What’s wrong with dairy?

Rescued mother cow and her son, Valentine, at the Australian farm sanctuary Edgar's Mission

What is wrong with consuming dairy products? Nothing, if you are a calf – your mother’s milk is the best food and produced especially for you. But if you are a human, a lot is wrong with buying and consuming animal’s milk.

For many years I drank cow’s milk and loved eating dairy cheeses. “Cows need to be milked otherwise they’ll be in pain” – a ridiculous misconception which, I’m embarrassed to admit, I believed and did not question. That’s surprising since even as a kid I knew that female mammals, a woman or a dog, need to be pregnant and give birth in order to have milk. Somehow I did not ask myself how come cows have enough milk for everyone to drink all the time, and why would a cow be in pain if she is not milked? Wouldn’t she breastfeed her babies? When a friend told me some facts about the life of dairy cows and their babies, I started reading and learning about it, and was horrified by the truth. I was also shocked by my own long time ignorance and blindness.

Cows being milked at a small-scale dairy and veal farm Picture: Jo-Anne McArthur

Cows being milked at a small-scale dairy and veal farm
Picture: Jo-Anne McArthur

Let’s look behind the scenes of the dairy milk production, it’s a dark story. Cows, like human mothers, carry their babies for nine months and produce milk when they are pregnant and give birth. So how do cows in the dairy industry continue lactating in order to maintain a steady supply of milk for humans?  First, female cows are forcibly impregnated, mostly through artificial insemination. The cows are strapped to a rack (referred to by the industry as a “rape rack”); they are then inseminated by a person inserting their arm into the cow’s rectum to position the uterus, and forcing the artificial insemination gun with semen into her vagina[1]. This takes place for the first time when a cow is about one year old, and then every year after. The semen is collected from bulls who are either coaxed to ejaculate into an “artificial vagina,” or forced via electroejaculation – shoving a probe into a bull’s rectum and shocking his pelvic nerves[2].

But this is not the only appalling piece of the dairy story. If not for humans, a mother cow would nurse her baby for nine to twelve months, and she would bond with her calf similarly to other mammal mothers. However, newborn calves are forcibly taken away from their mothers within a few hours to a few days. Mother cow, like a human mother, mourns the loss of her babies. She’ll bellow for days (one case of such cries alarmed residents living nearby a dairy farm), pace, and may stop eating.

But what happens to the calves? Male calves are considered a surplus to the dairy industry and are often not desired breeds for “beef” production, so they are sold to the veal industry, primarily through livestock auctions. They spend their brief life confined or chained in stalls. Space is restricted to stop them from moving as this makes the meat redder and tougher. The calves, being unable to move, must stand in their excrement. They are restricted to an iron deficient diet that consists mainly of liquid milk-replacement and antibiotics. Their life typically lasts for eighteen to twenty weeks, and their white, tender meat known as “veal” is sold for a premium price[3]. Their unnatural environment and stressful conditions lead to a high incidence of stereotypic behavior and illness which you can read about here. In the UK more than 90,000 male dairy calves are shot soon after birth every year because there is no market for them. Female calves will be raised to replace their mothers and spend their first two months of life isolated or, in group pens, motherless. It has been demonstrated that both mother cows and calves possess intelligence and emotional sensitivity, and suffer as a result of this cruel separation.

After her baby is taken away from her the cow is put to work. In most dairy operations in the U.S. and other countries, cows are being milked on hard concrete floors, connected to milking machines. They are subjected to routine painful procedures such as tattooing, ear tagging, and tail cutting, which are often performed without anesthesia. Those practices stem from the industry’s desire to maximize profits while minimizing costs.[3]

And as with any business where animals are exploited for profit and human benefit, and used as tools and commodities, animal cruelty is inherent and rampant. “Every single time that we send investigators undercover into America’s factory farms, they emerge with startling evidence of animal cruelty and neglect,” said Nathan Runkle, executive director of Mercy for Animals in an ABC News report about a New York dairy operation supplying milk used for cheese by Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, and Domino’s. An investigator for Mercy for Animals has revealed that the cows in this dairy operation never go outside, have the ends of their tails cut off in painful procedures without anesthesia, and are abused by workers.

Last year CBS and other media outlets reported about extreme abuse and killing of newborn calves and cows at Daisy Farms. In 2014, an undercover investigator with Mercy For Animals documented horrific animal cruelty at the largest dairy producer in Canada.

Those are just a few examples, and there are more in the US and other countries. But even without the purposeful cruelty, the daily life of cows is abusive. They are milked day after day, year after year; annually being taken back to the “rape rack”, and after giving birth, they’ll be milked while mourning the loss of their babies again. Cows can live to 20 years, however, those raised for dairy are sent to slaughter around the young age of four.[4],[5] Their exhausted bodies are processed into ground beef for fast food hamburgers or supermarket retail.[6] Turning cows into milk machines causes production-related diseases, mainly lameness and mastitis (udder infections), which are the two leading causes of dairy cow mortality in the US.[7] Lameness is caused by foot infections or leg problems, which stem from improper nutrition and exacerbated by standing in feces or water soaked areas.[8]

We cause this extreme misery to those wonderful and intelligent animals, being willfully ignorant, with the sole purpose of pleasing our appetite. The sad truth is that there is no biological need for adults nor children to consume cow’s or goat’s milk. Moreover, recent studies have shown that milk is bad for you, and yet its consumption is promoted by the industry and the government. Cow’s milk can promote weight gain, cancer, and cause osteoporosis.

And what about the nutritional value of animal’s milk? Adults and children can get all the nutrients they need such as: protein, calcium and potassium, from grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and fortified foods. These foods are not only nutritious but they do not contain the hormones, antibiotics and pus found in animal’s milk.

If you are looking to replace dairy products with non-dairy ones, know that there is a variety of vegan cheeses, in Canada, Israel, UK, US, and many other countries. My favorites are the ones made from nuts, and Tofutti’s cream cheese and sour cream. And there is no shortage of non-dairy milks, and ice creams; I personally love Trader Joe’s Soy Creamy Cherry Chocolate Chip frozen dessert. And even if you find that some of those are not as “tasty” as the products you are used too, remember, many of us were programmed to consume dairy products since birth; you will get accustomed to new flavors, and most importantly know that you are making an ethical choice and saving lives. When I see cheese or a glass of milk, I don’t miss its taste, I only see abuse and misery, and it appalls me.

I believe that we should not consume dairy (or any other product that is sourced from animals) not only because of the horrific life of dairy cows, goats and calves but because living beings are NOT ours to exploit and use. Their bodies are theirs, their babies belong to them and their life matters to them. Even if cows or goats were raised with love as companion animals, I would not drink their milk, just as I would not drink my dog’s milk if she had any. Mothers’ milk is to nourish their babies, period. It’s not mine and I would not steal it just because I can.

I believe that consuming dairy products, much like consuming animal meat, is unethical and wrong, and there is no justification for it. I feel regret and deep sorrow for all the misery I caused those beautiful animals for so many years by consuming  their milk. I beg all of you who were not aware of the facts, now that you know, please stop this inhuman treatment of mothers and their babies. Please don’t take part in an industry that is based on sexual violations, disruption of motherhood, and abuse and killing of baby animals.

To learn more about the dairy industry you can read the following:

Business Insider – businessinsider.com/they-finally-figured-out-what-to-do-with-old-dairy-cows-2015-6

Forbes – forbes.com/sites/jamesmcwilliams/2013/10/25/milk-of-human-kindness-denied-to-dairy-cows/#1316a02b61d9

Free from Harm – freefromharm.org/dairyfacts/

Wikipedia – en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dairy_cattle


To learn more about the life of calves in the veal industry you can read the following:

Humane Society – humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/farm/hsus-the-welfare-of-animals-in-the-veal-industry.pdf


[1] How To Artificially Inseminate Cows and Heifers. Retrieved 8/30/2016

[2] Melissa Rouge, Semen Collection from Bulls, Colorado State University, 9/2/2002. Retrieved 8/30/2016

[3] David S. Turk, Detailed Discussion of Cattle Laws, Michigan State University College of Law, 2007. Retrieved 8/30/2016

[4] Richard L. Wallace, Market Cows: A Potential Profit Center, University of Illinois Extension, 3/13/2002. Retrieved 8/30/2016

[5] Albert DeVries, Cow longevity economics – the cost benefit of keeping the cow in the herd, delaval.com. Retrieved 8/30/2016

[6] Marcy Lowe and Gary Gereffi, A Value Chain Analysis of the U.S. Beef and Dairy Industries, Duke University Center on Globalization, Governance and Competitiveness, 2/16/09. Retrieved 8/30/2016

[7] How Big A Problem Is Dairy Cow Mortality In The US?, The Cattle Site, 2011. Retrieved 8/30/2016

[8] Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Dairy cattle”, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dairy_cattle. Retrieved 8/30/2016

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8 Responses

  1. Camilla Fabbri says:

    Disgusting! Horrifying! It breaks my heart. I am trying to cut out dairy entirely (I’ve been eating cheese and yogurt) – I think this is the push I needed. I have found almond milk to be a good substitute for milk – tastes great. Thanks for sharing. XO, C

    • Thank you Camilla. It’s very gratifying and good to know that my blog post encouraged you to eliminate dairy completely! Every step we make in removing dairy products helps in reducing the harm done to precious sentient beings. Glad you found almond milk tasty; I tried this new pea based milk, Ripple. I find it tastier than all the other milks. In addition it has the same amount of protein as dairy milk, and more potassium, vitamin D and calcium. If you try it, please let me know…

  2. Rita Anderson says:

    Once more, Zahava, you have nailed it. I, too, grew up drinking milk and eating dairy products. I could not imagine what was wrong with it. Thankfully, my eyes were opened some time ago, so I now know the grief and misery caused to these beautiful beings. How must it be for them to be violated in so many ways, including having that heavy, metal “milking machine” attached day in and day out? Thank you for helping to open so many eyes to the suffering people caused by consuming dairy products. I think of Albert Schweitzer when he said, “THINK OCCASIONALLY OF THE SUFFERING OF WHICH YOU SPARE YOURSELF THE SIGHT.” Out of sight, out of mind is not good enough. I ask people to actually think about (and act accordingly) what they are doing when they consume dairy.

    • Many thanks Rita for your kind words, and even more, for being the one who told me about the sad reality of the dairy industry; the enslavement and miserable life of cows whose milk I consumed thoughtlessly. You opened my eyes, and started me on the road to knowledge and insight into animal exploitation which persists far beyond the meat industry. For that I’ll be forever grateful.

  3. Vered Klinghofer says:

    A very powerful article, Zahava. All your writings have an influence on me. Slowly but surely I will replace more animal products with the vegan kind.

    • Many thanks Vered. Knowing that my ideas are influencing you makes all my work worthwhile. So glad you are feeling the importance of these issues and taking action. I feel that a conscious and empathetic way of making choices in our daily life, not only helps the animals, but it’s also empowering and gratifying. I hope you and everyone else who make such choices will be rewarded as well.

  4. Sari Bohrnell says:

    Zahava your article was eye opening. We tend to not think about how our food is produced when it is purchased in final packaging at the grocery store. Believing milk products are a “lesser evil” than beef products is in fact a wrong conclusion by most of us. Thank you for sharing the detailed information about dairy production and the sad treatment of farm animals. I have already switched to cashew and almond milk and find them delicious!

    • Thank you Sari. I agree that we do not think of how our food is produced, and indeed animals in the dairy industry suffer no less than those in the meat industry, and in fact they are part of it. Thanks for thinking about the animals and taking steps to minimize their suffering. When more and more of us stop consuming dairy products, less cows and calves will have to go through this abusive life.