Improving the Lives of Dairy Cows is Possible: Here’s How
This is a guest post from WSPA UK
What makes an animal protection NGO partner with a global ice-cream company?
The answer might seem obvious: superior meeting treats. But in fact the World Society for the Protection of Animals, Compassion in World Farming and Ben and Jerry’s Caring Dairy hold a deeper, shared interest in the prime producer: happy, healthy dairy cows.
It’s an interest that might seem trivial. After all, dairy cows live the good life, right? Peaceful, vacant and contented as they ruminate on life’s questions in green fields under wide skies. For many Europeans, these images have been so ingrained in our cultural imagination that we have barely noticed the new trend: permanent indoor housing without access to pasture. For example, two thirds of Denmark’s cows are now housed permanently indoors, an increase of nearly 60 percent in just 10 years. That’s not the only problem. Due in part to inadequate legal protection, dairy cow welfare varies greatly across Europe, with widespread health and welfare problems caused by poor housing, inadequate management and poor diet.
The Supporting Better Dairy coalition, supported by a body of independent evidence, has been calling on the European Commission to introduce an EU Directive on Dairy Cow Welfare, to raise standards across the industry and give European farmers equal welfare obligations in a fairer market. We have received substantial public support, as well as support from MEPs, veterinary experts and food businesses.
This is a great start, but we need more. We only have until October 18 to reach our target of 250,000 signatures and make a real impact in Brussels. Will you sign your name and help us?
One of the conditions that needs addressing is lameness. A report by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) asserted that painful leg and foot disorders in dairy cattle were one of the most widespread and problematic welfare issues. Whilst pan-European figures are hard to obtain, an independent assessment claims that up to 48 percent of dairy cows are lame in some countries and in some systems. Cows that produce a lot of milk need long periods of rest to lie down — up to 12-14 hours a day. When flooring is too hard and uncomfortable, or conditions too cramped, cows are less willing to lie down and are more likely to go lame.
There’s also the problem of mastitis, a painful infection of the teat that can be caused by poor living conditions and poor hygiene.
Meanwhile many farms still use tie-stalls, restraining cows in cubicles for all or part of the year. It’s estimated that 50 percent of Swedish cows and 27 percent of German cows are tethered this way.
Cows are sensitive creatures that are curious, sociable and intelligent. Physical health is vital, but scientific research has also shown they like to forage, explore and problem-solve, and they enjoy friendships in small social groups. That’s why the campaign is calling for “happy cows.”
Pigs, laying hens, calves, meat chickens — all of these now have their own legal protection. Dairy cows do not. An EU Directive would go a long way to recognize their needs as sentient, sensitive creatures.
You have just a few days left to add your name and tell the European Commission that you want Europe’s cows to be happy and healthy whilst ensuring a profitable, sustainable dairy industry (and profitable, sustainable meeting treats).
Photo credit: WSPA UK