The dark side of dairy

Source: The Humane League

Dairy has been a staple product in every home for centuries and there is no question how much we love it. We have milk in our cereals and coffee, cheese in our sandwiches, yogurt in our smoothies, and ice creams for dessert. But have you ever wondered how so much milk can be produced to satisfy the massive demand? The answer lies in megadairies (operations with over 1000 cows), which have devastating impacts on the cows, the environment, and even the dairy that we’re consuming.

The advertisements for dairy farms with happy cows grazing peacefully on green pasture to the sound of classical music can’t be further away from the reality of the dairy industry. We forget the fact that cows only produce when they’re pregnant, and so to meet the demand for milk, dairy cows are being forcefully impregnated at a young age and pushed to produce so much milk that their lifespans are shortened. While they usually can live up to 15-20 years of age, cows in megadairies are only used up to the age of 5 when their milk production would decline and they’d be sold off to be slaughtered for beef. The male calves that are produced from the forced pregnancies are also sold off to be slaughtered. The physical pain and inhumane treatment these cows have to go through are notoriously sheltered from the public eyes.

We know that beef takes a wondrous amount of water to produce - 15,415 liters to produce just 1 kg - but what about dairy? Everyday, in the U.S alone, over 1.4 billion liters of water are needed to hydrate dairy cows. On top of that, water is also needed to cultivate grains and soy to feed the cows and clean the amount of waste they produce, which adds up to around 150 gallons of water used per day for each cow.

However, the dairy industry’s effects on the environment don’t stop with water usage. Greenhouse gases emitted by cows, including carbon dioxide and methane, are a big contributor to global warming. Cows also produce a copious amount of waste, which has a higher nitrogen concentration than human waste due to the drugs and chemicals cows consume. This waste can contaminate local water supplies and the soil which then harms the native ecosystem and local communities. Ammonia-laden dust from cow farms can also hover over the surrounding area and cause respiratory diseases, especially for farmers.

But how can we give up milk and other dairy products when we’ve been told that they are a staple of a healthy diet and help us grow strong bones?

Turns out there is no research to back up the link between dairy and healthy bones. Decades of marketing and faulty research sponsored by big dairy companies might have created the notion that dairy is indispensable for strong bones, but we can get protein, calcium, and vitamin D from a lot of other food sources. The fat content in milk and its proven association with heart disease and some types of cancer should even make us think twice before including it in our diet.

If you’ve been an avid consumer of dairy, how should you proceed?

Make adjustments to your diet in a way that’s sustainable for you and fit your lifestyle. If you still prefer to enjoy dairy, do so in moderation, and consider getting your dairy from local farms that use humane, eco-friendly practices. If possible, consider switching to plant-based milk and dairy! Soy milk, oat milk, rice milk, and nut milks like almond or cashew taste delicious, have amazing health benefits, and are lactose intolerance friendly. Be a conscious consumer and make sure the food you eat nourishes both your body and the earth.


Cover Photo Credit: ReRooted