AEPGA, the Association for the Study and Protection of Asinine Cattle, has spoken out about a recent rise in the production of donkey milk in Portugal and voiced concerns that the over-production of milk could result in the national Miranda Donkey losing its “symbolic and cultural” worth.
Founded by donkey vet Miguel Nóvoa, AEPGA was created to promote and protect donkeys, in particular the indigenous Miranda breed.
In a statement the association made it very clear that it “does not support the production of donkey milk as a venture that involves the intensive exploration of livestock.”
Given the “high interest” that the production of donkey milk has generated in Portugal in recent times, the association “felt the need and the responsibility” of publicly addressing a few points.
Its strongly-worded statement, issued last week, was released with two main objectives; firstly, to clarify the distinction between the production of donkey milk and using the production of donkey milk as a bonus to farmers, and secondly, to explain the role of donkey milk in the future of the Miranda breed.
“There are many recent studies that underline the qualities of donkey milk, not only as an ingredient for cosmetic-making and in pharmaceuticals, but also as a substitute to human milk. Bearing in mind we live in times when ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘innovation’ are the words of the day, it is no wonder that the production of donkey milk has been welcomed with enthusiasm. There are though implications that this type of business could have, on many levels”, AEPGA warned.
One of the association’s main concerns is that donkeys are given quality food and the right supplements to ensure they produce milk healthily.
Another main concern relates to the separation of foals: “In a system of intense production, from an early age the foal is separated from its mother during the day and left in her company only at night, which can cause stress and anxiety” particularly to the foals, AEPGA said, adding that a weakening of the immune system and loss of weight are two common consequences of such an emotional state. This puts the foal’s growth at risk as well as its ability to resist diseases.
And, by using donkeys for something other than their traditional role as work-horses can “put at risk a series of traditional domestication techniques and know-how which are excellent for the individual development of the animal and for the establishing of a close relationship with the human.”
With particular regards to the Miranda Donkey, AEPGA warned that the mass breeding of animals which is necessary to create a donkey milk business would not be accompanied, at least in this country, by the same amount of demand to absorb the milk produced, “which raises questions not only about the welfare of the animals (as in, what would happen to the ‘excess’ or elderly, non-fertile animals), but monetary questions (if there are too many donkeys their market worth will decrease).”
“Sadly, this will probably mean a symbolic and cultural devaluation of an animal, something that AEPGA and others have fought to avoid in the past decade”, it stressed.
Addressing the difference between responsible breeding and profiteering, “AEPGA wants to make it clear that it does not support the production of donkey milk as a venture that involves the intensive exploration of livestock and that it does not see it as a desirable way to preserve and give value to the Miranda Donkey.”
Nationally, donkey milk is used widely in the production of cosmetics such as soap and body creams, which can sell for anything in the region of €3 and €16 and above, respectively. It is also a successful export.