After Star Wars there was The Empire Strikes Back. You don't think Lord Vader and company were just going to roll over and die did you?
Well, it's looking pretty grim for the dairy industry right now. Demand is dropping. I mean REALLY, REALLY dropping. Milk is down a quarter BILLION GBP, which is touching on half a billion dollars. In two years.
Some are saying that dairy will not survive the next ten years if current trends continue, with veganism becoming more mainstream. (Vegetarians will happily consume cheese made by killing an animal (the only real exception being paneer) and ripping out its stomach contents to curdle milk so they're not part of the equation).
Well, what do you do when people are turning away from your product in disgust? That's right, marketing.
So the clever folks at the UK Dairy Marketing board piggybacked on Animal Aid and PETA's "Veganuary" initiative, to get people to try to give up animal products as a New Year's Resolution. Many people abandon New Year's Resolutions around mid-January, so in comes the marketing board to suggest not being silly, go on, slather on that butter, have a glass of milk, it's good nutrition.
And of course, we here at the UK dairy board will encourage our members and others to post messages on social media praising milk and showing pictures of happy, clean airbrushed cows in dappled fields gambolling gaily through a The Sound of Music style alpine meadow. We don't hurt cows, you silly people. We love our animals, and treat them kindly, and they want to give you their delicious, healthy milk. You've missed cheese haven't you? (Since it actually technically acts on the opioid pathway, yes, yes a lot of people will).
Well go on then. Have some milk.
The arguments for vegetarianism that include milk and eggs say that animals aren't killed in order to provide these products. That's factually incorrect. Bovines, like other mammals, aren't exactly prone to producing milk just for the sake of it. They have to be impregnated to do so, so dairy farms keep their cows pumping out calves as fast as they can (without causing them undue damage) so that they'll in essence lactate for the bulk of their shortened lives. A cow's natural lifespan is 20 years. In dairy, a cow will not see a sixth year, and is lucky to make it to five. Unless it's male or surplus, in which it doesn't live longer than two weeks.
Issue there, though is that some of the cows born are boys, and boys don't give milk. So they're separated from their mothers (as are female cows), something that causes sentient animals with maternal instincts great distress. The boys are sent for slaughter in about two weeks. The girls get tied up in another pen, fed inexpensive agricultural byproduct "milk replacer" and made pregnant as soon as they are fertile. Unless they're surplus. Then they die too. It's why we have a "delicacy" called veal. An invention of this industry to get rid of a nuisance byproduct, basically animals that aren't profitable.
And the more we learn about cows, the more we learn that they have friends, bond with their children, and have more sentience and emotion than we give them credit for. They feel fear when enroute to the slaughterhouse. They feel pain when mistreated. And when they're exhausted from being nonstop baby and milk machines and are prematurely aged and spent, they too get shot in the head in order to provide meat for the hamburger chains.
So, tell me again where milk production is "humane"? Never mind the concrete pens, callous slaughterhouse workers, cattle prods, and their lives spent in tiny enclosures staring at a concrete wall, we know full well they're sentient beings that know what's happening to them.
Downer cows, BSE, the fact that they live out their lives eating grains that are spent after breweries have used them to make beer, and so forth. We feed them agricultural waste and sell their tissues for profit.
Of course, let's not talk about breeding programs that produce cows that give multiple times more milk than they're evolutionarily programmed to produce, so they're swollen and sore, or the levels of hormones and drugs needed to keep them alive because they're fed substandard agricultural waste.
Let me know when this starts sounding humane. I'm waiting.
Well, it's backfiring magnificently. Off the bat we get a bunch of farmers mostly talking about "silly vegans" and extolling the virtues of their good nutrition and look, stock photos of happy looking creatures, etc. etc. etc.
And the vegans were waiting for them.
Within a few moments the trolling, slander, posting of photos of slaughterhouses and covert video of dairy operations, blocks, bans, crying to Facebook and Twitter for redress of hurt feelings started. And a lot of curious bystanders (from my wading in to the trollfest to see how it's working out) are actually coming to the same conclusions for the most part as the vegans. Gosh, this is monstrous, you're right, I had no idea. And the farmers going, well, yes, we DO slaughter male cows at two weeks old and separate calves from their mothers within 24 hours and tie up their faces so they can't feed because WE WANT THAT PROFITY MILK but it's humane! I don't kick them or anything!
And of course, if you read the fine print on the industry's own website, it advises people as to the limits of what they can legally say. They can say that calcium is needed for strong bones, and milk contains calcium. They cannot say that milk is required to build healthy bones, because that is a LIE and ACTIONABLE. They can say that protein is needed and Vitamin D, but they can't say you have to eat dairy to get it. Because that too, is a lie.
In fact, dairy really isn't good for you at all, unless you like heart disease and cancer. It does fuck all for your bones, as well.
As for the big dairies? They've seen the writing on the wall and are buying up as many plant milk and vegan food companies as they can get their greedy little hands on. Which means vegan food manufacturers are making BANK, and farming is betting its future on a cow-free future.
Which is kind of sad, really. If you're a fifth generation small farmer in Devon who was born within smelling distance of a cow shed, learned to walk in a cow pasture and beat your first calf's head in with a mallet at the age of four, all you have is the family farm and knowledge of how to get animals lined up for the cattle car. The people who bought your products to sell to supermarkets are basically leaving you high and dry and there's a venomous army of outraged animal lovers that look at what you do to animals and think of you as a cross between a slave trader and a child rapist.
You can always do what Elmhurst dairy did. It tossed away 90 years of business to go into the plant milk business, which will hit $3B within four years.
Or you can sit there and try and meme people into drinking more milk, and deal with the troll army that comes your way.
EDIT: Someone announced to me that they downvoted this because I didn't talk about "raw milk". You see, some folks seem to think that raw milk is a superfood and that "commercial, corporate" milk that has been pasteurized is bad, but raw milk, which by definition has to come from clean, healthy, unstressed cows that are fed hand-washed, organic, macrobiotic farm-to-table grass and so forth is actually very tasty and good for you and counters all the negative effects of veganism like muscle wastage and psychosis, or at least that's what some crank who owns an organic raw milk delivery is touting.
Muscle wastage? Ask various competitive bodybuilders and NFL players that haven't consumed milk, meat or eggs in years. In fact, veganism is the latest "performance hack" even used by the US weightlifting team.
Psychosis? Uh, okay. Reefer madness much?
First of all, there's NO evidence, aside from placebo anecdotes by enthusiasts (so creamy! I felt like I could lift a house!) that it confers benefit. Noted nutrition experts, too, like New York University professor Marion Nestle, say the jury's still out on the supposed health benefits. But we do have people who publish "natural health" articles on non-peer reviewed sites saying that consuming untreated milk is fine (completely ignoring why they had to start pasteurizing the milk in the first place. From 1993 – 2006, 77 percent of illness outbreaks caused by raw milk or its products occurred in states where raw milk sales are legal.
But there's probiotics! So has knmbucha and sauerkraut.
Let's see. No actually PROVEN benefit, illness outbreaks, and there's still two other issues.
One argument most commercial dairies make is that because they feed their cows agricultural waste, the sheer amount of water and food and energy we have to divert to dairy farming is minimized. Well, that goes out the window if we provide the cows with Perrier and grass, right? It might cause some degree of less harm, but the cost in terms of water (which we're running out of) and arable land is horrendous.
And you still don't get around the whole "impregnating an animal to steal its milk, cutting its lifespan down to 25%, and killing it if it isn't useful, not allowing the cows to feed their own children, etc. etc. etc." Or the fact that dairy is a known carcinogen and contributes to heart disease.
So there's your "but raw milk, though".