Dairy cows

World Milk Day Shows Milk is Drying Up Our Cows, Our Resources, and Our Future Health

FOUR PAWS outlines the true cost of dairy


JUNE 1, 2024 – Over six billion people regularly drink milk according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Global milk production is also expected to increase by about 15% by 2032. Europe and the United States rank among the top milk producers, with more than 330 lbs. annual milk supply per capita, however, developing countries are catching up with consumption almost doubling since the early 1960s.

The worldwide thirst for dairy is taking a high toll on dairy cows and the environment, along with prompting serious concerns for human health. These health concerns are particularly relevant considering the latest outbreak of avian bird flu among dairy cows across nine states in the U.S. This is the first-time bird flu viruses have been found in cows, and the first instance of mammal to human spread of HPAI A(H5N1) virus with three people infected so far.

On June 1st, World Milk Day, FOUR PAWS calls for change in the dairy industry. To improve animal welfare, FOUR PAWS is demanding mother-bonded or fostered calf rearing and a complete ban on tethering of animals and fully slatted floors.

“In industrial farming, cows are abused as milk-making machines. Behind every glass of milk lies a life of suffering. Contrary to what the dairy industry wants to make us believe, cows often don’t spend their time in lush meadows. Dairy cows are mostly tethered in stables, standing on dirty hard floors. The industry keeps cows pregnant for most of their life, and they can barely walk due to their oversized udders. They suffer from metabolic disorders, lameness and painful udder infections. We urgently need a system change towards more animal welfare in dairy production,” said Carolina Cardoso Nagib Nascimento, FOUR PAWS Farm Animal Welfare Expert.

Today, dairy cows give up to 8 gallons of milk per day. They are often fed concentrated feed, made of soy and grains, leading to digestion and metabolic disorders, as opposed to their natural diet, which is high in fiber and consists of grass and hay. Furthermore, early on in milk production, dairy cows get emaciated as their bodies can’t take in enough nutrients.

The cruelty of dairy extends beyond the mother cows and includes the calves. Instead of nursing on their mother’s udders, calves are often fed skimmed milk powder mixed with water and kept isolated in boxes, leading to behavioral disorders, psychological stress, and illnesses. To maximize production, mother animals are then inseminated only a few weeks after giving birth. Their lives end prematurely as many are slaughtered and replaced by new animals at the age of five, when milk production decreases, despite a natural life expectancy of 20 years.

“To give milk, dairy cows must give birth to a calf every year. It is heartbreaking to see that only within a few hours mothers are cruelly separated from their calves. Instead of feeding their offspring, the entire milk then goes into dairy production, so that humans can quench their thirst. This cruel practice needs to end.”

-Carolina Cardoso Nagib Nascimento, FOUR PAWS Farm Animal Welfare Expert

Then, there are the impacts on the planet. Over 80 percent of the world´s agricultural land is used for animal agriculture. A continued production growth of animal-based products happens at the cost of forests and other ecosystems. The land use for cow’s milk is more than tenfold that of plant-based milk. About two thirds of all global animal agriculture emissions come from cattle farmed for beef and dairy. Dairy milk generates two to four times more greenhouse gas emissions compared to plant-based milk. This also holds true for butter production, for which about four times as many greenhouse gases are emitted (12.1 kg of CO2) than for plant-based spreads (3.3 kg of CO2).

Last year, FOUR PAWS released a food industry ranking where the world’s biggest chocolate producers were assessed by their efforts to implement, advocate, and report on strategies for dairy reduction.  The FOUR PAWS Chocolate Challenge confirms the sad truth about the lives of mother cows. “Cows only give milk when they have a calf. This means that the cow is inseminated again soon after it has given birth,” explained Sonja Svensek, Head of Nutrition at FOUR PAWS. Sonja continued, “On most dairy farms, the calf is routinely separated from the mother shortly after birth. Most female calves await the same cruel fate as dairy cows until they are eventually slaughtered.”

Finally, milk production holds an inherent risk to human health. The excessive number of animals in factory farms, kept in crammed, stressful and unhygienic conditions, is a major contributor to the transmission, circulation, and mutation of viruses. Scientists have long since warned that our next pandemic could be born and bred from industrial animal farming. Now we are seeing this firsthand with avian influenza.

“Zoonotic diseases are an example of the dangers of this relationship where infections are spread between humans and animals. Specifically, factory farming, with the sheer quantity of animals, the confinement and conditions, the use of antibiotics, and need for close contact with humans, is a literal breeding ground for diseases. We must take a hard look at these systems and mitigate the risk they pose to Americans and the world”, explained Melanie Lary, Research and Campaigns Manager for FOUR PAWS’ Boston-based office.

FOUR PAWS believes that we must reset our relationship with animals. International institutions and national governments need to tackle the root causes of zoonotic disease emergence in a holistic approach that recognizes animal welfare as one major aspect in the prevention of pandemics and must take action to improve animal welfare. The One Welfare Framework (now included within the new One Health definition) could serve as a guiding framework towards treating our planet and all its inhabitants with more respect, care, and compassion – for their sake and ours.

All of these interactions, from the poor state of animal welfare among dairy cows to the spread of zoonotic diseases and our warming planet, show the desperate need for a radical change in our treatment of animals and the world we live in and depend on.

Cows inside factory farming

Farm Animals

Learn more about the suffering of farm animals and what we can do to improve conditions

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FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organization for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need, and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organization advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy, and understanding. FOUR PAWS’ sustainable campaigns and projects focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats, and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam, as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. www.fourpawsusa.org 

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