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Much like the tobacco industry did for years, the dairy industry uses its deep pockets and advertising campaigns to sell people a certain narrative.

You might recognise those picturesque dairy advertisements with their lush green pastures, cosy family farms, and contented cows with their calves by their side, all aiming to convince us that dairy products are a ‘wholesome’ and ‘natural’ choice.

The industry – to borrow British Milk Marketing Board’s infamous 1980s slogan – has “gotta lotta bottle”. The harsh reality for countless cows and calves is very different to the idyllic scenes shown in these ads. Much real-life milk production unfolds in an industrial dystopia of concrete and metal, with cows spending their lives confined in sheds and hooked up to milking machines.

So… what would an honest dairy advert say?

Here are five truths you will never find in dairy adverts

1. Nobody’s free

In Arla’s sickeningly disingenuous 2022 TV advert, farmers found themselves amidst picturesque green pastures, belting out the familiar lyrics “Everybody’s free to feel good” with all their might. This chorus was, ironically, directed at herds of cows. These animals, captured for their milk, would never know freedom because they are – quite literally (and to quote the very same company’s tagline from their adverts the following year) – “Owned by Farmers”.

By definition, no farmed animal is free. They are legally considered property and have few rights. They can be bought, traded, and killed, all at the will of their ‘owners’ in a way that goes completely against the idea of freedom.

Major farming corporations, on the other hand, have the right to exploit them every day, subjecting them to extreme demands. As they begin to produce smaller quantities of milk, their lives are cut short. Many are killed at just a few years old, though naturally they would live up to 25 years.

2. Male calves are deemed worthless to the dairy industry

Cows produce milk to feed their babies. In fact, they are only productive if repeatedly made pregnant. The problem is that once these babies are born, particularly if they are male (and so will never produce milk), the dairy industry has no use for them. They need to be removed from their mothers so that their mother’s milk can be taken.

Figures sourced from the British Cattle Movement Service and Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board showed that 95,000 male calves were ‘euthanised’ in 2015.

In response, animal protection campaigners ran an honest version of a dairy advert in October 2018. It included an image of a cow and stated “95,000 MALE CALVES SHOT IN A YEAR – THE DAIRY INDUSTRY’S TRASH”.

This led to a complaint to the Advertising Standards Agency, but the complaint was not upheld: the claims in the advert about calf deaths were found to have been substantiated and were not misleading.

3. Cows are miserable

Images of animals who willingly offer their bodies for humans to eat are commonly used for marketing purposes by the dairy industry. Whether it’s the ‘Laughing Cow’ logo, Anchor’s long history of adverts dating back to the 1980s featuring cows singing “we are lucky cows,” or the cows depicted in 2011 cheerfully packing boxes of Anchor butter for shipping, happy CGI or cartoon animals have become marketing staples for the animal agriculture industry.

Yet, the sad reality is that real cows aren’t laughing or dancing; in fact, many struggle to walk. Cows within the dairy industry endure a lifetime of suffering, beginning from birth. Treated as mere commodities, many develop painful medical conditions.

According to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, approximately one-quarter of all dairy cows may experience some degree of lameness at any given time. Other reports suggest that this problem affects over half of all cows in the UK.

Common causes of lameness include cows being forced to stand for prolonged periods on hard surfaces, concrete flooring, and inadequate nutrition.

The industry’s primary concern is to make profit, and with medical bills coming to an estimated £250 million annually it’s clear that these conditions are not only cruel but costly too.

4. Cows’ milk is not necessary for good health and may not even be good for you

The dairy industry tries to convince consumers they need to drink milk to get enough calcium for healthy bones. However, you can obtain adequate amounts of calcium from other dietary sources. Green leafy vegetables and fortified plant-based beverages offer excellent cruelty-free alternatives rich in this essential nutrient.

Consuming dairy products isn’t just unnecessary, but they may even increase your risk of several serious health conditions. For example, dairy consumption has been linked to higher risks of various cancers, including breast and prostate cancers, attributed to the high levels of insulin-like growth factor found in milk.

5. Cows’ milk is not sustainable

In November 2016, the Advertising Standards Agency deemed statements made by Arla about organic milk being sustainable as ‘misleading’ as Arla couldn’t demonstrate that its organic milk production had a positive environmental impact when considering its entire life-cycle.

Farming cows for their milk is neither good for the land, nor supportive of a more sustainable future. Dairy farms in England consume a staggering 45 million cubic metres of fresh water annually, surpassing all other forms of animal farming.

Raising cows for milk also emits toxic greenhouse gases – namely methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide – into the atmosphere. Nitrous oxide and methane are in fact even more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide.

In a startling revelation, it was reported in 2020 that the world’s 13 largest dairy farms collectively emitted the same amount of greenhouse gases as the entire United Kingdom.

What you can do to help cows

With 1 in 3 Brits now reported to be consuming plant-based milk on a regular basis, the nation is stepping away from supporting this industry. Our supermarket shelves are overflowing with plant-based milk, cheese and yoghurt alternatives.

A brighter future is within our grasp. Make a change for cows and calves today, by ditching dairy and by signing our petition!

Demand the Government helps farmers transition to plant-based alternatives to dairy – SIGN NOW!

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Protect cows and calves

Every day mother cows are separated from their newborn calves, just so milk can appear on the shelves of supermarkets. Protect cows by choosing plant-based dairy alternatives.

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