Milk Facts: What about Humanely Raised Milk and Dairy Products?

mother cow nursing her calf
A mother cow’s milk is perfectly forumlated by nature to provide the essential nutrients and antibodies her infant calf requires.

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Some Key Dairy Cow Welfare Facts

Most now know that the conditions for dairy cows on factory farms are cruel and inhumane in many ways. But how about the so-called humane alternatives? With all the new humane claims and certifications out there portraying farmers who really care for their cows and calves, what does this best case scenario really look like? Consider these basic practices of modern dairy farming:

  • Dairy cows only lactate and produce milk when they become pregnant with calves, so to be considered a productive and economically-viable cow, she must be routinely impregnated, causing greater stress, greater likelihood of illness and premature death.
  • Newborn calves are separated from their mothers quickly, usually within 1-3 days, since the mother/calf bond intensifies over time and delayed separation can cause even worse emotional distress for the calf and mother.1
  • Calves separated from their mothers are denied their mother’s milk, which is perfectly formulated by nature to provide all the essential nutrients and antibodies the calf needs.
  • Calves are fed “milk-replacement formulas” often from a dried powder base and raised without a mother’s care. Under normal circumstances, mother’s teach their young critical survival skills and develop very deep bonds, much like humans.2
  • Cheesemakers need veal processors. Rennet is a complex of enzymes required to coagulate cheese. Traditionally rennet is extracted from the inner mucosa of the fourth stomach chamber (the abomasum) of young, unweaned calves, the “by-products” of veal production. Many large cheese producers today use a bacterial, genetically-engineered rennet of both plant and animal origin.3
  • Male calves are of little or no value to the dairy farmer. Healthy calves are typically sold at auction for a small price to veal farmers or raised as adult bulls for meat. Weak ones are often killed.4
  • While they are productive and making money for dairy farmers, dairy cows can suffer from a variety of illnesses associated with intensive milk production. Hundreds of pharmaceutical products are available and administered to cows which can end up in their milk and cause adverse side effects.5
  • Cows produce an average of 729 days of milk, which corresponds to 2.4 lactations, before they are considered “spent.”6
  • Dairy cows are marketed and sold to slaughterhouses. While cows can live up to 25 years, dairy cows are typically removed from the dairy herd at age 2-5 when their milk production weans, their lives cut drastically short by entering the meat market. In their fragile end-of-production state, handling, transport, and slaughter add to their suffering and distress.7
  • Artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization of dairy cows are common practices today. Embryo transfer is yet another, newer reproductive technology that consists of giving cows hormone treatments to produce multiple embryos. These embryos are then removed from the donor cows and transferred into other surrogate cows. This results in 3 to 6 calves instead of just one. These procedures are often invasive, causing physical pain and emotional distress.8
  • Cows are social, complex animals with the ability to nurture friendships, anticipate the future, and experience pain, fear, and anxiety.9

Some Key Human Health Facts

milk facts

Much of what we know today about dairy nutrition is based on the legacy of dairy industry marketing that emerged in the 1950s. The Dairy Council’s Got Milk ad campaign still remains today one of the most famous and costly. Official government sources on nutrition reinforced these messages, so few critical scientific evaluations ever penetrated the media or gained public acceptance to counter this pro-dairy agenda—until recently. The result in the Western world are populations that have come to rely on dairy as an integral part of their daily diet and consequently, unprecedented rates of diet-related illnesses. Consider these facts:

  • Humans are the only mammals that drink milk, the secretions of the mammary glands, of another animal, though most of the world’s population does NOT drink milk or consume dairy products. While chronic diseases remain almost nonexistent in populations that consume little or no meat and dairy, affluent populations commonly have rates of chronic diseases to the extent they consume them.
  • [The western diet rich in meat, dairy and eggs] “…is associated with a multitude of disease conditions, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arterial hypertension and cancer. Malignancies typical for affluent societies are cancers of the breast, colon/rectum, uterus (endometrial carcinoma), gallbladder, kidney and adenocarcinoma of the oesophagus.” —The World Health Organization
  • In the most comprehensive study of human nutrition ever conducted, “What protein consistently and strongly promoted cancer? Casein, which makes up 87% of cow’s milk protein, promoted all stages of the cancer process. What type of protein did not promote cancer, even at high levels of intake? The safe proteins were from plants, including wheat and soy. As this picture came into view, it began to challenge and then to shatter some of my most cherished assumptions.” — Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study
  • “The increase in cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and asthma that has occurred in the Western world over the past century directly correlates with the increase in dairy consumption.” —Dr. Adam Meade
  • “…milk products may contain contaminants such as pesticides, which have carcinogenic potential, and growth factors such as insulin-like growth factor I, which have been shown to promote breast cancer cell growth.” —The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
  • “Humans now carry dioxin levels in their bodies hundreds of times greater than the “acceptable” cancer risk as defined by the EPA, and 95 percent of that results from eating red meat, fish and dairy products.” —The Diet-Cancer Connection
  • “Any lactating mammal excretes toxins through her milk. This includes antibiotics, pesticides, chemicals and hormones. … the USDA allows milk to contain from one to one and a half million white blood cells per millilitre. … another way to describe white cells where they don’t belong would be to call them pus cells.” — Robert M. Kradjian, MD, Breast Surgery Chief Division of General Surgery, Seton Medical Centre
  • 1 lb. of cheese requires 10 lbs. of milk. 1 lb. of ice cream requires 12 lbs. of milk. 1 lb. of butter requires 21 lbs. of milk.1 So it’s easy to see how the contaminants in milk become highly concentrated in other dairy products. ­­­— 1Dairy MAX, The National Dairy Council

How about dairy alternatives?

As science challenges long-standing nutritional claims about cow’s milk, manufacturer’s have responded with a whole host of alternatives—from soy to almond, rice, hemp and coconut—with new types of milk cropping up all the time. Most are fortified with the same nutrients found in dairy milk, such as calcium and vitamin D. Even Dean’s Foods, one of the word’s largest industrial dairy interests, had the foresight to purchase the Silk brand from Whitewave and has come to dominate the soy milk industry.

Dairy-free alternatives to butter, cheese and yogurt are now widely available as well, though a word of caution here. The animal protein casein, which is the primary protein found in cow’s milk, is used in many “soy-based” cheeses. Look for cheese brands that are vegan, such as DaiyaTM, Chicago SoyDairy, Vegan GourmetTM, ToffutiTM and Galaxy Nutritional FoodsTM. The leading vegan butter on the market today is Earth Balance® and a great soy yogurt line is made by Whole Soy & Company®.

More resources

For nutritional information, diet plans and strategies, recipes and product suggestions, check out these trusted information websites:

1Dale More et al., “Calf Housing and Environments Series,” Veterinary Medicine Extension Dec. 2010
2Dr Paul McGreevy, Behavioral Profiles of Domestic Animals: Cattle,
3Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.,
4 “The Welfare of Cattle in Dairy Production: A Summary of the Scientific Evidence. A Farm Sanctuary Report” April, 2011
6, 7, 9 “An HSUS Report: The Welfare of Cows in the Dairy Industry” June 2009
8 Reinhard Renneberg, Arnold L. Demain, “Biotechnology for beginners” Elsevier, 2008

4 thoughts on “Milk Facts: What about Humanely Raised Milk and Dairy Products?”

  1. Having been happily dairy-free for a couple of years now, it seems so deeply bizarre and gross that *adult* *humans* routinely consume the *breast milk* of *cows*… I mean, seriously, that’s weird! No way breast milk is an appropriate food for adult mammals– never mind adult mammals of a whole other species… ew ew ew ew ew. Never again!

  2. I have been vegan for a few years now and have never felt better. I’ve even registered for my first marathon as my athletic ability has improved too! A big change from the cheese-oholic I used to be – I remember insisting to my mum that I had to drink a whole glass of milk every day to avoid osteoporosis – it’s scary how much marketing presses milk on us all. I am very upset that my tax money goes to The Dairy Council who spend billions of pounds on getter British people to eat/drink more milk products, and to subsidise factory farming. Terrifying! I work hard to earn the money I do, and hate the thought of the tax I pay being spent on pushing nasty, unhealthy milk on kids and setting them up with bad eating habits for life. Gross.

  3. Thank you for the beautifully concise and informative article. I will pass it on to all of my nonvegan friends and family members.

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