Let's visualize a common scene: on the table, a glass of cow's milk. In principle, nothing more innocent. Nothing apparently alarming in this detail of the typical contemporary life in many homes. What problem could this glass contain? The following are some of the problems related to the liquid that this glass contains.

Let's start at the beginning, what that white fluid is and for whom it is intended. Cows, like humans, are mammals. That means they have milk-producing mammary glands with which they feed their babies. To secrete this maternal fluid, it is a prerequisite that the human, or cow in this case, goes through a pregnancy and gives birth to a calf. A gestation of 9 months in both cases.

Eira Do Val, explotación animal, Animals View
Eira Do Val, explotación animal, Animals View

In the case of the cows that the industry uses to trade their mother's milk, their pregnancy is forced; that is, each of these cows is artificially inseminated. Once the cow gives birth to her son or daughter, the cow begins to secrete milk, with the sole purpose of feeding the baby. This need of the newborn baby clashes head-on with the needs of the dairy industry; lactation of the offspring is not compatible with the operation of their business. For this reason, they will soon separate the calf from its mother. We are talking about hours or days. There is no milk to lose.

The mother-daughter separation is experienced with stress and anxiety by both parties. The desperate mooing of the mother after this forced separation is well known and talked about by the farmers and neighbors of these farms. Some mothers spend the whole night screaming for their offspring, some for several days.

Eira Do Val, explotación animal, Animals View
Eira Do Val, explotación animal, Animals View

The fate of that daughter or son varies, depending on the needs of the industry at the time. Most commonly, if the child is a female, it will suffer the same fate as its mother: a succession of births until fatal exhaustion. If it is a male, there are several alternatives. The result is the same: premature death. But this outcome can come in different ways: being left to die in a container on the same farm is not altogether uncommon. If the humans in charge are generous, they may invest in a bullet to alleviate hours or days of suffering. Another alternative is to take them to the slaughterhouse, if you can financially compensate for the effort, immediately or after fattening them up. Money rules.

Speaking of premature deaths, all in this industry are premature. A cow like the ones the industry exploits for its mother's milk, well cared for, has a life expectancy of between 20 and 30 years. When they are used by the industry, they will let them live three to five years. Getting them pregnant once a year. Every year the same story: a pregnancy and then a calf that they will hardly see.

Three or five years compared to 20 or 30 are very few. But in the conditions in which they live, it is surely better for them not to survive any more. There is nothing natural in humans drinking cow's milk, and precisely because of this, its existence is filled with a pain that no one should have to endure. Most of the cows exploited by the industry never go outside to graze. These cows are often kept in cramped and filthy conditions, sometimes even tied up; hard, uncomfortable floors cause the cows to suffer from regular lameness, pain and injuries.

Almost all suffer from painful diseases. Many are gaunt, while others have udders so huge that it is difficult for them to walk, if they are allowed to walk at all.

There is nothing natural about cow's breast milk that is marketed for human consumption. To begin with, cows are artificially inseminated. Also, cows used by the industry today are the product of genetic selection. As a result of artificially increasing their secretion of breast milk, a cow today produces 6 to 10 times the amount of milk she would normally produce for her baby. Just for this reason, and because of the conditions in which they are kept, it is normal for them to suffer several health problems after three or four lactations, leading to premature death. Mastitis, udder injuries, infections. Problems after the amputation of their horns and tails.

At the same time, the same industry that holds cows captive, the same industry that breeds them and "slaughters" them when their productivity drops, maintains a discourse that differs profoundly from reality. Something that, as we have seen, is completely artificial, is sold as something natural, normal, and necessary. It is even said that we are doing them a favor by milking them, because their udders are too heavy. Why are they too heavy?

Cows do not "give us their milk". The industry makes them secrete breast milk, for the sole purpose of being able to snatch it from them and market it. It is not natural for a human to consume cow's breast milk; human mothers generate their own breast milk. It is not necessary, either. The nutrients contained in this maternal fluid are also found in plant-based foods. And if this is normal, let them explain it to those cows that are born, inseminated, and after three to five daughters are taken from them, they are slaughtered. Let them explain it to those offspring. Let them explain it to me.

* Footnote. Throughout this text, I emphasize on several occasions that the sale and consumption of cow's breast milk by humans is unnatural. By this, it is not my intention to exalt that everything natural is necessarily good or the best, or that we can conclude that the most ethical decision entails choosing the behavior closest to what is natural. On many occasions, nature is cruel, and it is not problematic to take unnatural measures if this will benefit sentient beings. On the other hand, I do not intend to fall into dichotomies between nature and culture. Nor is it my intention to move the focus of concern away from the core of what is truly problematic: the exploitation of these animals.

My intention is different: I intend to refute a narrative that the dairy industry uses as part of its communication strategy. One of the conclusions of my doctoral thesis is that the dairy industry uses a narrative that consists of associating products derived from cows' breast milk with something natural, to encourage positive associations with the products it markets.

** Some of the images in the video were obtained for Santuario Vegan.

Work by Eira Do Val and Xiana Castro, with text by María R. Carreras.

Published in January 2023