I eat a plant-based diet and I am sometimes told “but there is no suffering to make milk, it’s just a by-product”. Well actually no, there is suffering to make milk and it’s not a by-product it’s multi-billion dollar industry. People don’t mess around when it comes to profit margins, and they aren’t going to let the well-being of a cow between get in their way.
Cow’s don’t just magically lactate, like humans they only produce milk when they have given birth. First comes the business of forcing the cow to become pregnant according to the farmers’ own set schedule. Then you can go about the business of taking the milk meant for the calf. The calf doesn’t get the milk, they get whatever shit they can cobble together. For example, “mad cow disease” (known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)) was in fact a sheep disease called “scrapie”. To increase profits, the left-over sheep bits were ground-up and fed to the cows. This was the way that the sheep disease “scrapie” was ingested and became “mad cow disease”, those cow bits were ground-up and fed to humans making it a human disease. This same situation may arise again in the future with a disease that is immune to antibiotics and has a higher mortality rate among humans.
A male calf is not useful in the dairy industry and will promptly be turned into burgers within a few days of being born. A female calf can go on to suffer in much the same way as it’s mother. In either case, both the male and female calves will be separated from their mothers. Today I am near a farm and can hear two cows mooing for each other. This isn’t general cow “hey, how’s it going?” mooing, it is the mooing of “where the fuck is my daughter?” and “I want to be near my mother”. It is incredibly difficult to listen to as it is clearly the sound of two sentient beings who are being separated and will never see each other again. For them, this is terrible suffering.
The females cows themselves have been bred to have the biggest udders possible so that they will produce the maximum amount of milk. These are incredibly heavy and uncomfortable for the cow to carry. This is very different from even 30-50 years ago. During the lifetime of the female cows, they are pumped full of antibiotics, other medicines, and hormones to be efficient milk-making machines and reduce the risk of getting sick which is expensive to the farmer. Female cows are kept while they are producing milk at optimum efficiency. Then they are promptly killed. If they become sick or incur other costs then they will be killed.
During their lifetimes they will be handled and managed by people who may well view the animal as nothing more than a physical asset or milk machine. While there are farmers who seek to give the female cows a good life while they are alive, there are many cases of animal abuse from poorly trained people who have little or no interest in the well-being of the animals. In New Zealand there was recently a case where a man was sentenced for breaking the bones in the tails of more than 130 cows, failing to provide feed and water for the animals.
So forced pregnancy; taking milk meant for the calf; killing the male calves, repeating the same process for female calves, and separating mothers from their sons and daughters; being bred to have unnaturally large udders; over prescription of antibiotics, other medicines, and hormones; being killed as soon as they are no longer efficient milk producers; killed if they are incur additional costs; and being subject to physical abuse by poorly trained farm workers. This does not sound like an accidental industry, but sounds instead like the dairy industry is very efficient and has little regard for the animals that it is exploiting.
Milk products are included in many products, including spreadable butter; whey powder used for protein additive; milk solids used in chocolate and cookies; milk powder for babies; milk products are used as a “traditional refining agent” (ie. adds flavour when it’s been a poor year) for some wines; all the way down to a carton of milk to put on your breakfast cereal. If you opt-out of buying these products then you are choosing to opt-out of the suffering inherent in the dairy industry.
Other Calcium Sources
Why use milk from a cow when there is so much suffering involved in every step of this process? Calcium is an important nutrient that your body needs a lot of every day. Instead of milk you can get your recommended daily allowance of calcium from other sources, particularly soy milk. It’s just ground-up beans, minimal suffering is involved in this process!! It is difficult for your body to extract the calcium found in supplements (ie. pills) so avoid these.