LAST UPDATED: 27 March 2017
Behind a carefully cultivated image of rolling hills and idyllic farms lies the reality of an industry built on immense animal suffering.
Many Australians are surprised when they realise that a cow needs to give birth in order to produce milk. Cows are mammals, like humans. But if her milk is taken and sold, what happens to her calf? These vulnerable baby animals suffer great emotional trauma when separated from their grieving mothers on the first day of their life. If a calf is male, he'll never produce milk and is seen as economically worthless. Even if she's female, there might not be room for her in the herd. SAFE and Farmwatch recently captured harrowing footage of the routine practice of separation and slaughter in New Zealand's dairy industry. Sadly, hundreds of thousands of unwanted dairy calves are condemned to a similar fate here — killed as 'waste products' by the Australian dairy industry every year.
Most of us grow up assuming that, in a country like Australia, animals raised for food would be protected from cruelty. So it's shocking to discover that governments and industries with vested interests have deliberately excluded these animals from the laws that protect the dogs and cats who share our homes. This is to legalise treatment that would otherwise be criminal cruelty — like surgical procedures without pain relief. For example, Australian calves are routinely 'disbudded' — where their hornbud is scooped out or burned away with caustic chemicals — with no pain relief.
To make the arrival of new calves into the herd occur over a convenient time period, some dairy farmers induce labour in a pregnant cow, so that she will deliver her calf earlier than nature intended. They do this despite the fact that it puts the mother at greater risk of infection — and even death. Many calves who are born early are too small and weak to survive. They may be shot in the head, using a captive bolt to the brain; or may be killed using 'blunt trauma' to their skull. Despite the serious welfare problems caused by induction, it remains legal and the industry has not acted decisively to end the practice.
In a disturbing trend towards squeezing every last drop of profit out of dairy cows, intensive mega dairies have started popping up in Australia. Cows in these dairy factory farms are denied many of their most natural behaviours, including grazing on grass: they're kept indoors on hard surfaces and fed a grain-based diet, to stop them from 'wasting' energy on walking and grazing. In this artificial environment they can suffer lameness and injuries, and painful digestive conditions like 'acidosis'.
Commercial dairy production is already cruel. But when the dairy industry joins forces with live exporters, the risk of animals suffering abuse skyrockets. The Australian dairy industry exports 90,000 dairy cows each year to enter the dairy industries in other countries, primarily China. Most are shipped while pregnant. Denied even the basic protections that have been extended to animals exported for slaughter (known as ESCAS), these 'forgotten animals' are left utterly exposed to cruelty once they reach the importing country.
Living dairy-free is simple, healthy and delicious, so it's no wonder that a growing number of Aussies are enjoying these calcium-rich and animal-friendly foods. Every day more and more delectable dairy-free options are appearing on supermarket shelves, which makes it easy as pie to help protect dairy calves and their mums!