I’d already been vegetarian for a number of years before I realised I could no longer justify consuming dairy products. I’d always taken the view that cows produced milk and no-one was dying as a result, unlike when you consume meat. But after looking more carefully I soon learned how wrong I was.
Many people are surprised to find out that, like us, cows need to be pregnant in order to produce milk. It’s not that I thought cows magically produced milk forever and a day but I’d just never given any thought to the reality that there are millions of calves being born each year, around 50% of whom won’t produce milk. This, for me, has become one of the most distressing elements of the dairy industry – the inescapable fact that calves have to be born in order for us to get milk, but with no economic value, they are disposed of as if they were general farm rubbish.
Many argue that cows suffer more than other animals raised for food as their suffering is so prolonged, over several years. Each year cows are forcibly impregnated only to have their calves torn away within hours of birth, an extremely traumatic experience for both. If they have the misfortune to be born male, a cruel fate awaits the majority of these babies, known as bobby calves (aka waste products of the dairy industry). Barely able to even stand, around two million of them are left in crates at the side of the road, sometimes for hours, before being literally thrown onto the bobby truck and taken to slaughter. These terrified babies seek only comfort from their mothers.
Cows have been known to chase after the trailer carrying their baby away, and call out to them for days or weeks after separation. But a distraught mother’s grief is ignored as she continues to be milked – robbed of the milk intended for her calf. This will happen every year until she is exhausted and her body cannot produce enough milk to satisfy the industry. At this point, she too will be sent to slaughter like many of her babies before her, years short of her natural lifespan.
Cows are sensitive, inquisitive animals who form close and complex bonds with other cows and can recognise up to 100 faces in the herd, but on dairy farms they are treated as little more than milk machines. Pushed to their physical limits, dairy cows commonly suffer from lameness, as a result of standing on concrete milking pads, and around 15% of an average herd suffers from mastitis, a painful udder infection. Why is it that we accept a certain number of cows in a herd will suffer like this, just so that we can drink milk?
The obvious solution is to turn away from dairy, which I did all those years ago, and have never looked back. For any dairy product there is a cruelty-free alternative and the range is growing all the time. To be perfectly honest, the idea of consuming dairy now turns my stomach – the milk from another species, intended only for infants? No thanks, I’ll stick to plant-based milks.
There’s no getting away from the fact that the dairy industry causes immense suffering. Whilst individual cases of abuse may, or may not, be addressed, there’s no way to change the inherent cruelty. As long as people consume dairy, cows will be impregnated, their calves torn away and killed, and the cycle repeated. If you could help put a stop to this you would, wouldn’t you?
Abi Izzard, Campaigns Officer