For many, consuming dairy is a part of everyday life – milk in coffee, cheese in a toasted sandwich, yoghurt with muesli, whipped cream on cakes, butter on toast, and the list goes on. In fact, dairy consumption is so widespread that Australians are said to consume nine billion litres of milk per year. Further, the industry’s global value reached USD 718.9 billion in 2019, with projections predicted to rise to USD 1032 billion by 2024. There has also been a steady rise in the dairy alternatives industry in recent years, with the US non-dairy milk market growing by 50% in 2018. Dairy is still undoubtedly more widely consumed than it’s plant-based counterparts, and with so many perceived benefits of doing so, it begs the question – why have so many people turned to the alternatives? After all, dairy is a necessity…. right?

Because cows as a species produce milk, so why wouldn’t we milk them?

It is widely believed that cows, as a species, just produce milk, well, just because.. that’s what they do (right!?). People are often shocked to learn that this is actually false, and cows, much like humans, or any other mammal for that matter, need to be pregnant or have recently given birth in order to lactate (produce milk). 

In the dairy industry cows are impregnated each year to ensure their milk production stays high and of a particular quality. To impregnate cows, artificial insemination is used. This process involves someone forcing their fist inside the anus of a cow to hold her cervix, and then pushing a rod full of semen through her vagina and depositing the contents into her uterus. 

Cows carry their calves for nine months before giving birth, and within hours they are separated from each other. Unsurprisingly, this is a hugely traumatic experience for both cow and calf, and cows are known to chase after the vehicles that carry their babies away and bellow for weeks after they are gone. 

Male calves present little value to the dairy industry, and aside from a small number kept for breeding, they are slaughtered within the first week of their lives along with one third of female calves. The remaining two thirds of female calves are raised to realise the same reality as their mothers; being forcibly impregnated year after year, having their calves taken from them, milked twice daily and killed once their bodies can no longer withstand this constant cycle of abuse. Calves separated from their mothers have been documented crying out for hours on end in the holding pens of slaughterhouses the night before they are killed. If calves are not killed in abattoirs they can legally be bludgeoned to the head on farms. 

A calf who has been separated from their mother. Image: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals.

Because if we don’t milk cows they can actually become really sick.

It is often argued that calves will not drink the amount of milk that their mothers produce, and therefore it is necessary to milk cows in order to avoid their udders becoming sore, swollen and at risk of mastitis. Put simply, this is true, however, this issue is much more complicated than it appears on face value. Dairy cows have been genetically manipulated by humans through years of selective breeding in order to produce up to 40 litres of milk per day, whereas calves only consume 5-10 litres. This massive yield of milk is desirable to the industry because it means higher profits, despite the heightened health risk it poses to the animals. 

The dairy industry often uses this high production of milk as a justification for separating calves from their mothers within 24 hours of them being born. It is argued that because calves will not drink the amount of milk cows produce daily, separating them from each other protects the health of cows, because milking machines can ‘completely…empty the udder’.

Cows being milked on a milking parlor. Image: Farm Transparency Project.

Because we need milk for calcium, keeping our bones strong 

The dairy industry has relentlessly and falsely marketed dairy products as a health food, essential to a healthy and balanced diet. Yes, dairy is a source of calcium, however there are a huge variety of plant-based sources of calcium that additionally have intrinsic protective effects on bones, as well as confer less risk of chronic disease than dairy products do. For example, swapping out dairy fat for an equivalent amount of calories from vegetable fat decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Further, consumption of dairy has possible links to the development of prostate and breast cancer. Essentially, dairy is not essential to a healthy diet, and in some cases has a negative impact on an individual’s health. Additionally, plant-based alternatives to dairy milk cause much less devastation to our natural world, most notably regarding land and water use (oat milk being the least impactful – and the most delicious).
Ultimately the consumption of dairy is not a necessity for humans or animals, and in both cases causes a great deal of harm. You don’t need to miss out on your favourite products – simply swap them for a kinder option.

Author:
Kindness Project

Kindness Project is an animal rights organisation that has been born out of the belief that in order to dismantle the animal industrial complex (AIC) it is imperative that our advocacy is inclusive of all those who are harmed by it.