What about Humanely Raised Milk and Dairy Products?

A Free from Harm Fact Sheet  |  Download as a pdf

A mother cow’s milk is perfectly formulated by nature to provide the essential nutrients and antibodies her infant calf requires.

Key Dairy Cow Welfare Facts

Increasingly, the general public is becoming aware that conditions for dairy cows on factory farms are cruel and inhumane. But what about the so-called humane dairy alternatives?

With all the new humane labels and certifications portraying farmers who genuinely care about the cows and calves they use, what does the best case scenario really look like?

Consider the following practices that are typical of all forms of modern dairy farming, from factory farms to small and so-called humane farms:

  • Like all mammals, cows only produce milk to feed their babies. Around 10 months after giving birth, the quantity of milk that dairy cows produce decreases substantially. (1) In order to maximize milk production, cows must be routinely impregnated (2), usually once a year, causing greater stress, and greater likelihood of illness and premature death.
  • Newborn calves are permanently separated from their mothers, usually within 1-3 days, since the mother/calf bond intensifies over time and delayed separation can cause even worse emotional distress for the calf and mother. Nearly 100% of calves born to dairy cows in the U.S. are removed from their mothers within the first 12 hours of birth. (3)
  • Beyond initial feedings of colostrum, most dairy calves separated from their mothers are denied their mother’s milk, which is perfectly formulated by nature to provide all the essential nutrients and antibodies the calf needs.
  • Calves are typically fed “milk-replacement formulas,” often from a dried powder base, and raised without a mother’s care. Under natural circumstances, mothers and calves form deep bonds, much like humans. In natural herds, the mother-calf bond is the strongest and most persistent bond in a cow’s life. (4)
  • Dairy equals veal. The veal industry only exists to help farmers make a profit from male calves born to dairy cows. Because they cannot produce milk, and are not the breed favored for beef, male calves are considered largely worthless to the dairy industry, unless they are slaughtered and sold for veal at a few months of age.
  • Despite overwhelming opposition, only 8 states in the U.S. have banned the use of veal crates. Hundreds of thousands of calves killed for veal are tethered by the neck inside crates so narrow, they cannot even turn around. This severe restriction of movement prevents calves from developing muscle and results in the tenderness for which veal meat is prized. Crated calves are virtually immobilized for their entire 16 weeks of life, enduring extreme social, physical, sensory and emotional deprivation. They suffer tremendously.
  • Male calves and “surplus” females calves not slaughtered for veal are killed for cheap beef.
  • Cheesemakers also need veal processors. Many common cheeses are made with ingredients from the tongues and stomachs of slaughtered calves, including rennet and lipase. Rennet is a complex of enzymes required to coagulate cheese. Traditionally, rennet is extracted from the fourth stomach chamber (the abomasum) of young, unweaned calves, a “by-product” of veal production. Many cheeses manufactured in the US are made with a vegetable-based rennet, which is cheaper, but calf rennet is still very common in European cheeses and others. (Because companies are not legally required to disclose the source/type of rennet used in their cheese, there’s usually no way to know from a packaging label which type of rennet has been used.) Lipase is a secretion taken from the tongue glands of freshly slaughtered calves or goat kids, and is used to impart a nutty flavor to cheeses such as Parmesan, Romano, Asiago, and Provolone.
  • As a result of selective breeding for higher milk yields, today’s dairy cows produce up to 12 times more milk than their bodies were designed to produce. (5) According to John Webster, Emeritus Professor of Animal Husbandry at Bristol University, “the amount of work done by the dairy cow in peak lactation is immense. To achieve a comparable high work rate, a human would have to jog for about 6 hours a day, every day.”
  • Dairy cows commonly suffer from a variety of illnesses associated with intensive milk production, including widespread lameness and mastitis, a painful and often fatal infection of the udder. Hundreds of pharmaceutical products are available and administered to cows which can end up in their milk and cause adverse side effects. (6)
  • Dairy cows produce an average of 729 days of milk, which corresponds to 2.4 lactations, before they are considered “spent.” (7) Spent dairy cows are sent to slaughter.
  • 3 million young dairy cows are slaughtered each year in the U.S. (8) While cows can live up to 25 years, dairy cows are typically removed from the dairy herd at between 2 to 5 years of age when their milk production declines, and slaughtered at only a fraction of their natural lifespans. (9) Handling, transport, and slaughter add tremendously to their suffering.
  • Dairy cows are processed into supermarket ground beef and fast food hamburgers. (10)
  • Most dairy cows are forcibly impregnated via artificial insemination (A.I.). (11) This involves an extremely invasive procedure that can only be described as sexual violation. During A.I., workers insert one arm up to the elbow inside the cow’s rectum to optimally position her cervix, while using the other hand to insert an “A.I. gun” full of semen into her vagina. The semen is collected from “breeding bulls” who are controlled via a painful nose ring, and either coaxed to ejaculate into an “artificial vagina,” or forced to ejaculate via painful electric shocks delivered into the rectum through an anal probe.
  • Cows are social, complex animals with the ability to form deep friendships, anticipate the future, and to experience happiness, pleasure, pain, fear, anxiety and grief. Learn more at 10 Dairy Facts the Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know.

Some Key Human Health Facts

Much of what we know today about dairy nutrition is based on the legacy of dairy industry marketing that emerged in the 1950s. The Dairy Council’s “Got Milk” ad campaign still remains today one of the most famous and costly ad campaigns in history. Official government sources on nutrition reinforced these messages, so that until recently, few critical scientific evaluations of dairy consumption and human health ever penetrated the media or gained public acceptance to counter the pro-dairy agenda. The result in the Western world is that the general public has come to rely on dairy as an integral part of their daily diet, and, consequently, is experiencing unprecedented rates of chronic and childhood diseases. Consider these facts:

  • Humans are the only mammals that drink milk, the secretions of the mammary glands, of another animal, though most of the world’s population is lactose intolerant. While chronic diseases remain almost nonexistent in populations that consume little or no meat and dairy, affluent populations commonly have rates of chronic diseases in direct proportion to the extent that they consume these foods.
  • [The western diet rich in meat, dairy and eggs] “…is associated with a multitude of disease conditions, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arterial hypertension and cancer. Malignancies typical for affluent societies are cancers of the breast, colon/rectum, uterus (endometrial carcinoma), gallbladder, kidney and adenocarcinoma of the oesophagus.” —The World Health Organization
  • In the most comprehensive study of diet and disease ever conducted, The China Study, Dr. T.Colin Campbell concludes after decades of research that casein, the main protein in milk and dairy products, is the most significant carcinogen we consume. “What protein consistently and strongly promoted cancer? Casein, which makes up 87% of cow’s milk protein, promoted all stages of the cancer process. What type of protein did not promote cancer, even at high levels of intake? The safe proteins were from plants, including wheat and soy. As this picture came into view, it began to challenge and then to shatter some of my most cherished assumptions.”
  • “The increase in cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and asthma that has occurred in the Western world over the past century directly correlates with the increase in dairy consumption.” —Dr. Adam Meade
  • “…milk products may contain contaminants such as pesticides, which have carcinogenic potential, and growth factors such as insulin-like growth factor I, which have been shown to promote breast cancer cell growth.” —The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
  • Dairy consumption is linked with a host of common childhood illnesses. “The most common food allergy is milk, which accounts for 98 percent of cases, and is often found to be the cause of chronic ear infections. The first sign of dairy allergy is colic, rashes and severe gas and bloating.  If undiscovered, it will lead to frequent colds, chronic ear and throat infections and later in life, asthma. There sometimes is a pattern with people who develop asthma, strep throat, frequent headaches, gall bladder issues or diverticulitis later in life–they usually have dealt with chronic ear infections as a baby.” —Dr. Tricia Pingel, The Link Between Dairy Allergies, Chronic Ear Infections, and Asthma
  • “Humans now carry dioxin levels in their bodies hundreds of times greater than the “acceptable” cancer risk as defined by the EPA, and 95 percent of that results from eating red meat, fish and dairy products.” —The Diet-Cancer Connection
  • “Any lactating mammal excretes toxins through her milk. This includes antibiotics, pesticides, chemicals and hormones. … the USDA allows milk to contain from one to one and a half million white blood cells per millilitre. … another way to describe white cells where they don’t belong would be to call them pus cells.” — Robert M. Kradjian, MD, Breast Surgery Chief Division of General Surgery, Seton Medical Centre
  • 1 pound of cheese requires 10 or more pounds of milk. 1 gallon of ice cream requires 12 pounds of whole milk. 1 pound of butter requires 21 pounds of milk. So it’s easy to see how the contaminants in milk become highly concentrated in other dairy products. ­­­— Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board
humane dairy

Vegan smoked cheddar from The Non-Dairy Evolution Cookbook.

How about dairy alternatives?

As science increasingly challenges long-standing nutritional claims about cow’s milk, manufacturer’s have responded with a host of alternatives—from soy to almond, rice, hemp and coconut—with new types of non-dairy milk cropping up all the time. Most are fortified with the same nutrients found in fortified dairy milk, such as calcium and vitamin D. Even Dean Foods, one of the world’s largest industrial dairy interests, had the foresight to purchase the Silk brand from Whitewave and has come to dominate the soy milk industry.

Dairy-free alternatives to butter, cheese, ice cream and yogurt are now widely available as well, though a word of caution here. The animal protein casein, which is the primary protein found in cow’s milk, is used in some soy- and almond-based cheeses. If you don’t see the word “vegan” on the package, check the ingredients. By far the best vegan cheeses we have ever enjoyed are cheeses you can make right at home with the help of the ingenious cookbook, The Non-Dairy Evolution. These recipes require only a handful of ingredients and twenty minutes in the kitchen (then the cheeses must chill for several hours in the fridge). See a photo gallery and read our in-depth review of these cheeses at our feature, Groundbreaking, Game-Changing Vegan Cheese Is Here.

For tips on vegan ice cream, yogurt, butter, creamer and other products, please check out our comprehensive Guide to Going Dairy Free.

More resources

For nutritional information, diet plans and strategies, recipes and product suggestions, check out these trusted information websites:

(1) Midwest Dairy Association, Dairy Facts: Dairy Cows. Retrieved 12/5/2014 from: http://www.midwestdairy.com/0t164p176/dairy-cows/#faq6

(2) “Reproduction Practices on U.S. Dairy Operations, 2007,” USDA, Feb. 2009. Retrieved 12/5/2014 from: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/nahms/dairy/downloads/dairy07/Dairy07_is_ReprodPrac.pdf

(3) “Colostrum Feeding and Management on U.S. Dairy Operations, 1991-2007,” USDA, Feb. 2009. Retrieved 12/5/2014 from: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/nahms/dairy/downloads/dairy07/Dairy07_is_ReprodPrac.pdf

(4) “The Welfare of Animals in the Veal Industry,” Humane Society of the United States. Accessed 11/30/2014 from: http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/farm/hsus-the-welfare-of-animals-in-the-veal-industry.pdf

(5) Lyons DT, Freeman AE and Kuck AL. 1991. Genetics of health traits in Holstein cattle. Journal of Dairy Science 74 (3): 1092-100

(6) “Treatments for Dairy Cattle.” Drugs.com. Retrieved 12/5/2014 from: http://www.drugs.com/vet/dairy-cattle-a.html

(7)  “The Welfare of Cows in the Dairy Industry,” Humane Society of the United States. Retrieved 12/5/2014 from: http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/farm/hsus-the-welfare-of-cows-in-the-dairy-industry.pdf

(8) “Livestock Slaughter Statistics,” USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2014. Retrieved 7/21/2014 from: http://www.usda.gov/nass/PUBS/TODAYRPT/lsan0414.pdf

(9) Albert DeVries, “Cow longevity economics – the cost benefit of keeping the cow in the herd,” delaval.com. Accessed 7/21/2014 from: http://www.delaval.com/en/-/Dairy-knowledge-and-advice/Cow-Longevity/Scientists-view-on-cow-longevity/Cow-longevity-economics—the-cost-benefit-of-keeping-the-cow-in-the-herd

(10) “A Value Chain Analysis of the U.S. Beef and Dairy Industries,” Duke University Center on Globalization, Governance and Competitiveness, Feb. 2009. Accessed 7/21/2014 from: http://www.cggc.duke.edu/environment/valuechainanalysis/CGGC_BeefDairyReport_2-16-09.pdf

(11) A.I. Cover Sheaths Improved Fertility in Lactating Dairy Cows, Progressive Dairyman, October 2011. Retrieved 12/5/2014 from: http://www.progressivedairy.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=7389:ai-cover-sheaths-improved-fertility-in-lactating-dairy-cows&catid=47:ai-and-breeding&Itemid=73

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  3. I need to correct my post above. It turns out that Earth Balance uses a sustainable source for its Palm Oil. Clearly a better choice. Sorry for my ignorance.

  4. This was informative, thanks. But I question the recommendation of brands like Earth Balance, which contain palm oil. Palm oil is a major focus of WWF campaigns because much of its cultivation involves destroying orangutan habitats. What’s worse, continually impregnating cows or killing orangutans? At least the cows get to live, right? The impacts of alternatives are rarely given the scrutiny that the established product receives, unfortunately. Catch-22.

  5. Loved your post and the info provided, but just a word of health-related caution: a vast majority of the soy production in the US is genetically modified and doused with pesticides. What little organic soy production exists is still dangerous if consumed in large quantities, especially for women as it disrupts the hormonal system. While I completely support not consuming dairy, I have found vegan resources a bit lacking in info about the dangers of soy.


    • Hi Virginia, Thanks for your comment. We’re actually working on a comprehensive look at the research out there with a vegan MD on the soy question. There is an enormous amount of fear mongering on soy that is unwarranted and funded by the livetsock industry, when you look at who funds the studies. The fact is that most of us can easily obtain organic soy products. But even for those who can’t, compare the contaminants that an animal ingests from a diet that contains a lot of GMO soy and other GMO crops over the course of that animal’s life, and then eating them in concentrated from in that animal’s flesh or bodily secretions. Then compare the levels found in plants, including soy. There is simply no comparison between the toxins like Dioxin and heavy metals and pesticides that are found far more concentrated in cow’s milk, for example, compared with the fractional amounts contained in eating soy products directly. We hope to elaborate on all of this in a post coming very soon! The alleged estrogen-like hormonal activities of phtyoestrogens found in soy have been disproven and are vastly different from the hormones that naturally occur in cow’s milk. Consider the fact that the hormone’s in the cow’s milk are designed to grow a young calf into a 1,000 lb. calf in just one year! Then look at the bean. What hormones does a bean plant require? Obviously not the same and not fair to compare as the best science we have shows.

      Unfortunately all of this misinformation really ends up hurting animals in the end, instead of helping people understand their options for healthy vegan diets.

  6. mom said: “The world would be a better place if people started worrying about other people instead of animals.”

    And the world would be an even better place if people realized it’s not either one or the other. Surely a genuinely compassionate person cares about BOTH humans and other animals.

    Caring about human welfare is important of course, but it’s not an excuse to support animal abuse or, for that matter, needless environmental destruction.

    • I agree, if we could live a happy, healthy life without harming either, why wouldn’t we?

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  9. “Calves separated from their mothers are denied their mother’s milk […] Calves are fed “milk-replacement formulas” often from a dried powder base”
    I find it ironic that people are worried about the calves drinking formula, when millions of human babies are being fed formula instead of breastmilk.

    The world would be a better place if people started worrying about other people instead of animals.

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