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Who Needs Milk? by Harry Mather, Vegan Views 73 (Summer 96)

If you are reading this, you should no longer be taking milk because milk is for babies; and, since you are human, you should not be taking cow's milk because that is for bovines. The milk of each species differs and is designed for the development of that particular species. Cow's milk is designed for fast growth of a large creature (that's why human babies can quickly put on weight with it) but does not help develop a large brain or complex nervous system.

But isn't milk full of goodness, especially protein and calcium that we all need? Yes, it is full of the nutrients that babies need for quick growth, but adults don't need such concentrated food and milk can easily make us overweight. It often leads to excess mucus, which will clear when the milk is given up. Many people in our country, including children, are allergic to cow's milk and their condition improves when they give it up. Many Africans who cease taking milk after weaning, lose the enzyme needed to digest it and then become sick if given cow's milk as adults. Is this not an indication that our bodies are not programmed take milk as adults?

Milk is boosted as the great provider of calcium, but where do cows get their calcium from? From plants, of course, and non-milk users can also get their calcium from plant sources. Vegans in general have not been found to be short of calcium, they find it in green leafy vegetables, Wholewheat bread, other grains and seeds (e.g. sesame seeds), pulses and others. Milk drinkers are building up a high level of acidity due to its high protein content. To counter this acidity, the body uses calcium as an alkali. Therefore the high level of calcium in milk is not fully available and in some cases the body may take calcium from the bones which leads to brittle bones (osteoporosis). Taking milk to counter osteoporosis can therefore be misguided.

It may come as a surprise to learn that some cultures have no tradition of using milk other than the mother's milk - namely China and Japan, where soya has been extensively used. In India, however where there is a strong non-meat culture, milk is widely used and the cow revered. This may be because in some distant times crops had failed and cow's milk proved a salvation for the starving people. There the cow is not exploited as such. Her calves have priority on the milk and humans come second. At least, that is the tradition, but modern ideas tend to copy Western practices.

In our Western countries, that consider themselves so civilised there is a system of maximum exploitation that begins at birth. Male calves are of no use to the dairy industry and are not the best breed for raising beef, so they are doomed for an early death. But the life destined for the females may be described as worse than death. Pregnancy is induced as early as possible - artificially. So the cow is not even allowed a sex life. Owing to breeding for maximum size, the calves are larger than if the birth was natural, resulting in a very painful birth. This is rewarded by having the calf taken away at birth or within a very few days. Again depriving the cow of her natural emotions and instincts. Anyone brought up on a dairy farm is familiar with the pathetic calls of the mother for her lost baby and also of the cries of the calf for its mother, which goes on for days (also nights).

Although she has lost her calf, the cow is made to produce milk and is milked to the maximum, for she is only considered to be a milk making machine. Carrying the unnatural bulk of milk for which she has been unnaturally bred, her udders stretch till they nearly touch the ground, and sometimes do. This also puts a strain on the rear legs which often become deformed.

Although more milk is produced than we can consume, there is strong pressure to introduce BST hormone that will further increase milk production per cow, although this would appear to be already at the biological limit. The stresses we put on the modern cow lead to the common diseases of brucellosis and tuberculosis, for which she is treated with drugs. How sure can we be that no residues find their way into the milk?

About three months after calving, the cow is made pregnant again and is milked for most of the pregnancy. After 5 to 7 years of this exhausting treatment, milk yields decline, she is allowed to retire, or in other words, she is sent for slaughter (perhaps a merciful release) whereas she could have expected to live to about 20 years in more happy circumstances.

Children are told that "the cow gives us her milk". In fact it is robbery with violence followed by murder. But we wouldn't tell our children that, would we?

The price of milk is therefore subsidised by the slaughter value of the poor old cow. It is not valid to say that drinking milk does not involve killing an animal. This could only be true if cows were left to die of old age (which may happen in India). Here, milk means murder of a young mother, who has been tormented all her life. It is difficult to deny that drinking milk (in our present economy) involves more animal suffering than meat eating does.

Giving up meat may seem the more obvious step for ending animal suffering, and most people will use it as the first step on the way to distancing themselves from the exploitation of animals for food, but it is important not to indulge in dairy produce and to move on soon to the further step of giving up milk and its derivatives; butter, cheese, cream and yoghurt. There are now excellent soya-based alternatives to these, even delicious non-dairy ice-creams. Today's vegans have it much easier than the pioneers of 50 years ago.

Is your desire for milk so great that you can condone the way we treat the cow and her calf?

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Cross-reference: Milk