Dairy is one of the most widely consumed products on earth, with global average consumption estimated at 108kg per person per year. In the U.S alone, the revenue of dairy product production is estimated at 84 billion dollars, the majority of which is generated by factory farming.
Cows are highly intelligent, social animals who are known to be affectionate and playful. Recent studies have demonstrated that cows have complex emotional lives, and respond to separation from their family and companions with pessimism and something akin to a depressive state. Cows are famously devoted mothers, with some individuals going through extraordinary lengths to hide their calves from farmers or to be reunited with them. They clearly form intense and important social bonds, and some mothers have been reported to pine for their lost calves for days and clearly display anxiety and sadness. These are individuals with their own clearly communicated needs and preferences, however, when an animal is being treated as a commodity in the way that dairy cows are, these needs are often ignored in favour of profit.
Many people assume that cows need to be milked. However, cows, like all female mammals, only produce milk when pregnant and after childbirth. Cows therefore, are restrained and forcibly impregnated so that they will produce milk. Naturally, this milk is intended to feed their calves, however, in order to take her milk, farmers separate calves from their mothers shortly after birth, causing extreme distress and sometimes resulting in prolonged depressive states. While female calves will usually join their mother on the milk production line, male calves do not produce milk and are not considered profitable for meat production, so are often killed or sent for veal production. Due to the close bond formed between cows and their offspring, it is common for the mothers of dairy calves to quite literally scream for their lost calves, sometimes for days at a time. Cows are put through this agonising process three or four times, before they too are killed.
Aside from the horrific cruelty done to the animals themselves, dairy comes with other significant issues. Dairy is extremely resource intensive, it takes 1,000 gallons of water produce 1 gallon of milk, and almost 900 gallons for 1lb of cheese. To put these figures in perspective, California is currently experiencing a drought, but while Californians use 1500 gallons of water per person per day, close to half of that is associated with meat and dairy. Dairy production has a devastating impact on the environment too, cows produce 150 billion gallons of methane per day, and a farm with 2,500 dairy cows produces the same amount of waste as a city of 411,000 people. Consuming dairy is therefore as unsustainable as it is unethical. Given that dairy is unnecessary for our health and that there are a whole host of healthy, widely available plant based alternatives, for anyone who has the option to avoid it, supporting this exploitative, cruel and destructive industry is completely unjustifiable.