Milk Monday: Thoughts on a Calf Killing, Carbon Footprints and Consumerism

Calf roping

Not to mislead you, this is a calf being roped at a rodeo, not shot at a dairy. (Image via Wikipedia)

Last week was interesting …

For a start, the Daily Mail published a story about a deformed calf being taken from its mother and shot on a farm in the Bristol area that supplies milk to Cadbury’s. It was just one of the many cruel details uncovered by a Viva! investigation. This was “shocking” enough to make national news, heart-rending pictures of a helpless baby animal being dragged away from its mother and killed. However, as many commenters on the article pointed out, this sort of thing happens every single day and it is an unavoidable practice, necessary to the continuing production of milk, cheese, yoghurt, and chocolate that our nation is so addicted to.

Implicit in the practice of taking milk from cows for human consumption is the need to remove their calves. The fate of these calves depends on their sex. If they are males, they will be slaughtered in one way or another. If they are females, they can look forward to a fraction of their natural lifespan which will consist of 4-5 pregnancies before they are exhausted and only good for pet food – either way, it’s “shocking”.

Comments on the original article in the Mail have been locked, as I imagine it quite quickly descended into a shouting match. I got to read a few on the day it was published and they certainly seemed to be going in that direction with the same tired views being wheeled out. It is certain that issues such as this have an extraordinary potential to bring out very strong feelings. people commenting on the article seemed to fall into one of three categories:

The Compassionist

This is a meat and dairy consumer who is outraged, “I think it is awful, how could they do that to the poor calf, this has to be stopped“. This person may or may not change their buying habits and seek out “ethical” sources and they may or may not seek to apply pressure on producers and retailers by political methods. They hope that things might change so they can continue to consume with a clear conscience.

The Farmer

These are the people who I have personally had the most anger from, “you have no idea how hard it is to make a living out here, you city people are so soft and sentimental, we love our animals, you have no right to comment.” This is like a shop keeper shouting at a customer, “you have no right to ask stupid questions about my wares, just shut up and buy them and leave the selling to me!” At the end of the day I know farming is a hard way to make a living and our farmers are like public servants, working against the odds to keep the country fed, but I’m the customer. In some ways it doesn’t matter if the producer agrees with what I do or don’t want, nobody is obligated to buy the product if it disgusts them, and everyone has a right to know about and hold an opinion on where something they are going to eat or drink comes from.

The Vegan

Smug sometimes but generally exasperated in tone, “yeah, this is the exact reason why I don’t consume animal flesh or secretions, there is no way round this except to stop consuming as I did 20 years ago.” This person is likely to believe that putting pressure on suppliers through various means is a waste of time and that the real power lies in reducing demand through abstension and educating others so they can make reasoned choices.

I’m sorry, it’s obvious that I am biased here. I love vegans, I admire them and I feel at home with them. They frequently strike me as people who don’t have time for excuses and who are prepared to change themselves before they try to change others. They come from all faiths and no faiths and all walks of life, they are (in my experience) generally pretty unsentimental about animals, too, believing that non humans don’t need our pity, they just need their dignity.

In Other News

The Environmental Working Group  published analysis of the “food footprint” of the western diet, based mainly on US data, revealing (not unexpectedly) that lamb, beef, cheese, and pork have the most extreme carbon footprints per kg produced. The analysis included production and processing costs for these foods. Dried beans, milk, tomatoes, and lentils found their tiny way into the bottom of the graph.

The report states:

By eating and wasting less meat (especially red and processed meat) and cheese, you can simultaneously improve your health and reduce the climate and environmental impact of food production. And when you do choose to eat meat and cheese, go greener. There are many environmental, health and animal welfare reasons to choose meat and dairy products that come from organic, pasture-raised, grass-fed animals. It may cost more, but when you buy less meat overall, you can afford to go healthier and greener. (A Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health: by Kari Hamerschlag, EWG Senior Analyst)

It’s a shame that this report was very much aimed at promoting the “go on consuming, folks, just make sure you do it greenly” approach. It makes me aware of a growing discomfort I sense in myself over the whole “ethical consumer” thing; and I am just about to unfashionably question everything in this area from “happy” eggs to Fair-Trade, so cover your ears now …

The Jugular

What if the answer is not to try to swing the whole consumer paradigm around to something that is more “ethical” but to actually boycott the game and find something that goes a lot deeper. When I “went vegan” I suddenly found that I had not escaped this, I had just transferred myself into another niche market and suddenly I was the recipient of, “BUY this, it’s vegan.” As a Christian, I am likewise a nice little category of consumer, “BUY this it’s Christian, it will change your forever and revolutionise your spiritual life.” As someone who wants to be ethical, I haven’t bucked the system at all I’ve just made myself open to “BUY this, it will enable you to continue to live as you always have but with a clearer conscience.”

BUY fair trade coffee and bananas? Shouldn’t I be asking, “do I really need coffee and bananas in my life” and “do the people who grow them need my nice money so that they can become consumers like me?”

I’m thinking out loud, here, so please don’t shoot me down. Constructive engagement is appreciated if it will help me (or us) to work these things through.

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3 Responses

  1. I think you are not sympathetic to your readers I had that horrible image stuck in my head thanks to you, I’m flagging this post.

    • I thought I should let you know that these horrible images are stuck in my head, too, and they more than ruin my day. That is why I am trying to do something about it by using my blog occasionally as a platform to spread awareness and by abstaining from the consumption of all dairy products.

      After your comment I have thought hard about changing this post, or taking it down but abstension and advocacy are the ways in which I hope to play a part in ending the cruelty, I have to leave this up here for the calf’s sake. I apologise if this offends you.

  2. I’m sorry i should have considered your feelings.

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