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October 2006
Organic Milk: The Unwholesome Choice
By Andrea Rose

 

Lately it seems “organic certified” and “Certified Humane” dairy products have been popping up all over. Organic milk is currently the top selling organic product in the country. This new interest is alarming because the dairy industry is one of the most abusive and exploitative industries. Do “organic certified” and “Certified Humane” products actually help farm animals or do they just pacify those who have reservations about eating animal products and are looking for an excuse to continue doing it?

It’s All in the Label
According to the Humane Society of the U.S., animals under the label “Certified Humane” must be kept in conditions allowing for exercise and freedom of movement. As such, crates, cages and tethers are prohibited. Yet outdoor access is not required. Stocking densities are specified to ensure animals are not overcrowded, and animals must be provided with bedding materials. Hormone and non-therapeutic antibiotic use is prohibited. Compliance is verified through third party auditing. Certified Humane is a program of Humane Farm Animal Care.

“ Certified organic” animals must be allowed outdoor access, and ruminants—cows, sheep and goats—given access to pasture. Consumers should be aware, however, that there have been concerns about lax enforcement, with some large-scale producers not providing meaningful access to the outdoors. Animals must be provided with bedding materials. Use of hormones and antibiotics is prohibited. These are requirements under the USDA’s National Organic Program regulations, and compliance is verified through third party auditing.

The animals fortunate enough to be certified in some way may have a better quality of life than their unfortunate commercially raised counterparts, thanks to access to fresh water, lack of antibiotics and growth hormones, and improved husbandry practices. If the animals can grow at a more natural pace without the need of antibiotics to stay alive, they must feel better. Certainly, they enjoy access to pasture from time to time and clean bedding. This all looks great on the surface, however, what happens when productivity slows down and it is time to make way for the younger and more productive members of the herd? Is this special care and treatment still available when cows are relieved of their milking duties?

Organic Beef
The truth is, once their milk production tapers off—anywhere from five to seven years—it is industry standard to convert dairy cattle to beef cattle. According to an email I received from Horizon Dairy, one of the largest organic dairy companies in the U.S., dairy cows and their calves are auctioned off; the cows most likely becoming “organic certified” beef. They would then follow the same organic guidelines. But, what kind of treatment do they receive if they are not “organic certified”?

I had the opportunity to speak to one of the farmers who produced milk for Organic Valley, another major organic dairy, and was told that in order to be “certified organic” beef, a cow had to be born to an “organic” mother. If not, the slaughtered cow would be sold as commercial beef.
Even with certification, treatment of the “organic” or “humane” certified calf, a byproduct of the dairy industry, is unchanging from typical factory farming protocol. If the calf is male, he is forcefully separated from his mother and will become veal or beef.

Some organic dairies, including the farmer from Organic Valley that I spoke with, allow the baby to stay with their mother for up to two months, mainly because there are no veal farmers in the proximity of her farm. She also said that some farms might keep their calves up to six months old and sell them as “red veal” or “pink veal” due to their naturally colored flesh. There is no set standard and it varies from farm to farm. These farms are part of a coop and are individually operated,?each adhering to different practices and guidelines depending on their location, but?still following what is allowed under the term “organic.” These farms represent only a small fraction of organic dairy farms.?

If the calf is female, she follows in her mother’s hoofsteps becoming a milk machine, suffering for years only to become hamburger or processed meat. Although some “organic” dairies, including the farmer that I spoke to, use natural fertilization, involving a bull, one cannot ignore that milk production requires serial pregnancies, often entailing artificial insemination. The method of choice due to the high conception rate is recto-vaginal insemination—the use of a gloved arm through the cow’s rectum. The cow is also subject to human manipulations of her mammary glands from dairy workers and machines—rather than her nursing calf. No certification accounts for this abusive and unnatural practice. There is nothing “organic” or “humane” about it!

“ Organic” dairies say their cows live longer since they are healthier, but the longer living cow has to endure more artificial inseminations, more pregnancies, followed by painful deliveries and the unimaginable suffering that accompanies the loss of each stolen calf. Is this benefiting her or the individual who will sip her “organic” milk containing less infectious discharge, antibiotics, growth hormones and pesticide residue? “Organic” and “humane” certified dairy are no different from commercial dairy due to the necessary byproducts of milk production—a slaughtered, exploited or abused calf, and the slaughter of the mother once her milk production tapers off.

Quite simply, how can slaughter be “humane”?

Goat Milk: A Bad Alternative
Recently there has been an increase in the sale of goat milk. But goat milk is no “humane” alternative to cows’ milk, despite the small, family farm marketing. It is far from cruelty-free and mimics cow milk production. Male goats are simply slaughtered at a young age since they serve no benefit to the herd. I observed the callous attitude towards them while in line at a grocery store. I overheard the cashier boasting to another employee how she was able to kill baby goats and feed them to her dogs. I inquired as to what she was talking about and she told me that she ran a goat dairy and that nobody wants unruly “billy” goats (males), so they kill them. I could not believe what I was hearing and thought about the deception behind the wholesome image.

All Good Things Must End
According to an industry website, the handling and transport of livestock creates some of the most severe stresses farmed animals are likely to experience. This journey is something all livestock are forced to endure, regardless of how they are certified. I inquired about transport policies with some “organic” dairies and a representative of Certified Humane to find out how “organic” and “humane” transport differs from commercial transport, where animals may go hours without food, water or a rest period to stretch or walk around. I discovered that for such “certified” animals, their transport is not yet regulated. “Certified Humane” covers the life of the animal from “birth until death,” according to an organization representative, but at this time, there are no set standards for transport, unless the animal is under one month of age. Only “Certified Humane” babies under one month old get minimal bedding, room to lay down and environment regulated trucks, in addition to a maximum transport time (one to three hours, depending on age—five days to one month). It saddens me to know that since this is not an industry standard, millions of non-certified babies are transported in deplorable conditions and not offered even the most minimal comfort. During my conversation with the Organic Valley farmer, I also learned that baby calves in general are very susceptible to upper respiratory infections and that the transport process can be extremely stressful for them.

Even though transport is one of the most important areas in need of reform, it is conveniently overlooked. The current “28 Hour Law,” or maximum time transported animals should go without food, water or resting, lacks proper enforcement and has several loopholes in it, including failure to recognize trucks as transport vehicles (the law was written in the early 1900s). In addition, numerous animals suffer extreme stress and unimaginable abuse caused from the loading and actual transport in crowded trucks in extreme weather conditions. The exposed metal caging of these trucks trap the heat and cold and offer little protection from the elements. Finally, following many of these miserable journeys comes the payback for all the “special” food and treatment—slaughter.

“ Organic” and “humane” certification offer alternatives to commercially raised animals for those who want to feel good about buying animal products. However, they are not the answer for those who want to avoid playing an active role in animal suffering. These certifications may help a few animals enjoy a slightly higher quality life, but do a disservice to the billions of animals who were not born on the right farm.

Every time we purchase animal products, we continue to keep the demand high and support cruelty and exploitation. This need to keep up with demand also creates the opportunity to water down certification requirements, as seen in recent news reports. Furthermore, the lack of proper enforcement (once a year according to the Certified Humane representative) can hardly give meaning to the title it carries.

We don’t need misleading certifications to help ease our conscience, but the truth to eliminate the root of the suffering. There are numerous alternatives to dairy products that are healthier for you and the planet that don’t come at the expense of others. Support organic farming by buying certified organic tomatoes, not certified organic cruelty.

Andrea Rose is an environmental and health educator. She has been a vegan for over 16 years and continuously seeks ways to reduce her impact on the earth. Please visit www.practicecompassion.com to learn more about pursuing a compassionate life.

 


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