As a nation, we are becoming increasingly aware of how food arrives on our plates (or, in this case, in our glasses and cups).
While we are looking deeper into the production of our food and making the right choices when it comes to opting for the best items available within our budgets, we are also increasingly aware of the treatment of the animals and the farming processes involved in getting the food to our dinner plates.
All of these considerations take our attention to milk, one of the most common dairy-based fluids we have in our daily lives just below water and something that the UK appears to rely on daily for drinking, cooking, and adding to many standard hot drinks.
The popularity of cow’s milk is actually on a decline in recent years by almost 50% against what it was in the mid-70s.
In 2018 it was reported that the average per capita consumption of milk is just 70 litres per year (which works out to be about 1.4 litres per week), which doesn’t seem an awful lot considering its health benefits overall.
However, the burning questions arise surrounding the ethical and cruelty status of organic British cow’s milk; is it all it cracks up to be? Is organic milk ethical and cruelty-free or not?
Is Organic Milk Cruelty-Free?
To answer this question clearly, we need to distinguish dairy cows from cows bred for their meat products.
Dairy cows are those cows that are female that are used specifically for their milk products.
However, once they have finished their premium milking days (usually from around 40 days after calving babies, up until approximately 10 months post-birth), they can be slaughtered for their meat products.
We also need to point out that there is nothing in organic standards for milk that defines the treatment of cows when they are being farmed for their milk; it simply refers to the food they eat and the access to outdoor grazing they have.
It by no means points to them being treated differently to factory farms in response to restrictive caging and mechanical milking processes.
Of course, the specific cruelty elements of farming cows for organic cows’ milk may be only contained within the farms they live in.
Is Organic Milk Humane?
If by humane we mean “are the cows unnecessarily overmilked multiple times a day by mechanical processes which may be unduly stressful and painful for the animal?” then, unfortunately, it’s far from humane.
However, the process of harvesting organic cows milk is humane in the respect that the animals are not slaughtered for this particular product as a way to produce it.
This, of course, comes after the cow has run dry of its milk production and can no longer calve to keep the process going.
This point depends on how you see the milking process versus the (unfortunate) end result.
Can Any Milk Be Ethical?
There are obviously a lot more varieties of milk that have pushed their way into consumer’s eyes over the past 10 years, and this is a massive nod to those people who follow alternative ways of eating, such as those people who are lactose intolerant, vegetarian or vegan, for instance.
If you are conscious of either your diet, animal products, or animal welfare, you could make a move to an alternative plant-based milk, such as:
- Oat milk
- Coconut milk
- Soya milk
- Almond milk
- Rice milk
These kinds of milk are derived from plant-based elements grown on the earth, so there are no animal welfare concerns connected with the harvesting and production of this milk, making them more ethical (and better for you and any specific dietary needs you may have).
Is Organic Milk Better for Animal Welfare?
Let’s look at the methodology of ethical milk production to try and answer this one logically without casting wholly negative aspersions on the whole umbrella of organic milk production.
Commercially produced organic milk puts legal restrictions on the following:
- The food the milking herd are fed, making sure that everything they are fed is organic from source
- Freedom liberty, which says they must allow a certain percentage of their days grazing on natural pastures
- Zero use of pesticides, insecticides, antibiotics, and GMOs
However, organic milk standards do not cover legislation on:
- Animal welfare (although this can be regulated via farming standards)
- Animal treatment
- Disease management (by this, we mean that because of the organic standards, the diseases of a cow or herd are not managed with antibiotics, they are simply removed from the milking herd and often slaughtered)
- The mental health of the animal versus rigourous and often painful milking procedures.
So the objective answer would be more weighted to “no” regarding whether organic milk is better for animal welfare.
However, without auditing each herd in the farms, we cannot get a more open-plan picture of the milking life cycle of a dairy cow, which is likely to vary from farm to farm and depending on the demand of the farm and consumers.
Last Chew Of The Cud
So, is organic milk ethical?
In certain circumstances, it can be if the milking of a cow is done by hand and in smallholding. If you head to your local farm shop then this is more likely to be the case.
If we are talking about milking on a commercial scale, we would probably edge towards saying no; organic milk is not ethical regarding the overall potential excessive distress the cows must go through just to provide our milk every day.
We say this because milk cows are over-processed in often cramped conditions many times a day, with the potential to be incredibly susceptible to disease and illness that can be treated with antibiotics or other means of making a poorly cow well again.
And although the individual cows are not slaughtered to produce the organic milk, their fate is sealed once their use is complete.
I guess the answer to “is organic milk ethical?” lies in the overall process versus the end product.
Is it worth it?
Honestly, we would say no.