Marketing Versus Reality: The Myth of the Organic Happy Cow

Whole Foods Market 365 brand organic milk depicts the image of a healthy, happy calf on its cover but the gulf between this facade and the reality behind it could not be greater.

Whole Foods Market 365 brand organic milk depicts the image of a healthy, happy calf on its cover but the gulf between this facade and the reality behind it could not be greater.

Everyone says they want to know where their food comes from these days. Yet most people don’t look beyond product labeling and product marketing, which is the equivalent of relying on the fox who minds the hen house. If we want the truth, we have to look beyond the labels.

What we see here on this Whole Foods 365 Organic milk carton is a happy, healthy-looking cow, beautiful blue sky and puffy white clouds — an idyllic Old McDonald farm scene. But the gulf between this facade and the reality behind it could not be greater in this case.

Dairy cow slaughtered

photo courtesy of Animal Aid, captured from video of an undercover investigation at a slaughterhouse in England

To the left is a photo from an organization in England called Animal Aid that conducts undercover investigations, this one at a typical, small-scale slaughterhouse in England.

What you’re looking at is a “spent” dairy cow who has been stunned with a captive bolt pistol which allegedly renders her unconscious in preparation for slaughter. Stunning is not a perfect science and some animals are still fully or semi conscious when slaughtered.(1)

Consider these 10 important points that are fundamental to all types of dairy farming (2)

  1. ALL dairy cows — those who produce organic milk or not, those raised on pasture or on feed lots, and those raised on small, independent farms or large factory farms — end up in slaughterhouses like this one. No farmer is going to keep an older, less-productive dairy cow alive when he could easily bring in a new, more productive cow in her place. It would make no economic sense.
  2. These spent cows are sent to slaughter for three main reasons: 1. They become ill with one of the numerous diseases that afflict the dairy herd (mastitis, bovine leukemia, lameness, etc.) (3); 2. they simply become too weak; 3. they begin to show a decline in milk production (which means they are no longer economically viable to keep alive).
  3. Downer cows are an industry term for spent dairy cows who are too weak or sick to stand on their feet any longer. Some investigations of downer cows have documented on video cows being dragged by chains and prodded with electric prods to get them onto trucks to then transport them to slaughterhouses. This practice of quite literally dragging a sick animal to slaughter is still legal in the US. California was the only state that attempted to ban this practice and require lethal injection as a more merciful and dignified alternative to end a sick cow’s life. But the ban was short-lived and ultimately defeated by the US Supreme Court. (4) The downer cow issue really brings to light the extent to which these cows are simply viewed as commodities and how the meat and dairy industry and their powerful government allies will fight to legally defend even the most egregious abuses of farmed animals, especially when it means saving money. Some think that this happens only on factory farms, but not true. Don’t forget that competition is fierce, and small dairy farmers therefore must adopt many of the inhumane practices of the mega dairies to compete.
  4. Her slaughtered body will be mixed with thousands of others to become the cheap meat for hamburger and pet food. Her hide, bones and cartilage will be used for leather clothing, accessories and upholstery, and used in such innocuous things like gelatin, chewy candies, marshmallows, asphalt, and construction-grade adhesives.
  5. The udders of dairy cows can become extremely distended, the result of a short but intense life of excessive milk production, up to six times more than her body was designed by nature to produce (5) (and her calves, for whom the milk was perfectly formulated, got little or none of it).
  6. Most cows decline in producing milk between four and seven years old — a mere adolescent in a natural lifespan of 25 to 30 years. Once deemed “unproductive,” cows are hauled off to slaughterhouses, often on long and grueling journeys in transport trucks.
    artificial insemination of dairy cows diagram
  7.  Dairy cows are routinely and artificially inseminated typically once per year using a very invasive procedure that involves a constraining device known in the industry as a “rape rack” and the insertion of semen through her rectum and vagina into her uterus — all done with no pain killer. (6)
  8. Newborn dairy calves are taken away from their mothers typically on day one, causing extreme separation anxiety for both newborn and mother, who carries her baby for 9 months like human mothers do. Mother cows have been known to wail and mourn the loss of their calves up to weeks on end.
  9. The typical dairy cow experiences this cycle of losing her baby at least four and up to seven times in her short life as a milk producer. It is worth noting here that in many studies animals choose physical pain over psychological pain when given a choice, suggesting that emotional pain is much harder to deal with.
  10. There is no veal industry without the dairy industry. Veal farmers depend on dairy farmers to provide them with a steady supply of bovine babies.

So you’re back in the store, tempted by the dizzying array of dairy products: the fancy Chobani Greek yogurt here or the aged French cheese over there and then the gourmet gelato in the freezer section. In all of these cases you can rest assured that they all came from the same circumstances just outlined above.

No matter how “humane” the marketers want to spin the truth, the modern dairy industry’s business model is built upon the exploitation of pregnant females, forcing them to birth lots of unwanted babies. Fortunately, there are so many great alternatives today and new products coming out all the time that can be equally satisfying as well as cruelty-free. Look for them and ask for them if you don’t see them. And from a nutritional standpoint, rest assured, we don’t need to go through an animal to get the nutrients we get from dairy. On the contrary The China Study concluded that casein, the protein found abundantly in cow’s milk, is the most significant carcinogen we are exposed to in our lifetime. (Note: the study refers to countries where dairy is consumed on a regular basis.) The documentary, Forks Over Knives, explores in great detail this subject and other health issues involving animal products.

Mark Bittman, known by many from the PBS show, Spain On the Road Again, starring Gwenyth Paltrow and Mario Batali, is now a well-known food journalist for The New York Times. In a recent article, Got Milk? You Don’t Need It, Bittman writes, “There are our 9 million dairy cows, most of whom live tortured, miserable lives while making a significant contribution to greenhouse gases.” In response to the suggestion that there are better ways of producing milk, Bittman asserts, “But the bucolic cow and family farm barely exist.”

mother dairy cow and calfLet’s conclude this with a positive image. This happy mother dairy cow was spared a violent slaughterhouse end and is now reunited with one of her calves from whom she was separated on a dairy farm. They are now reunited and living out their lives together at a sanctuary in California. At sanctuaries like these, motherhood is honored and respected across the animal kingdom. As we become informed consumers, it becomes clear to us that she is really the happy cow, not the one promoted to us on the organic milk carton. She is a happy cow because she is free to live according to her own interests, free to create a family and free to raise and nurture her young as she so deeply desires and as Mother Nature herself so clearly intends.

For complete sources and more detailed information, please see How about Humanely Raised Dairy Products?. Additional resources can be found at the Humane Myth website.

(1) Temple Grandin, Return-to-sensibility problems after penetrating captive bolt stunning of cattle in commercial beef slaughter plants, Department of Animal Science, College of Agricultural Sciences, Colorado State University.

(2) This is by no means intended as an exhaustive list of dairy industry practices. It is a sampling of some of the lesser known yet common industry practices.

(3) An HSUS Report: The Welfare of Cows in the Dairy Industry, p. 5

(4) The Seattle Times,

(5) What’s In Your Milk? The Scientist: Magazine of the Life Sciences

(6) The Beef Cattle Site

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  7. The ads about happy cows make me sick and it is an out and out LIE. It has become the norm to LIE to the public about ANYTHING and EVERYTHING. You know treat the consumer like a mushroom. KEEP THEM IN THE DARK AND JUST KEEP FEEDING THEM SHIT. And the MONEY just keeps ROLLING IN.

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