Mercury Bay filmmaker, Amy Taylor, who produced a feature documentary on the New Zealand dairy industry, is now bringing her message to Whitianga. “Milked” covers a controversial subject, but Amy hopes people will watch the film before judging it, and locals can do that when it’s screened at Whitianga’s Twin Cinemas on Saturday this week (21 May) at 3.45pm, with another screening to be confirmed.
Amy’s husband’s family were dairy farmers, and she knows other dairy farmers personally, so she is wary of the assumption that she has no connections to the industry and no experience on farms.
Milked premiered at the New Zealand International Film Festival where it was the most popular New Zealand title and has since won several international awards. Amy is the producer and director. The executive producers are Keegan Kuhn (“Cowspiracy” and “What the Health”), Suzy Amis Cameron (“The Game Changers”) and Moby (“Meat the Future”).
A synopsis Amy provided to the Informer says, “A young activist goes deep into dairy land where he takes on the giants of New Zealand’s most powerful industry and reveals how the sacred cash-cow industry has been milked dry.
“His journey exposes not only the sustainability crisis and the dangerous denial of impending agricultural disruption, but also what New Zealand and other countries can do to change their fate.”
The Informer asked Fonterra to comment on the documentary. They said media replies were being dealt with by Dairy NZ, who have been contacted for comment. We will publish their comment as soon as it comes to hand.
For those unable to make it to the cinema or just curious as to what Amy has to say in her own words, here is a Question and Answer interview done by email.
Q: Can you tell us where you live and your background, including where you were born and went to school?
A: I live in Kūaotunu with my husband and son. I was born in Christchurch but moved around a lot and then spent seven years in Whitianga as a child, so it feels like home for me here. I went to Mercury Bay Area School, but we moved again when I was 14 and I left school at 15. I didn’t go to university until 10 years later, after travelling and figuring out what I wanted to do.
Q: Also, can you tell us what your occupation was before getting into documentary-making?
A: I studied marine biology and then did a Bachelor of Applied Science at AUT, and spent a few years working on dolphin and whale-watching boats in New Zealand and Tonga as a guide and videographer. One of the jobs I had was on a dolphin boat here in Whitianga around 22 years ago. There was a dolphin researcher here at the time who had contacted the BBC to let them know about his research, and David Attenborough and a film crew came and spent a week filming a story about the dolphins here. I had always loved programs like “Our World” as a child so it was great to see behind the scenes, and it inspired me to do a Postgraduate Diploma in Science Communication, basically wildlife filmmaking, at the University of Otago and Natural History New Zealand.”
Q: How did you get into the film business? What other documentaries or other films have you made?
A: The first feature documentary I made was about Moko, the friendly wild dolphin who had turned up in Whakatane, just down the coast from where I was living in Mount Maunganui. I spent six months living in my van down there and filming in the water with Moko every day. It was an incredible experience but it had a tragic ending which is shown in the documentary I made, “Soul in the Sea”. That film was broadcast here in New Zealand and was shown in film festivals around the world. It was also nominated for an award at Jackson Wild, a festival known as the nature equivalent to the Oscars, and it was up against National Geographic and the BBC. Unfortunately it didn’t win but it was an honour to be nominated. Since then, I’ve been a lot busier being a mum, so I focused on making short films for a while, including some for RNZ and one for Loading Docs which led me into making Milked.”
Q: Turning to the subject of the film itself, what have you got against milk or at least the way it is produced in this country? What is the motivation?
A: The motivation for making the film came from a growing awareness I had about the dairy industry’s impacts on people, the environment and on animals. Like most people, I was totally addicted to dairy as a child, especially cheese and butter, and although I was vegetarian as a teenager (for ethical reasons, because there wasn’t much science available then about the impacts of animal agriculture on the environment and human health), it took a while for me to learn about the dairy industry. Then I discovered that surplus newborn calves were taken from their mothers and sent to slaughter and I gave up dairy in my late teens. I also completed a diploma in naturopathy and had written a thesis about the benefits of a vegan diet, so I was aware of the health impacts too. It’s interesting that there’s a reason why dairy is so addictive, it contains casomorphins so it can take a few weeks to get over the cravings. But a few years later while travelling and struggling to find vegan food - luckily things have changed - I began eating dairy again because I somehow convinced myself it must be okay now, they must have found a way to make it without killing the calves that are seen as a byproduct of the industry. I kept those blinkers on until I had my son and somehow I instantly saw milk for what it is - a product made by mothers for their young - and how wrong it was to be consuming it from another species. I began looking into the dairy industry more and seeing the damage it does to the environment, as well as the water pollution, one of the most obvious being the huge amount of native forests and wetlands that have now been turned into a monoculture of grass and cows that covers a massive amount of the country. When I saw Chris Huriwai’s social media videos about the industry, we began talking about the need to do a feature documentary about it. That was in 2018 and I began filming in 2019.”
Q: Can you give us a few statistics?
A: The sources for the statistics below are available at milked.film/facts:
• Each cow has the equivalent effluent footprint of 14 humans. In New Zealand, the dairy industry is the biggest water polluter, and a major stressor for biodiversity and soil health.
• It takes 1,000l of water to produce only 1l of milk.
• Oat milk uses 13 times less water, 11 times less land and creates 3.5 times less carbon emissions than cow’s milk.
• The dairy industry is producing almost one quarter of New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions (a conservative estimate).
• Fonterra has been massively underreporting their emissions (44 million tonnes instead of 22 million tonnes). They create more emissions than the whole of Sweden.
• Any potential carbon sequestration on farms does not compensate for the methane produced by the cows (methane is 84 times more potent than CO2).
• One acre of land can produce 15 times more protein from plants, than the same area of land used for farming animals.
• More than three-quarters of the earth’s agricultural land is used to feed livestock, which only produce 18 percent of the world’s calories.
• Sixty percent of all mammals on earth are farmed animals, 36 percent are human and only four percent are wild animals.
• Humans are the only mammal to continue drinking milk throughout our lifetimes.
• Globally, about 65 to 70 percent of adults are lactose intolerant.
• Dairy is not beneficial to human health and is associated with many of our most common diseases - heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
• Countries which consume the highest amounts of calcium from dairy have the highest rates of hip fractures and osteoporosis.
• The number one risk factor for the emergence of zoonotic diseases like Covid-19 is the increased demand for animal protein.
• Dairy debt in New Zealand has gone up from $10 billion in 2003 to a debt of around $40 billion today (a 400 percent increase in debt).
• New Zealand has potential for $80 billion in income from plant-based crops, compared with only $28 billion from animal agriculture.
• Two million newborn calves are killed in New Zealand each year because they are surplus to the dairy industry.
Q: What does the milk industry say about Milked?
A: The dairy industry has been mostly very quiet about the film, they seem to be hoping that if they ignore it, it will go away. I’ve seen a lot of comments accusing the film of being fictional and propaganda, etc but all of our sources are available on our website and as yet no one has pointed out anything specific that is inaccurate. It’s easy to make general statements to try and damage the credibility of the film - one reviewer did this by calling it “deeply flawed” in the headline, without any real basis for doing so - but it’s obviously not so easy for them to find any actual fault in the research and information presented in the film. We have had quite a few dairy farmers contact us saying that they’re aware that these issues are real and that we need to be urgently transitioning away from dairy, so it’s not everyone in the industry with their head in the sand.
Q: Can you tell me what awards the film has won and from which organisations?
A: Milked has won the following awards: • IndieFEST - Best of Show. • Spotlight Documentary Film Awards - Gold Award. • Impact Docs Awards - Best of Show and Award of Excellence (Women Filmmakers). • IndieFEST Humanitarian Award - Grand Prize. • Monaco Streaming Film Festival - Best Documentary.
Q: Are you Vegan? Do drink milk?
A: Yes, my family is vegan and we drink plant milks - I’ve just started making my own again, it’s really easy to just blend up some nuts or seeds or oats with water. We sometimes buy vegan cheeses and ice cream, etc but we try to be whole-food plant based as much as possible.”
Q: Do you think your documentary will change people’s minds?
A: I get messages all the time from people who have given up consuming dairy products after seeing the film and that’s the biggest kind of reward from making it. There were also many people who talked about the need for change at the screenings we had around the country as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival last year. It’s not about pointing the finger at farmers or not supporting the farming community, we actually want more support for farmers because there are so many issues they’re facing and they need help, especially with an agricultural disruption on the horizon.
Q: What is the solution?
A: There are some solutions featured in the film, but basically we want the industry to be honest, the government to help dairy farmers transition and for consumers to know the truth about what they’re buying - that it’s unhealthy for them, destructive to the environment and cruel to animals.”
Q: Are there any alternatives?
A: Yes, there are many, some of which we include in the film. Something that most people aren’t aware of is that real dairy products can now be made without cows and huge money is going into scaling up this industry. Perfect Day Foods is one example of a company focusing on this. The dairy proteins, casein and whey, are being produced in fermentation tanks from microbes, instead of in the mammary glands of cows. This precision fermentation process is how the majority of rennet for the dairy industry is already being made and it has been predicted to wipe out the global dairy industry in the next 10 to 15 years. New Zealand’s milk powder exports will be one of the first to go.
Q: Is the film free to enter?
A: Tickets for the Whitianga screening on 21 May are $10. I’ll be available to answer any questions after the screening.
Q: Will viewers be lobbied in any way?
A: Milked presents the reality of an industry that has a huge marketing budget to present its side of the story, which it does relentlessly and without reflecting the truth. I hope that people will watch the film before deciding for themselves which side of the story they believe. It’s an independent documentary and I spent nearly three years working on it because it's an untold story that had to be told. It wasn't an easy or enjoyable experience and the motivation wasn't making money because documentary filmmaking is not a good way to do that, so it's just something I had to do.”
Q: Are you planning any other exposés?
A: I’m planning a film that follows a dairy farm transitioning out of dairy. It’s early stages for now but I'm excited about learning more and documenting it to hopefully help inspire more positive change.”
Pictured is Kūaotunu-based filmmaker, Amy Taylor. Her documentary, “Milked”, will screen at Mercury Twin Cinemas on Saturday this week (21 May) at 3.45pm.