While the issues surrounding meat production and vegetarianism get a lot of blog inches, air time, and discussion in university classrooms, the dairy business is often relegated to the sidelines, when in fact milk, cheese and yogurt is seen by many as seriously problematic to the planet, the animals producing it, and our bodies.
It is estimated that around 75% of the world’s population have problems digesting dairy, and studies have shown that milk is not as bone-protective as previously thought. Some experts have linked dairy products to heart disease, diabetes and cancer, although there are others who dispute these claims.
When it comes to animal welfare, the conditions and processes involved in producing the huge quantities of milk we drink leave many feeling queasy. Cows are known to be extremely nurturing toward their young, and the bonds formed in childhood seem to last a lifetime in nature. In reality, calves are often forcibly taken from their mothers when they’re as young as one day old. The calves are fed milk replacements so that their mother’s milk can be sold to humans. Meanwhile, because her natural feed (grass) would not provide enough nutrition to produce the abnormal amount of milk demanded, female cows on large farms are fed a high-protein diet consisting of other animals, hormones (to encourage milk production, though these are currently banned in Canada and the E.U.), and antibiotics.
At dairy farms where animal’s living conditions are not a priority (and there are many), cows are kept in intensive confinement 24 hours a day, chained up in stalls too small to turn around, with inadequate bedding and waste removal. Mastitis, a painful infection of the mammary glands, is common and when it becomes unmanageable, the affected animals are sent to slaughter. Because of the practice of artificial insemination, female cows are condemned to a continuous cycle of pregnancy-birth-lactation to keep producing milk. In general, we harvest around 10 times the normal amount of milk produced by these gentle animals.
Unfortunately, as long as we support the dairy industry, we are also supporting the veal industry, as young male calves who are taken from their mothers are also chained in tiny stalls and fed a diet that is designed to make them gain weight unnaturally until they are slaughtered – between 1 and 18 weeks old.
And finally, the dairy industry poses a surprisingly real threat to the environment, thanks to the methane produced by cows (during digestion and from their manure) is contributing to dangerous levels of greenhouse gases, and pollution of local water systems is a common side-effect.
If all this is getting you down, how about trying to reduce the dairy products you consume? Almond milk, coconut milk ice-cream and nut butters are a great way to start. You’ll be helping yourself, the planet, and a whole lot of cows!
Photo Credit: The4thMonkey.com