Quick Facts on Dairy
Unless noted otherwise, the following practices apply to the vast majority of commercial dairy operations in the U.S. (and many dairy operations in other countries), including organic and family-owned dairy farms.
Modern dairy cows have been bred to produce far more milk than normal. Average daily milk output of cows on U.S. dairy farms has increased five-fold since 1940. Producing such large volumes of milk takes a toll on the cows' bodies and increases the risk of painful udder infections.
On dairy farms that use hormones, cows may be forced to pump out more than ten times their normal amount of milk.
On organic dairies, cows with infected udders may not get antibiotics to clear up the infection and ease the pain, since those drugs are not allowed under most organic regulations.
- Dairy cows are kept constantly pregnant and/or lactating their entire abbreviated adult lives, putting a further strain on their bodies. The cows are kept in this state to produce as much milk—and as much profit—as possible.
- Dairy cows have their calves stolen from them, usually when the calves are only one or two days old. This causes great distress to both the babies and their mothers. The mother cows often bellow and go searching for their missing calves for days. Cows have a strong maternal instinct; their gestation period is the same as that of humans and they are normally very doting mothers.
Rory Freedman, author of Skinny Bitch, tells the story of one dairy cow who tried so desperately to smash down the door of the barn where her baby calf had been taken that she broke her neck, collapsed in a heap, and lay in agony for several hours until someone put her out of her misery.
- Dairy cows are killed at about five years old, when their milk production drops below profitable levels. (Cows' normal life expectancy is 20 to 25 years.) Some cows are pregnant with calves when killed.
- Any cow who's not profitable is killed, including injured cows and cows who can't get pregnant. During rough economic times, the dairy industry may kill millions of cows as a cost-cutting measure.
- 90 percent of dairy cows in the U.S. are not raised on pasture, according to a 2007 USDA survey. They're often tethered in stalls, confined to indoor barns 24 hours a day, or forced to spend their lives on dirt or mud. The larger the dairy, the less likely cows are allowed to graze; this applies to both organic and conventional operations.
- Some cows in the slaughterhouse are still alive as their tails are cut off, their bellies are ripped open, and their skin is pulled off, according to an investigation by the Washington Post.
- Countries with the highest rates of dairy consumption have the highest rates of osteoporosis.
- Repeatedly, independent (i.e., not dairy industry-funded) clinical studies show no positive effect on bone health from dairy. For example, in the long-running Harvard Nurses Study, with 18,000 women, the volunteers who consumed the most dairy also had the highest rate of bone fractures.
- Independent peer-reviewed studies show a significant link between dairy and prostate cancer.