Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Milk : Liquid Meat

Merrick, 17th July 2000ce

The idea that there's no cruelty involved in raising dairy cows as long as they're roaming grassy fields and not factory farmed is a massive misconception. Don't feel bad if you have that misconception; it's been meticulously and fervently pushed on us (happy cows advertising butter, etc).

In fact the cruelty suffered by dairy cows is, if anything, worse than that suffered by beef cattle. Cows, like other mammals, only give out milk when they've got a baby to feed. So dairy farmers forcibly impregnate them as soon as they're capable of reproducing, and after giving birth they are re-impregnated again as soon as possible. (Like other mammals they are capable of lactating for as long as they're stimulated but the yield gradually drops, so for maximum milk you need maximum pregnancies).

The constant weight of the udder commonly causes lameness and spinal problems, and these are exacerbated by the ruining of their bones from lack of calcium (because it's constantly going into their milk). When their bodies are finally ruined, a time when they should be in the prime of life and a long way from the end of their natural lives, they are slaughtered for burgers or pet food. These low quality meats are dependent on dairy cattle as their main raw material; just one way in which the dairy industry is an integral component of the meat industry. Put simply, milk is liquid meat.

Calves are a drain on the precious milk so they're taken away from their mothers long before they've finished suckling. This is obviously tremendously stressful and psychologically damaging for the calves, and also for the mothers. Anyone who's ever lived near a dairy farm can tell you of plainly hearing the distress cows go through for weeks after their young calves are taken away.

A problem with all these babies the cows have is that half of them are male and thus cannot grow up to be milk-givers. These calves are either slaughtered at a few weeks old or else exported to become veal. Remember all the protests against the export of live calves? They were the babies of dairy cattle. The veal industry is effectively a spin-off of the dairy industry. The obscenity of veal is largely made possible by people wanting their ice cream, milk chocolate and daily pinta.

The problem of half of births being male applies to the egg industry too, even supposedly cuddly things like free range eggs. There are 'advisory guidelines' that 'recommend' gassing male chicks, but no laws. Many egg producers simply put live 3-day old male chicks into the food mincer to be fed back to their parents.

And frankly, the idea of eating a bird's menstrual products is really weird.

For those bothered about genetically modified food, you should be told that over 90% of GM soya becomes cattle feed. The majority of British dairy cattle have been fed GM foodstuffs.

The growing demand for cattle products (beef and dairy) is causing severe environmental damage as well. The clearing of ancient forests all around the world, including the Amazon, has largely been to provide cattle pasture. The logging is a one-off moneyspinner, the cattle ranches are where the real money's to be made, and so that is the real force behind it.

Cattle have digestive systems that produce enormous quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas. The demand for cattle products is clearing forests and replacing them with global-warming catalysts.

And once cattle are grazing (and indeed other livestock), land never returns to being forest. Any new trees are eaten when they're still tiny shoots. The grazing of livestock is why the mountains Scotland (a country the Romans called Caledonia: "mountainous land of forests") are bare. And the same applies everywhere else.

I'm not saying that stopping drinking milk will suddenly solve the world's problems. It won't. Anyone who tries to imply that it will is, at best, misguided. Recognising it's not a panacea helps you to not see it in terms of an Absolute. There are vegan evangelists (vegangelists?) who are very strict, but then that's only one area of their lives; for a clear conscience you need to put morality at work in many areas of your life, not just food. And it also needs to accept that you can't do everything. Even if you're the world's strictest vegan, you could probably cut down on your use of fossil fuels, or plastics.

All I'm saying here is Here Are The Facts. Take it on board and use it as your conscience tells you. Strive to be the best person you can be, but don't guilt-trip yourself too much. If you are vegetarian you are making a big difference to the world, and you're also putting your morality into your everyday life. That is undeniably something to be proud of. Just cos you can't do everything doesn't mean you should do nothing.

But I am saying that any reason to stop eating meat applies just as much to milk.

Whatever reason you have to be vegetarian, it makes more sense to be vegan. Whether it's because you don't want to be involved in cruelty and abuse of animals, bad land usage, feeding grain and other foods to inefficient animals when there's people starving, or because you respect your own health or even the fact that it's cheaper, being vegan makes more sense.

Milk, like eggs, meat and all other animal foodstuffs, contains no essential nutrients that can't be got from plants. The only reason we use animal products is because we like it or because it's convenient; greed or laziness. This applies as equally to fur as it does to a steak as it does to milk.

Like everyone else I have my share of greed and laziness, but I don't believe that either of them are worth the suffering and damage caused by using animal products.