As per my last post relating to the RSPCA Assured Food Scheme (clicky), here is the first in the series relating to Dairy Cattle.
There are standards for all varieties of animals and animal products; eggs, milk, beef, chicken, lamb, pork etc (which I will cover) but I am going to start with dairy cows for this instalment. I choose dairy cows because one of the saddest things I have ever witnessed was a dairy cow collapsing as she staggered out from the back of a truck in a slaughterhouse compound. Her udders swollen and her body frail as she fell and stumbled on the way to her death. Why was a dairy cow being slaughtered? Because she was “passed her best” at around 4 years old.
So if you are a meat eater or even a vegetarian who thinks that milk and dairy isn’t harmful or isn’t cruel please read on and take a look at the “higher” standards and methods as stated by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Also, bear in mind the Oxford Dictionary definition of cruelty (for which the RSPCA are preventing)
“Behaviour that causes pain or suffering to others, especially deliberately”
So, dairy cows. Cows are one of my favourite animals, they have big brown eyes, soft faces, kind nature and just freaking adorable. I know that is subjective but seriously, if you get close and stroke one I am sure you will see what beautiful animals they are. Big ole things too, in a non body shaming way.
I think the first thing we need to clarify, a myth which I guess I always believed before going vegan, is that cows don’t just produce milk from eating grass. That was what I believed, I believed that they ate the grass, something happened in their 4 stomachs which resulted in milk. But no, cows like all mammals, need to be pregnant/have a baby before they lactate. So to get milk we first need a pregnant cow. This is carried out via artificial insemination. There may be a mom and pop farm where they get a bull in to breed, but with time constraints, efficiency and cost; it is usually by artificial insemination. There are some rules to follow for breeding and calving as shown below.
So we have a pregnant cow now, and wait for the baby to be born. But there is a problem here, only female cows will give milk and in pregnancy there is pretty much a 50/50 chance of the calf being male, which doesn’t give milk. As a business looking to be efficient and make money (which is what businesses are for, to make money) a male calf is essentially a waste product. Calves in general are waste products because they are part of the process to start a cow lactating, it’s just that a female calf can be reared and enter the cycle and generate a profit (although they will need to be separated so as not to take the milk from their momma which is needed for the supermarket shelves). So as a business what do you do with a waste by product? In simplest terms you get rid of it. You throw waste away. Luckily the RSPCA assured scheme does have a section on what to do with bull calves/male babies.
You may notice that there is an asterisk * next to the box which says
“The RSPCA aspires to eliminate the practice of on-farm killing of dairy bull calves (other than for health reasons). This could mean the on-farm killing of healthy calves may be prohibited under these standards in the future.”
Which sounds encouraging, they are aspiring to stop this practice, but as advised in the bottom right corner of the standard an asterisk means there has been an amendment. This is what has caused me to contact the RSPCA as in the 2011 standard (note the current one is January 2018, so hot off the press) it stated this.
(Not really much there)
Did you notice the language used in the 2011 standard compared to the 2018 one? In 2011 the RSPCA said:
“The RPSCA intends to eliminate the practice of on-farm killing of dairy bull calves (other than for health reasons), and seeks to achieve this within the next five years“ (my bold)
So six and a half years later, not only is the practice of killing bull calves still in the standard, but the phrasing and target time has been changed and/or removed. In 2011 they intended to eliminate the killing of male calves within 5 years. But six and a half years later they now only aspire to eliminate it, with no time frame given and using words such as “This could mean the on-farm killing of healthy calves may be prohibited under these standards in the future”. (my bold and italics). Intends sounds a much stronger mission than aspires.
(It’s a subtle difference but it feels as if this is no longer the hard driving goal that it once was, but what do you think?)
Before the 2018 standard was released, I wrote to the RSPCA asking if there were any updates as the one on their website was the 2011 standard.
(Coincidentally, after sending my initial message, the new standard was up on their website. Sadly, they can no longer answer my questions either. De Ja Vu, as this happened when I tried to clarify what the humane method of killing my dog for eating would be, after they said I could legally do so…..read here)
I wasn’t deterred though and have since emailed RSPCA Assured Food direct rather than using the website for enquiries. Hopefully by emailing the department who deal with the Assured scheme, they will respond. Here is what I have sent to them. I will let you know what they say if/when they respond.
(I did rattle on a little, but if you read my blog you already know I seem to struggle with short posts. I also thought I would chance my arm and see if I could accompany them on a visit, you never know)
So with the calves “dealt” with (although some may go to be sold as veal which will be covered in the beef cattle standard) the rest will be milked. I think we have all seen milking machines or can picture them, kind of like Austin Powers penis enlargement pump but made to go over the teats of the cow.
Although there are procedures in place to ensure that the teats don’t get sores, it does happen and can cause mastitis. The sad thing is, although milking can cause mastitis one of the methods to deal with it is to kill the cow.
We don’t need to milk cows, we don’t need their milk, it is for their babies (my amazing fiance wrote a post recently about milk here which is worth reading) so I would argue that to milk a cow is unnecessary, to impregnate and remove their baby is unnecessary and causes them suffering (emotionally by taking their baby away and physically by irritating their teats), which is cruel. Then when a cow has chronic mastitis they must be identified and humanely slaughtered (which is an oxymoron in itself)
So far we have seen that babies are killed for being the wrong gender and cows are killed for having severe mastitis. But there are also casualty animals who are killed and those who no longer give a profitable yield. So there are four potential stages where these beautiful animals are killed just to get milk.
We should look at the methods for slaughtering these beautiful creatures as someone at the RPSCA has written descriptions and the standard for higher welfare slaughtering. Cattle must be slaughtered/killed by bleeding out (sticking) following an effective stun. Stunning is something which is very hard to get accurate figures on its effectiveness, hopefully someone can point me towards a reliable source for this, but reading of a study carried out in Sweden, stunning was effective in 84.1% of cattle observed (bear in mind when observed, people tend to try harder right?) so that means that over 15% of the cows being slaughtered were either stunned with a captive bolt multiple times or slaughtered while still conscious. But, as that figure is from Sweden, I wont hold much to it as I would rather have stats for the UK, but it does show that it isn’t always successful and isn’t foolproof.
In the RSPCA standards this is the description of slaughter methods.
It is pretty grim reading, but sadly it does get worse. You see, some cows heading to slaughter may be pregnant. I don’t particularly want to type much of what the standard says as it is quite harrowing to imagine. I will post the RSPCA Assured standard for the slaughter of pregnant cows and also the killing of the foetus.
(“If, for any reason, a foetus is found to be showing signs of life………it must be immediately killed with an appropriate captive bolt or by a blow to the head with a suitable blunt object….”)
For a glass of milk? Is it worth it? Did you realise when you bought a couple pints of milk, high welfare milk at that, that you were actually paying into an industry that will club a foetus to death after it has been removed from their slaughtered mother? I never even contemplated that would be a thing!
Considering that there is an alternative to all diary products in the way of Soya, Oat, Rice, Hemp, Coconut, Almond, Hazelnut and Pea milk; cheese, cream and spreads made from non dairy; is there really any need to contribute to these things?
Apologies for the length of this post, I didn’t cover everything I wanted to, but here is a link to the standard so you can take a read yourself. I have used it for study, critique, review and quotation and encourage others to take the time to read them too.
The next post will be about hatcheries for chickens.