Given the chance, cows nurture their young and form lifelong friendships with one another. They play games and have a wide range of emotions and personality traits. But most cows raised for the dairy industry are intensively confined, leaving them unable to fulfill their most basic desires, such as nursing their calves, even for a single day. They are treated like milk-producing machines and are genetically manipulated and may be pumped full of antibiotics and hormones in order to produce more milk. While cows suffer on factory farms, humans who drink their milk increase their chances of developing heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and many other ailments.
Cows Suffer on Dairy Farms
Cows produce milk for the same reason that humans do—to nourish their young—but calves on dairy farms are taken away from their mothers when they are just 1 day old. They are fed milk replacers (including cattle blood) so that their mothers’ milk can be sold to humans.1,2
Female cows are artificially inseminated shortly after their first birthdays.3 After giving birth, they lactate for 10 months and are then inseminated again, continuing the cycle. Some spend their entire lives standing on concrete floors; others are confined to massive, crowded lots, where they are forced to live amid their own feces. A North Carolina dairy closed its doors following revelations from a whistleblower that the cows were forced to eat, walk and sleep in knee-deep waste.4 Please visit PETA.orgfor more information on this case.
Cows have a natural lifespan of about 20 years and can produce milk for eight or nine years.5 However, the stress caused by the conditions on factory farms leads to disease, lameness, and reproductive problems that render cows worthless to the dairy industry by the time that they’re 4 or 5 years old, at which time they are sent to be slaughtered.6,7
On any given day, there are more than 9 million cows on U.S. dairy farms—about 12 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 206 billion pounds in 2014.8,9Normally, these animals would produce only enough milk to meet the needs of their calves, but genetic manipulation—and, in some cases, antibiotics and hormones—is used to cause each cow to produce more than 20,000 pounds of milk each year.10Cows are also fed unnatural, high-protein diets—which include dead chickens, pigs, and other animals—because their natural diet of grass would not provide the nutrients that they need to produce such massive amounts of milk.11
Painful inflammation of the mammary glands, or mastitis, is common among cows raised for their milk, and it is one of dairy farms’ most frequently cited reasons for sending cows to slaughter. There are about 150 bacteria that can cause the disease, one of which is E. coli.12 Symptoms are not always visible, so milk’s somatic cell count (SCC) is checked to determine whether the milk is infected. Somatic cells include white blood cells and skin cells that are normally shed from the lining of the udder. As in humans, white blood cells—also known as “pus”—are produced as a means of combating infection. The SCC of healthy milk is below 100,000 cells per milliliter; however, the dairy industry is allowed to combine milk from all the cows in a herd in order to arrive at a “bulk tank” somatic cell count (BTSCC).13 Milk with a maximum BTSCC of 750,000 cells per milliliter can be sold.14 A BTSCC of 700,000 or more generally indicates that two-thirds of the cows in the herd are suffering from udder infections.15
Studies have shown that providing cows with cleaner housing, more space, and better diets, bedding, and care lowers their milk’s SCC as well as their incidence of mastitis.16 A Danish study of cows subjected to automated milking systems found “acutely elevated cell counts during the first year compared with the previous year with conventional milking. The increase came suddenly and was synchronized with the onset of automatic milking.”17 Instead of improving conditions in factory farms or easing cows’ production burden, the dairy industry is exploring the use of cattle who have been genetically manipulated to be resistant to mastitis.18
The Veal Connection
If you drink milk, you’re subsidizing the veal industry. While female calves are slaughtered or kept alive to produce milk, male calves are often taken away from their mothers when they are as young as 1 day old to be chained in tiny stalls for three to 18 weeks and raised for veal.19,20 Calves raised for veal are fed a milk substitute that is designed to make them gain at least 2 pounds per day, and their diet is purposely low in iron so that their flesh stays pale as a result of anemia.21 In addition to suffering from diarrhea, pneumonia, and lameness, calves raised for veal are terrified and desperate for their mothers.
Large dairy farms have an enormously detrimental effect on the environment. In California, America’s top milk-producing state, manure from dairy farms has poisoned hundreds of square miles of groundwater, rivers, and streams. Each of the more than 1 million cows on the state’s dairy farms excretes 18 gallons of manure daily.22,23 Overall, factory-farmed animals, including those on dairy farms, produce 1.65 billion tons of manure each year, much of which ends up in waterways and drinking water.24 The Environmental Protection Agency reports that agricultural runoff is the primary cause of polluted lakes, streams, and rivers. The dairy industry is the primary source of smog-forming pollutants in California; a single cow emits more of these harmful gasses than a car does.25
Two-thirds of all agricultural land in the U.S. is used to raise animals for food or to grow grain to feed them.26 Each cow raised by the dairy industry consumes as much as 40 gallons of water per day.27
Human Bodies Fight Cow’s Milk
Besides humans (and companion animals who are fed by humans), no species drinks milk beyond infancy or drinks the milk of another species. Cow’s milk is suited to the nutritional needs of calves, who have four stomachs and gain hundreds of pounds in a matter of months, sometimes weighing more than 1,000 pounds before they are 2 years old.28
Cow’s milk is the number one cause of food allergies among infants and children, according to the American Gastroenterological Association.29 Most people begin to produce less lactase, the enzyme that helps with the digestion of milk, when they are as young as 2 years old. This reduction can lead to lactose intolerance.30 Millions of Americans are lactose intolerant, and an estimated 90 percent of Asian-Americans and 75 percent of Native- and African-Americans suffer from the condition, which can cause bloating, gas, cramps, vomiting, headaches, rashes, and asthma.31 A U.K. study showed that people who suffered from irregular heartbeats, asthma, headaches, fatigue, and digestive problems “showed marked and often complete improvements in their health after cutting milk from their diets.”32
Calcium and Protein Myths
Although American women consume tremendous amounts of calcium, their rates of osteoporosis are among the highest in the world. Conversely, Chinese people consume half as much calcium (most of it from plant sources) and have a very low incidence of the bone disease.33 Medical studies indicate that rather than preventing the disease, milk may actually increase women’s risk of getting osteoporosis. A Harvard Nurses’ Study of more than 77,000 women ages 34 to 59 found that those who consumed two or more glasses of milk per day had higher risks of broken hips and arms than those who drank one glass or less per day.34 T. Colin Campbell, professor of nutritional biochemistry at Cornell University, said, “The association between the intake of animal protein and fracture rates appears to be as strong as that between cigarette smoking and lung cancer.”35
Humans can get all the protein that they need from nuts, seeds, yeast, grains, beans, and other legumes. It’s very difficult not to get enough calories from protein when you eat a healthy diet; protein deficiency (also known as “kwashiorkor”) is very rare in the U.S. and is usually only a problem for people who live in famine-stricken countries.36 Eating too much animal protein has been linked to the development of endometrial, pancreatic, and prostate cancer.37,38,39 Consuming too much protein may also put a strain on the kidneys, causing them to compensate by leaching calcium from the bones.40
What You Can Do
The best way to save cows from the misery of factory farms is to stop buying milk and other dairy products. Discover the joy of soy! Fortified plant-derived milks provide calcium, vitamins, iron, zinc, and protein but do not contain any cholesterol. Soy, rice, oat, and nut milks are perfect for cereal, coffee, and soups and also work well in baked goods and other recipes. Many delicious nondairy products are available in grocery and health-food stores. Visit PETA.org for recipe ideas or to order a free vegetarian/vegan starter kit.
1 David Goldstein, “Up Close: A Beef With Dairy,” KCAL, 30 May 2002.
2 Stephanie Simon, “Mad Cow Casts Light on Beef Uses,” Los Angeles Times 4 Jan. 2004.
3 Fessenden Dairy LLC,” Livestock Managment,” accessed .
4 Holly Kays, “Osborne Farms Closes: Embattled Dairy Sells Off Livestock,” Smoky Mountain News 24 Sept. 2014.
5 T. Dewey and J. Ng, “Bos taurus,” Animal Diversity Web 2001.
6 Anne Karpf, “Dairy Monsters,” The Guardian 13 Dec. 2003.
7 Richard L. Wallace, “Market Cows: A Potential Profit Center,” University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2004.
8 U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agriculture Statistics Service, “February Milk Production Up 1.7 Percent,” 19 Mar. 2015.
9 Don P. Blaney, “The Changing Landscape of U.S. Milk Production,” Statistical Bulletin Number 978, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Jun. 2002.
10 U.S. Department of Agriculture.
12 Helen Pearson, “Udder Suicide, E. Coli Kill Off Milk-Making Mammary Cells,” Nature 6 Aug. 2001.
13 National Mastitis Council, “Guidelines on Normal and Abnormal Raw Milk Based on Somatic Cell Counts and Signs of Clinical Mastitis,” 2001.
14 P.L. Ruegg, “Practical Food Safety Interventions for Dairy Production,” Journal of Dairy Science 86 (2003): E1-E9.
15 National Mastitis Council.
16 S. Waage et al., “Identification of Risk Factors for Clinical Mastitis in Dairy Heifers,” Journal of Dairy Science 81 (1998): 1275-84.
17 Morten Dam Rasmussen et al., “The Impact of Automatic Milking on Udder Health,” Proceedings of the Second International Symposium on Mastitis and Milk Quality (Vancouver: 2001).
18 Shannon Linderoth, “Mastitis Resistance in the Genes,” Dairy Herd Management 1 Dec. 2006.
19 Susan C. Kahler, “Raising Contented Cattle Makes Welfare, Production Sense,” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 218 (2001): 182-6.
20 U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, “Safety of Veal, From Farm to Table,” Oct. 2006.
21 John M. Smith, “Raising Dairy Veal,” Ohio State University; information adapted from the Guide for the Care and Production of Veal Calves, 4th ed., 1993, American Veal Association, Inc.
22 United States Environmental Protection Agency, “California Animal Waste Management,” 11 Aug. 2009.
23 John Burnett, “New Mexico Dairy Pollution Sparks ‘Manure War’,” National Public Radio, 8 Dec. 2009.
24 M. Jenkins and D.D. Bowman, “Viability of Pathogens in the Environment,” Pathogens in the Environment Workshop Proceedings (Kansas City, Mo.: 23-25 Feb. 2004).
25 James Owen, “California Cows Fail Latest Emissions Test,” National Geographic News 16 Aug. 2005.
26 Ruben Lubowski et al., “Major Uses of Land in the United States, 2002,” Economic Information Bulletin No. (EIB-14), U.S. Department of Agriculture, 14 May 2006.
27 T. Wright, “Water Quality for Dairy Cattle,” Factsheet Oct. 2003.
28 Ontario Farm Animal Council, “Beef Cattle Farming in Ontario,” 2005.
29 American Gastroenterological Association, “American Gastroenterological Association Medical Position Statement: Guidelines for the Evaluation of Food Allergies,” Gastroenterology 120 (2001): 1023-5.
30 National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, “Lactose Intolerance,” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, June 2009.
31 Courtney Taylor, “Got Milk (Intolerance)? Digestive Malady Affects 30-50 Million,” The Clarion-Ledger 1 Aug. 2003.
32 Severin Carrell, “Milk Causes ‘Serious Illness for 7M Britons.’ Scientists Say Undetected Lactose Intolerance Is to Blame for Chronic Fatigue, Arthritis, and Bowel Problems,” The Independent 22 June 2003.
34 D. Feskanich et al., “Milk, Dietary Calcium, and Bone Fractures in Women: A 12-Year Prospective Study,”American Journal of Public Health 87(1997): 992-97.
36 U.S. National Library and the National Institutes of Health, “Kwashiorkor,” Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia, 18 Dec. 2009.
37 Reuters, “Animal Protein and Fat Raise Endometrial Cancer Risk,” 21 Mar. 2007.
38 June M. Chan et al., “Pancreatic Cancer, Animal Protein and Dietary Fat in a Population-Based Study,”Cancer Causes and Control 18 (2007): 1153-67.
39 N.E. Allen et al., “Animal Foods, Protein, Calcium and Prostate Cancer Risk: The European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition,” British Journal of Cancer 98 (2008): 1574-81.