Last week we saw Dean Foods, the largest milk corporation in the United States file for bankruptcy. In light of this, I have seen dozens of social media posts on all sides of the aisle. Today I want to explore this question, “is the end of dairy a bad thing?”
I have a bias, of course, as we all do. My bias is against all forms of animal industries that lead to human profit while simultaneously leading to animal death and/or suffering. I also believe that we should aim to reduce our harm to animals as much as possible by focusing on consuming plant based foods instead of animal products, when the majority of our bodies do not need animal products to be healthy.
That is my own bias though, and I do not expect everyone to share the same beliefs, opinions, values, or worldview as I do. My goal with this post is not to change people’s beliefs, but to share what I have learned, my own ethical exploration, and to encourage you to think about these issues for yourself, and discover what you believe on this.
Do We Need Dairy?
It is important to acknowledge that based on extensive research, we have evidence that we do not need dairy to be healthy humans. In one longitudinal study in Sweden, researchers found a link between higher dairy consumption with increased mortality. If you take a second to think about it, that makes perfect sense! Why would we need the milk of another mammal, intended for that animal’s baby, to survive?
When dairy first came to be, thousands of years ago, we did not have the same access to plant-based foods like we do now. We also did not have access to preserved foods, refrigerators, freezers, etc. The world we live in now allows us to move away from something that is not actually necessary, and also harmful to other species.
So we have to ask the question, why continue to bring animals into the world that will suffer, when we do not need to?
What’s My Problem with Dairy?
How can I have compassion for farmers but also want their jobs and livelihood to go away? My own view of ethics. It is the practices inherent to the dairy industry, which are not going to change. People want cheap milk, and cheap milk is made through factory farming.
It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I learned dairy cows have to give birth to calves in order to produce milk. I spent the first two decades of my life believing that they just produced it automatically, for us. When I was twenty two I began to learn about dairy and its connection with the veal industry, an industry that always saddened me, and I realized something. If I was against eating veal (calves), how could I continue to consume dairy and feel okay about that? My ethics were not matching up.
The dairy process involves taking the calves away from their mothers, either partially or fully, after birth. In order to make profit off of the milk, farmers have to do this, it is a part of the industry. Linked is a document directly from Food and Agriculture Organizations of The United States which outlines recommended weaning practices for dairies.
The document states, “4.1 Weaning: An important activity of dairying. It is not needed when cattle are raised only for meat. Beef calves are allowed to stay with the mother and suckle for as long as they want. But dairy calves are separated from the cow soon after being born. This practice allows most of the milk to be collected and sold, rather than being consumed by the calf.” – Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United States
I am not okay with separated a mother with her baby at all, simply for us to enjoy milk or ice cream, especially now that there are so many alternative options available (cashew ice cream is my personal favorite!)
After that baby is taken from its mother, they are housed separately, either by themselves or with other calves. At factory farms they are typically housed in a small pen with a little hut for shelter. Then, the males are sent to farms where they are killed for the veal industry. The females are often kept to eventually become dairy cows and continue the cycle. One day, when the dairy cows can no longer produce milk, they are often sold off to slaughter as well.
Do these truths feel okay to you? When I thought about it, they were not okay with me. This is how the industry works, the only way for it to be profitable. Even most “small family dairy farms” send dairy cows that no longer produce, and male calves off to slaughter. Anyone who is trying to earn an income from dairy, has to make these choices, because it is not cost effective to continue to feed and house animals that are not providing anything for the bottom line. It becomes much more about maximizing output from the animals, and not about giving them a long, beautiful life.
In any kind of animal-agriculture, the animal is seen as a producer of product, the goal to increase product from that animal. In that process, sacrifices are made and often the animals suffer. I see animals as having innate value, apart from what they provide in product. My views, and those represented in animal-agriculture don’t align.
I care about the farmers, but I also care about seeing these practices go away. Just like many other practices that are problematic and that our consumer habits support every day.
I care about the farmers, but I also care about seeing these practices go away. Just like many other practices that I see as problematic and that our consumer habits support every day. It is not only the dairy industry or other animal-agriculture that adopt practices that I see as unethical, but also many other industries, especially in a society where we are separated from the processes of what creates the products we consume.
I would also like to see clothing chains that fund child labor go away. People would lose their jobs; however, simply because they would lose their jobs does not mean that the industry should continue.
Compassion for Farmers
I do have compassion for farmers, and as we watch an industry decline and people lose everything, there are ways we can support them, including advocating for policy change. Instead of subsidizing milk products and spending tax dollars on trying to keep dairy farms alive, the government could use our tax dollars on helping farmers transition to other forms of plant-based agricultural farming or different fields entirely. As a Washington Post article stated in June, “the best way for the government to help dairy farmers would be by helping them get out of the dairy business”
“the best way for the government to help dairy farmers would be by helping them get out of the dairy business”Gene Baur , Farm Sanctuary
Consumer Habits Have Created the Decline in Dairy
We need to show industries that we will not tolerate practices that create considerable harm on people, animals, and the planet. When our consumer habits change to reflect this, we WILL see the systems change.
As we think about dairy, and all of the other products we buy, it is important to remember that we as consumers have the power to drive change. We tend to think of businesses and organizations as responsible for changing the way they do things; but, they are simply following the profit. Where does the profit come from? All of us, in our consumer habits.
If we want practices to change, if we want to see businesses care about human rights, animal rights, and the environment, we can do that by choosing where to spend our dollars. That means focusing less on buying the cheapest option, and more on spending money on products that create minimal harm on the world, or even products that lead to a positive impact. We can research the food, clothing, and products we buy, to the best of our ability, so we know what our dollars are supporting.
Not everyone has the privilege of doing this. People living in poverty or struggling to provide for their families do not have the privilege of choosing to spend more money for food or clothing, but for those who do, it is our responsibility. We need to show industries that we will not tolerate practices that create considerable harm on people, animals, and the planet. When our consumer habits change to reflect this, we WILL see the systems change.
So, is the end of dairy a bad thing? It doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing for farmers, If we support them in the transition to different forms of plant-based agriculture. It certainly is not for the environment, which suffers from the impact of deforestation and animal-based agriculture. And for the animals, it is a very good thing.
All my best,