I wrote the most fantastic post, one of the most emotive things I’ve written in a long time, and then it was spirited away as my laptop mysteriously shut off. This post seems downright clinical in comparison, but I felt it was an important enough topic to try again.
I had never really thought much about how milk production worked until I was pregnant and nearing time to breastfeed. Now that I’ve been at it for over a year, I understand a bit more about how it all happens. Still, until recently I hadn’t considered the similarities between human production and that of dairy cows.
A campaign from Viva! called Mothers Want Their Babies Back!, timed to coincide with Mother’s Day in the UK, captured my attention. In addition to the research I’d already done on dairy consumption, this prompted me to take another look at the milk industry from a lactating mom’s point of view.
In order to produce milk, a cow must go through a full pregnancy and birth her child just as a human mother would. To capture the milk for human consumption, the calf is taken away from the mother within hours of delivery. By that point the mother’s bond with her baby is already strong, and just as any mother would be she is devastated when it is taken away. (Little does she know that more cruelty is right around the corner for the babe as the male calves are either killed straightaway or raised as veal, a short but torturous existence, and the females kept for future milk production.)
Since mother and babe have been separated, production must be maintained via pumping several times a day. This doesn’t take place in a cushy corporate mother’s room, but instead in a shed crowded alongside other “working moms” that may never see the light of day. To make sure she has a strong supply, the cow will likely be given a galactagogue. Instead of the oatmeal or fenugreek you or I might use, she’s given something like BGH instead.
To increase profitability, the mother cow is pushed to oversupply, often to the point her udders sag so low they drag on the ground. Plugged ducts and mastitis occur as in humans, but on a more frequent basis due to the filthy conditions — a very painful ordeal often treated with antibiotics but meaning a death sentence for some cows.
Since the milk producing period is only meant to last as long as the baby needs it to grow, each year the cow will be artificially impregnated. This viscious cycle repeats until her supply dips to the point where she’s no longer profitable. Long before her life would naturally end, sometimes pregnant, she’s slaughtered. (As seen in recent news, even this doesn’t always mean quick relief from a miserable existence.)
The cruelty in the dairy enterprise is astounding and I can no longer play a part. I have decided to permanently adopt the near vegan diet I’ve assumed since we found out pur babe was sensitive to cow’s milk. Not only will it be good for my health and the environment, I’d like to do it for the moms.