Demystifying The Dairy Industry
Most people who eat meat and dairy justify doing so with one of four reasons: it’s normal, necessary, nice, or natural. These justifications have been dubbed the “Four Ns” by animal advocates. This paper focuses on the last justification – natural – as it pertains to dairy farming.
In the paper, the author argues that dairy production is almost entirely artificial, starting with the dairy cow herself. What’s more, dairy companies have pushed propaganda portraying the process of dairy production as harmless and natural, leading many customers to be unaware of the reality. The term the author uses for this obfuscation is “mystification,” a Marxist term meaning “a social relation between men [sic] which assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things.” In other words, an artificial construction masquerading as a natural or unexplainable one – “that’s just how things are.” By presenting the relationship between cows producing milk and humans drinking it as natural or unavoidable, people are much less likely to question it, or lobby for change. This paper seeks to demystify the dairy industry, beginning with the animal.
While most of us would call all animals natural, the author argues otherwise. The modern Holstein dairy cow is a “corruption of nature” that is built to serve human ends, not their own. This is evident when you compare dairy cows to the ancestor of modern cattle, the Aurochs. In fact, some modern breeding programs are attempting to recreate this ancient animal, and allow us to make comparisons between them and their domesticated descendants.
A key difference between modern cows and the Aurochs is that the Aurochs were incredibly muscular, which was necessary for fast movement and defense against predators. More importantly, the female’s udder was tiny in comparison to that of a dairy cow. Holsteins’ udders are massive and swollen due to their increased milk production. The Aurochs used to just produce enough milk for their calves, but now Holsteins produce ten times that amount.
This increase in milk production alone consumes a massive amount of physical energy, so much that Holsteins are literally incapable of sustaining an Auroch-like body while producing enough milk. Meanwhile, infections of the mammary gland, infertility, and lameness are all side effects of this increased milk production as well. In wild animals, a trait that causes so many problems would likely fail to be passed on. Selective breeding forgoes the need for healthy animals (evolutionarily speaking), as humans can simply control which traits are passed on.
Of course, mates are not chosen by the dairy cows themselves, but by a farmer searching a database of bulls from across the country. New technology has given humans even greater control: farmers can now implant the embryos of “high-performing” cows into surrogates, increase the number of embryos in a high-performing cow, and even edit a cow’s genetic code to be more productive. Most dairy cattle are impregnated through artificial insemination, not by a bull.
When the calf is born, he or she is usually taken away from the mother and either slaughtered for veal, saved for breeding, or raised as a dairy cow herself. The calf is fed colostrum through an artificial teat or feeding tube. Even if the farmer is willing to let the calf nurse naturally, it may not be possible. The udder has grown so large on Holsteins through evolution, that many calves are incapable of suckling, and must be fed by humans. The udder has not been bred for calves, but for a milking machine.
It’s clear that these physical conditions cannot be naturally occurring evolutions, as they would have quickly bred themselves out of existence. Furthermore, cows are naturally social animals, and mothers form a strong bond with their offspring. This social relationship is not honored on the vast majority of dairy farms, where calves are separated from their mothers within 12 hours of birth. Parental attachment slows production, and slower production means less money. Farmers have no economic reason to keep the parent-child relationship intact.
The dairy industry has an obvious interest in obscuring these facts and continuing with the process of mystification. Advertising usually shows cows in pasture, mothers suckling their calves, and smiling dairy farmers. Furthermore, dairy is presented as a healthy, necessary food, despite the fact that 65% of humans have some degree of lactose intolerance. Despite these campaigns, the dairy industry is on its heels in some areas. Dairy Australia (a consumer group based in the country where the paper was written) believes that the industry is suffering from a lack of transparency and consumer confidence. However, they cannot be fully transparent, as the truth would put off many more customers.
To get around these inconvenient truths, dairy industries around the world have constructed an alternate reality, in which they can be fully transparent because they have nothing to hide. Wary consumers are satisfied, and dairy production continues as before. As animal advocates, we need to keep a strong focus on informing the public of the truth and exposing the dairy industry as artificial, cruel, and unnecessary as it is.