Mastitis is a contagious infection of a milk-bearing animal’s udders. Dairy farmers consider it a huge problem, not because it is extremely painful to the cow, but because it can reduce or halt the flow of milk, turning the milk “producer” from a financial asset into a liability. In conventional dairy farming, antibiotics are used to treat mastitis. But in organic dairy farming, antibiotics are prohibited, so those farmers use a syringe-like instrument called a canula to unclog mastitis-infected udders.(1) Though this procedure compounds the cow’s pain, painkillers are not customarily used; they would be an additional expense. If the canula procedure doesn’t work, the “useless” cow is typically sold at auction for slaughter — no matter how young she is and how fragile her condition. All this contributes to the premium price consumers are paying for organic milk.
According to the USDA’s own records, the mastitis pathogen is found in over half of tested cows in the US herd of 9 million. It is only one of the many diseases routinely found in today’s dairy cows, who are forced to produce up to six times more milk than their bodies are designed to produce naturally.
The dairy industry invests millions of dollars in research every year to find more “efficient” ways of managing mastitis in commercially-milked cows, goats and sheep. A testament to the power of the dairy industry and the prevalence of this disease in the dairy herd is found in reports such as this one, which are regularly produced in The Journal of Dairy Science.
For a look at some facts behind the dairy industry’s “Got Milk?” marketing pitch, see Marketing Versus Reality: The Myth of the Organic Happy Cow.
(1) Harold Brown, former beef rancher and dairy farmer, vegan activist and founder of FarmKind