The vast majority of people in the Western World grew up with cows milk being a staple ingredient of their diet. Many years ago in Australia, it was customary for school children to be given a free, small bottle of milk every morning at school. This custom was due to the supposed benefits of dairy.
There is now a great deal of evidence to suggest that, far from being beneficial, dairy products are actually damaging to human health, but I’ll leave that for another post; this post will list the truth, that dairy farming is cruel and environmentally damaging. Here are ten things the dairy industry doesn’t want you to know.
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1) Cows are killed for dairy
Most people think milk production is perfectly harmless, because cows aren’t slaughtered to produce it, but they are. The natural lifespan of cows can be more than 20 years; dairy cows however, have a greatly reduced lifespan. After five or six years of repeatedly being impregnated and forced to produce abnormally large quantities of milk, most dairy cows are left exhausted and unable to keep up with demands made of them, milk production diminishes, resulting in the cows being sent to the slaughterhouse to be killed for cheap meat.
2) Cows are producing more milk than ever
Modern dairy farming practices are increasing the amount of milk each cow produces. The amount of milk produced by each cow is now over 10% of previous levels, far beyond what is natural. This puts the cows under ever greater stress as their bodies try to keep up with the physical demands of producing so much milk.
3) Many cows never see grass
When people think of dairy farming (the ones that do consider it at all), they think of cows grazing on lush green pastures, like the picture on this post; but this is not the reality for many large scale dairy cows.
In cold climates, almost all dairy cows are kept in sheds for six months of the year, but many modern dairies keep cows permanently inside, with the cows are kept in barren, featureless sheds, never to set foot on, or graze on grass.
4) Veal is still a thing
Veal is basically an automatic occurrence with dairy farming. In order to produce milk, dairy cows must be made pregnant every year, which results in a calf being born. Calves, especially males, are often unwanted by farmers so they are usually sold on and slaughtered at just a few months old for veal.
5) More soya is used to make dairy milk than soya milk
Dairy cows now produce so much milk that even many of those who are allowed to graze can no longer get enough nutrients from grass alone, so they are also fed grain, soya and other crops. In some countries, the use of soy in cow feed, exceeds the amount used to make all the soy milk consumed.
6) Dairy farming can contribute to water pollution
Intensive dairy farming, especially indoor farming can result in slurry runoff that leaks into rivers and streams where it kills fish and spreads disease.
7) Dairy farming wastes water
As well as polluting water, dairy farms use huge quantities of this precious resource. The amount of fresh water needed to create a litre of cow’s milk is almost twice as much as is needed to make a litre of soya milk. In some countries, the difference is even larger.
8) You’re drinking pus
This is pretty disgusting, but is actually true. An udder infection called mastitis is very common in dairy cows and causes pus to leach into milk. Because dairy milk is pooled together in large tanks, virtually all dairy milk contains this pus. Depending on the specific country and its controls, a litre of milk can have up to 400,000,000 somatic cells (pus cells) before it is considered unfit for people to drink.
9) Dairy farming produces vast quantities of greenhouse gases
With regard to climatic impact, methane and nitrous oxide are powerful greenhouse gases, that are produced in huge quantities by dairy cows and their slurry. The equivalent of around four per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions are thought to come from dairy farming, with the carbon footprint of cow’s milk being about twice as large as that of soya milk.
10) You don’t need milk for calcium
Milk is often promoted as an excellent source of calcium, but there are plenty of plant-based foods that contain as much or far more of this essential nutrient. Weight-for-weight, tofu has about the same calcium content as milk; dried figs contain 35 per cent more calcium; almonds provide more than twice as much calcium as cow’s milk; and sesame seeds contain more than eight times as much.