence and waste, which the discarded and hungry cows consume whole for the rotting scraps of food they contain. These plastic bags, which also often contain rusty nails, wires and syringes, clog their stomachs, leading cows to die slow, painful deaths.
This unholy alliance of plastic, carelessness and negligence is not only torturing the Indian cow to death but it has also infected farming communities, rivers, forests and oceans, killing elephants, donkeys, fish, turtles and sea birds.”
The film has been seen by thousands of people in India and all around the world, on You Tube and other social networking platforms and at dozens of film screenings in various parts of the country.
The outreach program
This is envisaged as a focused campaign using the Plastic Cow documentary and intensive interactions at all levels of society – ministries, municipalities, dairy farms and co-operations, educational institutes, veterinary doctors, householders, children, animal organizations, women groups, media, religious groups, restaurants, the plastic industry, etc.
We need to expand into an all-India network of “plastic cow campaigners.” We hope that many people will join this campaign in large numbers from different parts of the country, creating “plastic cow chapters.” We want that all citizens of India should join this campaign to assert our sacred duty of respecting the rights of all animals to live and breathe as is their birthright.
What can you do as a campaigner?
To screen the film is a good starting point everywhere. When people come forward, asking for advise and willing to volunteer, you can brainstorm and share ideas such as the below:
NEVER collect your veg. peelings in a plastic bag with a knot and put them in the garbage.
When you go shopping, bring your own (plastic or cloth) bag, never depend on plastic bags from the seller, REFUSE THE BAGS THAT ARE BANNED, below 40 micron, reuse the plastic bags you already have till they are worn out and then collect them in a separate bag and give them for recycling.
If you are really touched by the film and the suffering of the cow, reconsider your food habits. Nowadays the milk and meat industry are closely connected and there is no more milk without slaughter. Even by being a vegetarian you contribute to the suffering you have just witnessed.
Inform yourself about the health benefits of living as a vegan. It is easy.
A group of volunteers, friends, students, housewives or pensioners can go around in their neighborhood to observe the garbage disposal, the nr of small dairies and the nrs of cattle on the road. Meet with the concerned people and discuss what improvements can be made.
Inform yourself as a group about the existing municipality laws and Government Orders regarding cattle maintenance, dairies and plastics/garbage disposal. Take the next step from there.
Try to find out where the illegal bags come from. (They are banned everywhere so why are they still produced?)
Professionally, or in the workplace:
When you are a government official in any of these areas, have the courage and voice your opinion, help the volunteers who try to change the situation. The same is for journalists, doctors, veterinarians, health inspectors, and shopkeepers. No effort is too small. Maybe the shopkeepers are a special group to canvass as they always want to satisfy the customer who has no bags with them.
When you have enough data about your area, meet with MLAs and any concerned official and politician and build up a pressure group.
Outside the Cities:
90% of the milk produced is from rural areas and small towns. At present there are 304 million dairy cows in India (live stock census Sept. 2012).
In 2007, there were 14 million farmers, 254 milk co-operations, 177 milk unions, and 1,33,000 village level societies. Now in 2013, the numbers are much higher.
In the rural areas the “Plastic Cow Campaign” might need to have a totally different approach through the women groups, creating awareness about plastics. Many dairy cows are taken out for a few hours grazing but the growing amount of plastic and garbage is affecting them too.