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Noteworthy: Andrew Novakovic talks to HBO’s VICE News about “supercows”

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Overview

Due to genetically selective breeding methods adopted by modern dairy farmers, the amount of milk the average cow can produce over its lifetime has increased dramatically since WWII. In a recent episode of HBO’s VICE News about these “supercows,” Andrew Novakovic, the E.V. Baker Professor of Agricultural Economics at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, discussed the impact of selective breeding on the dairy industry. While advances in living conditions and animal treatment have lead to increases in milk production, the biggest gains have been the result of improved genetics, according to Novakovic.

Key Takeaways from Andrew Novakovic’s VICE News interview:

Milk production has increased enormously since WWII.

“If you look at how much milk can an average cow produce over time—that line is just a straight upward sloping line since about WWII,” Novakovic said. “It’s a huge difference. It’s enormous.”

Although farm conditions and healthcare are important, genetics play the biggest role when it comes to a cow’s ability to produce milk.

“We’ve improved feeding. We’ve improved healthcare. We’ve improved comfort of the animal in her stall, in the barn, walking around in the pastures,” said Novakovic. “But the key is the genetic potential of the animal.”

Selective breeding does not adversely affect the animals.

“Other than the fact, that you’re not having a bull physically mating with a cow, everything else about this is pretty natural.”

The environmental impact of having fewer cows involved in milk production is substantial.

“You could ask yourself the question, Do I want to produce 200 billion pounds of milk with 10 million cows or 20 million cows,” Novakovic said. “Which is going to have a larger environmental impact? It’s pretty obvious that these increases in productivity I would say are highly favorable towards sustainability goals.”

Watch the VICE News episode about “supercows” to learn more about what Andrew Novakovic and others had to say on how selectively breeding cows is impacting the dairy industry.


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