Have you ever poured cold milk over a crunchy bowl of cereal? Maybe you’ve made a cheesy quesadilla or eaten a microwaveable package of mac and cheese (shout out to all you “cooks”). If this sounds familiar, have you ever stopped to ask: “what kind of farm did this stuff come from?” or “what did the cow that made this look like?”
More importantly, have you asked “how was this cow treated?” The sad reality is that the mass production of milk simply cannot be done naturally, despite popular but misinformed belief.
Here are 5 reasons why:
1. In order to secrete milk, cows must give birth. Mothers only produce large amounts within the first 10 months after reproducing, since milk is made for calves and they stop drinking it around that time. So, farmers must impregnate females artificially to make them produce more milk. They collect cow semen (the technique is far from natural) and force it into the female cows. This pregnancy cycle is ongoing, leading dairy cows to “produce an average of 729 days of milk, which corresponds to 2.4 lactations, before they are considered “spent” and sent for slaughter at an average of less than 5 years of age” (5). Without human interruption, cows naturally live to be 20 years old.
Here’s a video that describes how they’re impregnated (in more detail):
2. Calves are separated from their mothers at birth. Sine calves naturally need to drink their mother’s milk, farmers separate the animals so the milk can be used for human consumption instead of given to the baby. A bond between a mother and her calf is strong, and the calf usually cries out for its mother’s attention for up to 6 months after separation – upon which, they never receive.
If the calf is female and strong enough to stay alive while raised on non-organic and unnatural milks, for their first year of life, they are quickly impregnated for milk production. On the other hand, “male dairy calves are of little or no value to the dairy farmer. A small percentage are raised to maturity and used for breeding,” but the majority are sold to meat companies to be slaughtered as veal (1). Their life, then, spans an average of 16-18 months. During that time, they are held in ‘crates’ where “calves are tied to the front of the stall with a fiber or metal 0.6-0.9 m (2-3 ft) tether, restricting virtually all movement until they reach slaughter weight” (1). This means they are restricted from many natural actions — as simple as lying down for rest.
Consider this the next time you’re ordering from a restaurant menu.
3. Overall, large dairy farms treat cows poorly and unethically. As a result, most cows are very unhealthy and weak. For example, mastitis is a common infection in utters that causes cracking and bleeding, tainting the milk and causing a need for filtration to remove (only most of) the blood. This infection “usually occurs as an immune response to bacterial invasion of the teat canal by variety of bacterial sources present on the farm, and can also occur as a result of chemical, mechanical, or thermal injury to the cow’s udder.” (2) The milk-secreting tissues are harmed because of this bacterial invasion, which causes the cow an immense amount of pain when producing milk. The Humane Society of the United States found that this infection is “responsible for 16.5% of recorded deaths” (5). So, it not only makes them sick, but kills some.
This video is also testament to the filthy living conditions of dairy cows:
4. The quality of milk is tainted. Ingredients that are added to milk for profitable or sustainable purposes include (6):
- Hormone Cocktail
- Gastrointestinal Peptides
- rBGH (Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone)
- Blood Cells (yes, blood!)
- Antibiotics (used to numb the pain that cows endure)
Apparently, “national averages show at least 322 million cell-counts of pus per glass! This is well-above the human limit for pus-intake” (6).
Well, at least there’s a limit! Gross.
5. The environment is harmed by production. If you’re not already convinced of the negative affects caused by dairy farms on both cows and humans, consider the environment.
- Beth Gardiner from the New York Times declares that “manure produced without sufficient land in need of fertilizing can create air and water problems for nearby communities” (7). As the video above shows, many large dairy farms are neglecting manure pile-ups, which poses a real threat to necessities such as healthy air and water qualities.
- The article “How Growth in Dairy is Affecting the Environment” ends by stating: “‘summer evenings, when the air’s real still, every one of those cows is kicking up dust with every step, manure dust… [which] can float right into your home… It’s manure that you’re breathing, not even dirt’” (7). This means that people nearby in communities — even on the outskirts of a dairy farm — are being jeopardized, health-wise.
In response, many argue that organically sourced milks and grass-fed cows are ethically and biologically defendable. Sadly, this argument is weak. Here’s why:
- According to “data provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, factory farms produce more than 80 percent of milk sold in the U.S,” whereas, “Organic milk sales account for only 4 percent of the market.” (1) According to statistics, the probability that a given person is actually buying organic milk in the first place is slim.
- Horizon Milk is a well-known and popular brand that advertises its organic quality first and foremost. Well, studies have found that “for Horizon Milk to remain productive and profitable, they must keep their cows hooked up to the milking machines” (4). And if they’re hooked up, how can they be roaming the fields freely?
- To qualify food with an organic seal, the food must simply be produced in a different way than non-organic food, meaning the means to the end product are regulated. However, there are no required standards for the end product. This means that “even with the USDA Organic Seal, the food can really make no claims that it is more nutritious, better quality or safer to eat,” (4).
- Lastly, the term “organic” can be qualified differently depending on who or what company you are. According to the USDA, there is no standard and wholly accepted definition of the term (4). This means that the picture drawn to you by the media of cows roaming in fresh green grass under the warm summer sun most likely isn’t what’s actually real. Instead of fact, this is an impression thrust upon you to encourage consumption and purchase of certain products.
The moral of the story: look into companies and farms that produce the milk you consume, and decide for yourself whether or not you agree with their qualifications of the term “organic.”
You might be wondering, now, how this can be changed. What can we do? Well, the solution is actually quite simple.
There are plenty of healthy, non-dairy alternatives. Here are some name-brand examples:
- Hemp Milk
- Soy Milk
- Rice Milk
- Oat Milk
- Almond Milk
- Coconut Milk
- Flax Milk
- & even more…
These non-dairy products extent further than just milk substitution.
Some examples are:
- Vegan Cheese
- Vegan Dressing
- Vegan Butter
- Basically, anything that has dairy can be replaced with something equally as delicious.
Today, 16 million people choose not to eat animal products. “Approximately 42% say that they went vegan after they saw an educational film. 69% said they chose to eat a vegan diet to support the ethical treatment of animals. 45% say they transitioned into veganism over time and of all those who are vegan, 52% say they have been eating vegan for less than 10 years. This could be an indicator of the way the country has become more knowledgeable about our food supply over the last five years” (3).
Now that you’ve become more knowledgeable, too, will you join them?
Here are some sites/articles that are worth reading:
Lastly, watch this (with viewer discretion) for a shorter summary of everything I’ve said:
(1) Baden-Mayer, Alexis, and Katherine Paul. “How to Boycott Milk from Factory Farms.” Organic Consumers Association, 30 Dec. 2013. Web. 01 Mar. 2016. <https://www.organicconsumers.org/essays/how-boycott-milk-factory-farms>.
(2) “Mastitis in Dairy Cows.” Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board. Web. 01 Mar. 2016. <http://dairy.ahdb.org.uk/technical-information/animal-health-welfare/mastitis/#.VtTe0sc4mDU>.
(3) Watters, Nadine. “16 Million People in the US Are Now Vegan or Vegetarian! • The Raw Food World News.” The Raw Food World News RSS. 17 Mar. 2015. Web. 01 Mar. 2016. <http://news.therawfoodworld.com/16-million-people-us-now-vegan-vegetarian/>.
(4) Michael, Paul. “Horizon Organic Milk: Is It All Just Lies?” Wise Bread. 15 May 2007. Web. 01 Mar. 2016. <http://www.wisebread.com/horizon-organic-milk-is-it-all-just-lies>.
(5) “The Welfare of Dairy Cows.” Cattle Behaviour & Welfare: 1-22. Humane Society of the United States. Web. 1 Mar. 2016. <http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/farm/hsus-the-welfare-of-cows-in-the-dairy-industry.pdf>.
(6) “The Dangers of Drinking Cow’s Milk.” Dr Groups Natural Health Organic Living Blog. Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM, 13 Apr. 2009. Web. 01 Mar. 2016. <http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/dangers-of-cows-milk/>.
(7) Gardiner, Beth. “How Growth in Dairy Is Affecting the Environment.” Energy & Environment. The New York Times, 1 May 2015. Web. 1 Mar. 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/04/business/energy-environment/how-growth-in-dairy-is-affecting-the-environment.html>.