It may be difficult to understand, at first, why vegans abstain from drinking milk. It’s supposedly wholesome and healthy, and if the advertising is to be believed, comes from “happy cows.” If you look beyond the image and examine the facts, you’ll find that the objections range from animal rights to the environment to health concerns.
Because cows are sentient and capable of suffering and feeling pain, they have a right to be free of use and abuse by human. No matter how well the animal is cared for, taking breast milk from another animal violates that right to be free, even if cows were allowed to live out their lives on idyllic green pastures.
Many believe that drinking milk is fine as long as the cows are treated humanely, but modern factory farming practices mean that cows do not live out their lives on idyllic green pastures. Gone are the days when farmhands just used their hands and a milk pail. Cows are now milked with milking machines, which cause mastitis. They are artificially inseminated as soon as they are old enough to become pregnant, give birth and produce milk. After two cycles of pregnancy and birth, when they are about four or five years old, they are slaughtered because they are considered “spent” and no longer profitable. When they are sent to slaughter, approximately 10% of them are so weak, they cannot stand on their own. These cows would normally live about 25 years.
Cows today are also bred and raised to produce more milk than in past decades. PETA explains:
On any given day, there are more than 8 million cows on U.S. dairy farms—about 14 million fewer than there were in 1950. Yet milk production has continued to increase, from 116 billion pounds of milk per year in 1950 to 170 billion pounds in 2004.(6,7) Normally, these animals would produce only enough milk to meet the needs of their calves (around 16 pounds per day), but genetic manipulation, antibiotics, and hormones are used to force each cow to produce more than 18,000 pounds of milk each year (an average of 50 pounds per day).Part of the increased milk production is due to breeding, and part of it is due to unnatural husbandry practices, such as feeding meat to the cows and giving rBGH to cows.
Animal agriculture is a very inefficient use of resources and is damaging to the environment. Water, fertilizer, pesticides and land are required to grow crops to feed to cows. Energy is needed to harvest the crops, turn the crops into feed, and then transport the feed to farms. The cows must also be given water to drink. The waste and methane from factory farms are also an environmental hazard. The US Environmental Protection Agency states, “In the U.S., cattle emit about 5.5 million metric tons of methane per year into the atmosphere, accounting for 20% of U.S. methane emissions.”
Another concern is veal. Approximately three quarters of the calves born in the dairy industry are turned into veal, because they are not needed or useful for milk production, and are the wrong breed of cattle for beef production.
What About “Happy Cows”?
Even on farms where the cows are not constantly confined, the female cows are slaughtered when their milk production drops and three-quarters of the calves are turned into veal.