The Canada EarthSaver July/August 2005
It seems obvious enough. If
you're concerned about cows, dairy's the
way to go. Nobody gets
killed, right? The cows spend pleasant lives
grazing in the fields, coming
in for milking every now and then.
Right? Contrast that with the
horrors of the slaughterhouse.
Unfortunately, things aren't
so simple. The small family farms on
which dairy cattle could roam
between milkings are mostly gone now.
Instead, most dairy cattle
live out their lives in huge sheds where
they're treated more like
machines than animals. Bred to produce
unnatural amounts of milk
(annual milk production per cow has more
than doubled since the
1940s), dairy cows are plagued with calcium
deficiencies and painful
mastitis. Their natural lives would span
some 25 years, but instead
they are routinely sent to slaughter
before their fifth birthday.
They become hamburger and "processed"
Like humans, cows have to
give birth in order to produce milk. To
keep production high, they
are artificially inseminated once a year.
Nine months later, a calf is
born. 24 to 48 hours after that, the
calf is taken away. Milk
production must be maximized. If the calf is
female, she usually gets to
live and follows her mother's path to the
dairy. If the calf is
unfortunate enough to be male, however, he is
sent off to the veal farm
instead. He might as well be sent to
While his mother languishes,
mourning the loss of her calf, he is
chained by the neck inside a
tiny crate, just two feet wide. He sees
no daylight and eats no
grass. Fed an antibiotic-rich, iron-deficient
gruel so that his meat will
be pale, the young calf has no room to
walk or turn. He can't even
lie down comfortably. By the time he's
led to slaughter at just 16
weeks of age, chances are good that he
will unable to walk at all.
According to the Humane Society of the
USA, this veal industry to
which he will succumb is based entirely
upon 'surplus' dairy
Contrast his life to those of
beef cattle. At least many of them have
access to range land for part
of their lives...until they're sent to
fatten up at the
Which brings us to some of
the other costs of both beef and dairy.
There are about 10 million
cattle in Canada, 5 million of them
adults. Something like
200,000 of these are dairy cows. All except
the veal calves are fed
grains and soy beans for a significant part
of their lives. Dairy cattle
eat it all their lives. It takes about
10 kg of grain to 'grow' 1 kg
of beef and about 15 kg of grain to
produce 30 liters of milk. By
the time a dairy cow goes to slaughter,
she'll have consumed some 40
lbs of grain for every lb of hamburger
that she becomes. This is
very expensive business. Imagine how much
less farm land we'd need to
cultivate if we didn't eat meat or dairy.
Imagine how many more human
mouths we could feed.
And cattle don't just eat.
They discharge manure and they belch
methane. Pound for pound,
their methane warms our planet more than
CO2 does. Their manure
contaminates our ground water. With the growth
of factory farming, animals
live in close quarters. Their manure is
collected in large "holding
ponds' where it sometimes overflows or
otherwise seeps into the
ground. Dairy cattle contribute more to this
problem because they usually
live their entire lives under these
The fact that cows live in
these close quarters has another
consequence for us humans.
Because they are packed so closely
together, disease can spread
quickly. To prevent this, farmers dose
them up with antibiotics.
Among other things, this has the effect of
loading up their meat and
milk with antibiotics, too. Pesticides and
other chemicals from the
grains they eat accumulate as well.
Not surprisingly, dairy
cattle - who frequently suffer from mastitis,
and eat more grain than their
'beef-producing' kin - have the highest
levels of antibiotic and
pesticides in their bodies. The US FDA has
found that 60% of the
hamburger with chemical residues over allowable
limits comes from dairy
What can you do about
You can mitigate some of the
damage by buying organic. At least the
cows see pasture and you
won't be loading yourself up with unwanted
chemicals. Remember, though,
that even organic dairy calves become
veal, and that an awful lot
of grain goes into raising even organic
cattle. The environmental
costs of raising any food animal are high.
If you really want to have an
effect, cut back your consumption
dramatically or, best of all,
avoid meat and dairy altogether.
Which is worse? Dairy or
beef? You be the judge.