What is the single best thing you can do to reduce your impact on the environment?
Ditch dairy and meat.
I’m not the one saying this. This is the conclusion by the University of Oxford after the largest ever study on the effect of farming on the environment.
In the study published in the Science journal, team leader Joseph Poore says: “The reason I started this project was to understand if there were sustainable animal producers out there. But I have stopped consuming animal products over the last four years of this project. These impacts are not necessary to sustain our current way of life. The question is how much can we reduce them and the answer is a lot.”
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation corroborates this; it has found that livestock production and maintenance, of which dairy is a prominent part, contributes to a mind-numbing 7.1 gigatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year.
It’s such a major contributor to the destruction of the environment that its effects are comparable to all the pollution caused by cars, bikes, buses, trucks and airplanes combined.
But that’s not all. In addition to the dastardly effects this destructive industry has on our delicate ecosystem, it also blatantly mistreats cows, entirely disregarding their sentience, using them as mere commodities and mercilessly murdering them once they’re spent.
Let’s take a look at the life of a dairy cow in a typical factory farm.
Once a female calf is born, she is forcibly separated from her mother within a few hours of her birth. The distressed mother often screams for her child for days on end to no avail. This is the first and last time they will see each other.
The calf is then put into a tiny rearing pen where she spends the next two to six months of her life. She isn’t allowed to play with her peers and is fed a milk-replacement as her human breeders don’t want her consuming the liquid gold her own mother produces – something that should be her birthright.
She reaches puberty at 15 months, at which point her farmer-owners get to work on impregnating her. She’s artificially inseminated (AI) by using what’s called an AI gun. It’s essentially a long metal syringe that contains bull sperm.
The person inseminating her would insert his left hand into her rectum (to ensure accurate gun placement) and with his right, insert the AI gun into her vulva. I can’t imagine this being a pleasant experience for her.
Once the sperm is deposited, she’s left to become pregnant which will take around 283 days or over nine months. At the end of this period, she gives birth to, say, a beautiful male calf. This is the start of her nightmare.
Her baby is snatched from her as she was from her mother. But her newborn is fated for a life that’s arguably worse.
Since males don’t produce milk, they are often carted off to a veal farm where they will be fed for around 18 months before being slaughtered for meat.
Depending on the facility, there is a good chance he will spend all of his short time on earth confined to a crate where he can’t even turn around.
Once her baby is taken away, the new mother is led to an automatic milking machine which will milk her two to three times a day. When she’s not being milked, she’ll be fed something called a Total Mixed Ration (TMR). It’s made up of hay, fermented grass, soybean, brewers grains, maize silage, cotton seed and citrus pulp.
This happens inside a tie-stall, where she is tied in place using a chain or rope, severely limiting her movement. The daily feeding and milking continues for about 10 months, at which point she is impregnated again and the whole nightmarish cycle is repeated several times.
She can only endure so much of the immense strain this sadistic system puts on her body. At age 4, she develops mastitis and lameness. Mastitis is a mammary gland infection that causes painful swelling of the udder while lameness mostly affects the foot, severely affecting mobility.
At this point, her milk production drops and as far as the dairy industry is concerned, a cow’s life is only valuable if she’s productive. Her owners decide she’s ready to be turned into beef. This happens when she’s 5. Had she been in the wild, as nature intended, she could have lived to be 20.
She’s brought to a slaughterhouse. To ensure she’s murdered “humanely”, she’s stunned and knocked unconscious by passing electricity through her head. Don’t ask me how this is considered humane.
A person then proceeds to slit her throat, letting out a gushing wave of blood which floods the floor. Once dead, she’s cut up into pieces and finds her body parts on plates of people all across the world.
But don’t be depressed. All this can be avoided.
Today more than ever, we have an entire array of amazing plant-based milk on our store shelves. The most popular of them are oat milk, almond milk, soy milk, cashew milk, hemp milk, coconut milk and rice milk.
We’ll delve into their benefits, drawbacks and nutritional profiles in a future article.
Also read: Got milk? No thanks
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.