Joanne Chang: A Mother's Day story about milk cows and veal calves

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      All mammals produce milk in order to feed their young. Milk is nature’s perfect food—produced by a mother to give to her child. There is no other reason for it.

      Everyone intuitively knows this, but when it comes to cows, we fabricate an elaborate scheme of symbiotic dependency between the human and the cow. We believe that humans are somehow required to drink cow’s milk in order to have good health. Or that dairy cows lactate uncontrollably so it is up to the heroic humans to keep their udders from exploding. We hold these ridiculous beliefs to be truths because if cows truly only produced milk to feed their babies, then where are all the calves?

      To answer that question, let me tell you the true story of Mario.

      Mario was born on a dairy farm. On the day of his birth, he was taken away from his mother. She cried and searched anxiously for days after losing him. She carried him for nine months, but only got to meet him for a brief moment.

      Mario was a male calf born to a dairy cow. He was never to see his mother again.

      The day after he was born, Mario ended up at a livestock auction to be sold for veal. His umbilical cord was still attached to his soft baby belly.

      Had Mario been a perfect little calf, he would have sold to a veal farmer at the auction—and then either slaughtered that very same day to make “bob veal”, or chained up to a tiny stall, deprived of movement for six months and then slaughtered to make “fancy” or “white veal”. The veal industry is simply a by-product of the dairy industry, consisting entirely of unwanted male calves like Mario.

      Born with a leg injury, Mario was far from the perfect little calf. No one wanted to buy a “defective product”, and so Mario failed to fetch a single dollar at the auction. A male dairy calf whose flesh can’t be sold is as good as garbage. As the auction came to an end, Mario was tossed on top of a pile of dead animals. He stood on top of the corpses, waiting for his own death, just one day after his birth.

      Despite a cruel beginning, Mario’s life was turned around by the kindness of one compassionate person. The truck driver who came to pick up the corpses couldn’t find it in himself to throw away this little calf. Instead, he found Farm Sanctuary in California and took Mario there.

      When Mario was released to join the herd of cows at the sanctuary, he was immediately adopted by Dawn, the matriarch of the herd. She was a rescued beef cow who probably never had a calf of her own. But her maternal instinct was so strong that she adopted every calf that came to the sanctuary as if they were her own. Some afternoons, Dawn and Mario would be seen spooning under a tree. The two stayed close together until Mario was old enough to roam on his own.

      As for Mario’s birth mother, she was probably re-impregnated by the dairy farmer through artificial insemination two months after she lost Mario. Dairy cows must be kept constantly pregnant in order to lactate. After four years of forced pregnancy and constant milking, dairy cows are considered “spent” and are sent to slaughter.

      Despite common beliefs, cows, like all mammals, do not lactate spontaneously. They only produce milk to feed their babies and not humans. This biological fact does not change whether the dairy comes from a conventional, family, organic, or free-range farm. There is no such thing as a cruelty-free dairy as the cruelty is inherent. No farming method changes the fact that in order to produce milk for human consumption, cows must be impregnated and their babies must be taken away and killed. And no boycott of veal is truly genuine unless dairy is also boycotted.

      This Mother’s Day, I’d like to challenge every compassionate person to take a pledge to go dairy-free in honour of loving mothers like Dawn and the millions of nameless dairy cows like Mario’s birth mother.

      Joanne Chang is a director of Liberation B.C., a Vancouver-based animal-rights organization.




      May 7, 2010 at 10:41am

      My husband and I had an interesting discussion about this after a discussion in his Anthropology class. He talked about the idea that there are so many lactose intollerant people because milk is only necessary as an infant and no other animal in the animal kingdom continues to drink milk as apart of their diet; that the ability to drink milk is a gene mutation in (mostly) caucasian people (for a historically relevant reason) and that it is brought to non-caucasian populations by europeans.


      May 7, 2010 at 11:15am

      A very fine article. Dairy is much crueler than most people realize and totally unnecessary in a healthy diet. I've never eaten dairy and my bones are just great! I rely on plenty of leafy green veggies and legumes, which are both major sources of calcium and don't come with the added fat and digestive problems of milk.

      Roger in Vancouver

      May 7, 2010 at 1:11pm

      Thanks for this article. It's so bizarre to think that people would depend on another species's milk for our health--especially a species whose babies need to grow quickly to weigh a ton or more.


      May 7, 2010 at 2:15pm

      Great article!

      Chris Brown

      May 7, 2010 at 3:24pm

      Thanks Joanne, great article. It's important for people to realize there is no cruelty free dairy even if organic. It's totally unnatural for humans to drink the milk of another species; and to do so in the name of health is even more bizarre.


      May 7, 2010 at 10:03pm

      I watched Food Inc. last summer and couldn't believe what I saw. Food was one thing that was always comforting and unadulterated to me until I saw that film. Now I'm finding out more things like this. Now I have my eyelids fully peeled back. This stuff is unbelievable! You think nothing can be more wholesome than milk! I've made some changes to my diet since last summer but I am going to start looking into dairy alternatives now. Thanks Georgia Straight for touching on subjects that are completely avoided by mainstream media.


      May 8, 2010 at 7:00am

      This is such a beautifully written article! So well done! My heart completely goes out to all the mother cows and the babies like Mario. Thank you for sharing this story to really show us what the dairy industry is all about and that there are feeling, living creatures who are suffering because of this man-made industry that is completely unnecessary, and, when you really think about it, utterly absurd.


      May 8, 2010 at 10:47am

      I've always been amazed by how caring and motherly animal mothers can be. It's important to note that any kind of milk is produced through this same method. Goats have their babies taken away for goats milk as well. There is no such thing as "cruelty-free" dairy.


      May 8, 2010 at 11:52am

      Wow...PETA exploiting mother's day. Shameless.

      alissa raye

      May 8, 2010 at 1:45pm

      Thank you, Joanne, for bringing this issue to light.
      When I think about people consuming milk and cheese, I am haunted by the sound of a mother cow bellowing for her calf. I also think of how funny it is to imagine humans suckling on cow's teets. Why do we (generally) think it's so wrong to drink human milk after a certain age and yet most of us don't hesitate to chug back a huge glass of cow's milk?