Aside from the horrifying conditions that dairy cows have to endure in order to produce milk for human consumption, most dairy enthusiasts (and vegetarians in particular) would be shocked to learn how closely the dairy industry is tied to veal operations.
It may seem obvious, but all dairy cows must give birth in order to produce milk. As with humans, this milk is intended to feed their young, but calves born on dairy farms are taken from their mothers at just one day old and fed milk replacer so that humans can have the milk instead.
The main goal that drives most of the dairy industry is raising cows to produce as much milk as possible, and to achieve this cows are kept in a never ending state of lactation and impregnation.
A cow’s gestation period is like a human beings, nine months long, and being forced to give birth every year is physically demanding. On top of this, they are made to give milk during seven months of their pregnancy. This constant stress that their bodies have to endure put them at risk of numerous health problems. Their natural life span is 20-25 years old, but you would never know it, as cows on modern dairy farms are exhausted and spent after just 3-4 years at which point they are sent to slaughter, where they end up as cheap beef.
So what happens to all the babies?
Once you understand that dairy cows must give birth to produce milk, it’s not hard to comprehend how baby calves are merely a byproduct.
Female calves are either used to replace older cows in the herd or are slaughtered immediately. Male calves on the other hand have no use to the dairy industry so they are used to produce beef or veal.
Naturally, calves would suckle from their mothers anywhere from several months to a year, but instead they are separated within 24 hours of entering the world. Mother cows, like most mammals, have strong maternal bonds. When separated both mother and child experience enormous amounts of stress. Mother cows search frantically for their offspring and calves are overcome with fright and bewilderment.
Each year, approximately one million unwanted dairy calves are slaughtered after enduring one of the most horrendous lives imaginable. The majority of these calves are confined to tiny crates measuring just two feet wide. They are chained at the neck to restrict movement, making it impossible for them to walk, turn around or even lie down comfortably. This confinement halts proper muscle development which is why the calves’ meat is so tender.
Calves in these conditions exhibit abnormal psychological behaviors such as head tossing, shaking, scratching and kicking, they also experience extreme joint and leg disorders and the impaired ability to walk.
In addition to restricting their movement, veal producers also restrict their food intake. They are purposely fed a liquid diet deficient in iron and fiber, with the intention of inducing borderline anemia, which is the cause of pale colored flesh that is so highly sought after by food connoisseurs. When the calves are approximately 18 weeks old, these weak and fragile animals are slaughtered and sold as ‘white veal’.
Some calves are spared this intensive confinement and are instead slaughtered when they are just a few days, or in some cases, hours old. They are, however, still subjected to the same cruel and inhumane handling, transport and slaughter, and many die on route to the slaughterhouse.
While there may be a small number of dairies that buck the trend, the vast majority of dairy products we consume come from factories that are nothing short of horrific.
In principle, the veal industry sits in the pocket of the dairy industry, and as Dr. Steven Gross puts it, “metaphorically, there is a hunk of veal in every glass of milk.”
Photo Credit: Tim Ellis