Can Dairy Consumption and Compassion Coexist?

Since the 2010s, people have widely gone vegan because of health and ethical reasons. Global data states, “while it’s hard to peg an exact number of people who are fully committed to a vegan diet, as many as 6% of U.S. consumers say they are vegan — a six-fold increase compared to just 1% in 2014.”

Despite the movement’s popularity, it is still regarded with contention. Vegans have been criticized as judgmental and pretentious by non-vegans. Additionally, the vegan movement has largely been criticized as classist, exclusive, and condemning of those who eat meat and use animal products. Some non-vegans say that the protestations from the vegan community only drive them towards a deeper attachment to meat, milk, and cheese. Furthermore, some non-vegans assert that advocating for animals like they’re human is very problematic.

At the same time though, is cruelty okay just because something isn’t human?

Typically, cows within the commercial dairy industry spend their lives inside of a gray, concrete enclosure. Naturally, Holstein cows, the most common cow used for dairy products will live up to 20 years or more, but after four or five years, they are sent to be slaughtered because their milk production has decreased.

Female cows are impregnated by artificial insemination. Oftentimes, semen is collected from bulls through simulation, manual manipulation, or through electroejaculation which involves applying low-voltage pulses of electric currents to the bull’s pelvic nerves. This is how they extract the sperm from the bull, and once they use it to get the cow pregnant, she has a gestation period of 9 months.

Months later when the calf is born, the mother will not have more than 2 or 3 days with it, and in some cases, the cow is removed directly after birth. Mother cows do not want their calves to be taken away, and they will often bellow loudly when it happens. Cows have very strong maternal instincts and are very social animals.

Here is a live depiction of their behavior.

Nevertheless, according to the USDA, 97% of calves are taken from their mothers within 12 hours of being born. Afterward, the mother is hooked up to a milking machine. In nature, a cow produces 12 -15 pounds of milk each day, but in the dairy industry, the mom produces 50 lbs daily. It really hurts to have that much milk. Bovine Somatotropin (rBST), a bioengineered hormone is injected into cows every other week to incite more milk production than normal. Although not identical, rBGH is similar to a hormone that the cow naturally produces. An EU report states that the use of rBST often results in "severe and unnecessary pain, suffering and distress" for cows. And once they’ve stopped producing enough milk, they will go through this process all over again.

As mentioned before, cows live up to 20 years, but within the dairy industry, they normally live about 5 years. Dairy cows have a mortality rate of 10%. Given this, the argument that “animals aren’t people” is deeply problematic because that’s simply not the point.

It's understandable how people can feel harshly judged for eating beef and milk, but at the same time, we can’t condemn creatures who have done nothing wrong.

There are so many cruelty-free alternatives now for things like ice cream, milk, and cheese. And while some have a hard time cutting out meat, beef isn’t a necessity. Consider this, dairy cows only give birth to just one calf about every 13 to 15 months. Similar to the length of a pregnant human, they are pregnant for 9. For an industry that relies on mass production, cow meat, and milk is especially exploitative. A mother cow’s body will never even come close to keeping up with mass production.

If we cut back on beef and milk even just a little, this could greatly contribute to a better world. And truthfully, we’d be better off individually.

Unfortunately, we ingest those hormones injected into the cow and even the stress hormones that they naturally produce. Did you know that this can contribute to breakouts? Moreover, compounds in milk can cause oil production because they increase IGF-1 levels and growth. IGF-1(Insulin-like growth factor-1) is a hormone that helps promote normal bone and tissue growth and development. Milk leads to an increase in IGF-1. So, it is possible for milk to imbalance your hormones and therefore, increase your skin’s oil production.

Thus, avoiding cow products is not only a big step towards wellness, but it is a small step towards living in a world with less cruelty.