The free range welfare fallacy 

Don’t believe the hype. As with any instance of an industry in trouble, the dairy industry is attempting to pull the udders over consumers’ eyes by rebranding milk as “free range”. Many people may imagine that cows spend their entire lives grazing on the countryside pastures of the UK. Suppliers profess how “milk comes from cows that enjoy the freedom to graze for at least six months of the year”. 

This is supposed to guarantee the welfare of cows.  But there are heartbreaking routine procedures that all dairy cows go through, whether they are zero graze or not. 

Like any mammal, cows must be pregnant to lactate. This rarely happens by introducing a male to a female with romantic lighting and Barry White music. Cows are artificially inseminated with human hands, by inserting a sperm loaded instrument, called an AI gun, into the female’s vagina. This is accompanied by a hand being inserted deep into the cows rectum, often as she is restrained in in a rack. At the very least, you can imagine how this procedure is uncomfortable and deeply stressful. 

The misery doesn’t end there. How do we take the milk produced specifically for a baby cow? Here’s a clue – it doesn’t involve politely waiting until the baby has finished feeding and taking a teacup of their food. Within hours of their birth, babies are taken from their distraught mums and are either kept as dairy cows, or if male, killed or raised for veal. No words can describe the sadness and dispair that this video shows in the mum running after her separated newborn.

Cows are milked using machines which attach to their udders. They have been bred to produce so much that their udders are unnaturally large causing them to adopt an unnatural stance and many suffer lameness. Many develop mastitis which results in hard, painful swollen udders. Their body produces pus to fight off the disease, some of which passes into the milk. A certain level of pus (called somatic cells) are allowed on milk for human consumption.

Tesco’ attempts to assure customers that their cows are happy backfired when a perfectly worded complaint was supported hundreds of comments from people pointing out how cows existing for milk production will never lead a peaceful and happy life, precisely because of forced impregnation and separation from their babies.

The problem for the dairy industry is that the word is out – they cannot undo all of the information now available. And it’s not just gratuitous violence against farm animals, but legal and routine “procedures” which are an everyday part of the life of a dairy cow which are so obviously awful for sweet, sentient beings to endure. 

So whether cows endure 6 months a year or a whole lifetime of being deprived of the sun on their beautiful faces and grass beneath their hooves, the horror and sadness of existing purely as a machine to provide cheese on toast, yoghurt for breakfast or milk in tea, just to please the human palette, does not go away.

We don’t need to consume substances from the breast of another species to survive and there are literally thousands of alternatives. So please choose compassion over taste preference. 

Find out more about dairy practices in this Viva report 

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