Dairy Farming

Since I mentioned Peter Singer and dairy food, I thought I’d repost this. It’s from 2011.

CalfSuckling2Reading Peter Singer’s book The Way We Eat has led me to conclude that consuming dairy products as we do in this country must be one of the most ethically compromising actions we perform.

First, the milk is intended for cows’ offspring. But we take a calf away from its mother literally hours after birth so we may confiscate the newborn’s food. A calf normally suckles and bonds for 6 months.

Second, to keep a cow producing milk you have to keep her pregnant. How do you make a cow pregnant every year? Often by artificial insemination. The collection of sperm is an unsettling read.

Third, the dairy industry has little use for all those male calves born from the accelerated forced-pregnancy schedule; they don’t produce milk. What does the industry do with male calves? Most are slaughtered immediately and sold as pet food.

“From the calf’s point of view, immediate slaughter is the better fate, for it spares him 16 weeks of confinement in semi-darkness” fed only ‘milk replacer’ and a cocktail of chemicals which prepares his flesh to be sold as veal.

Fourth, dairy cows live a short, hard life:

“Although the natural lifespan of a cow is around 20 years, dairy cows are usually killed at between five and seven years of age, because they cannot sustain the unnaturally high rate of milk production.”

Fifth, dairy farms are large and acute sources of air pollution, water pollution, and greenhouse gases. Residents nearest the farms are the hardest hit.

I can see why businesses shun ethics, but what about consumers? Why is this OK with us?

Mary Ann, a consumer interviewed for the book, who lives, as she describes, “in one of the most expensive places in the country,” says:

“If we’re talking food, it has to taste as good. I want an ethical choice that tastes the same.”

“If I had more time on my hands, I’d probably make better ethical choices, but I would have to go out of my way, which I can’t do much of right now.”

So, taste and convenience trump ethics.

I wasn’t necessarily seeking this information. But what do you do with it once you have it?

Much of this, as I’ve read, applies to organic dairy farming too. The biggest difference is that cows from an organic farm are fed “organic” feed.

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