Mother’s Day gives us a ready-made opportunity to express our love and gratitude to those who raised us. Lots of us also recognise other caregivers in society, but how many will be extending their thoughts to other species?
Very few, probably, but the reality is that the billions of animals used in the food, clothing and entertainment industries will not be spending Mother’s Day, or any other day for that matter, with their offspring.
Farmed animals get the worst deal, particularly dairy cows. Whether you have raised children or not, take a moment to consider the kind of lives they endure for the sake of our taste buds.
Imagine repeatedly being made pregnant, forcibly through artificial insemination, only for your babies to be taken from you within 24 hours of birth. Or being milked constantly, producing 10 times the amount of milk you would naturally, only for its entirety to be sold for profit rather than given to your baby.
Or being milked to such an extent you become ill and contract a painful udder infection such as mastitis. Or only living to a quarter of your life expectancy before your body gives up, you are considered ‘spent’ and then slaughtered.
These awful acts are unfortunately standard, everyday practices of the UK dairy industry; the facts the industry tries to keep behind closed doors, conveniently out of sight.
The peculiar truth is that we are the only species that drinks the milk of another species, and the only species that drinks any kind of milk beyond weaning. Cow’s milk is perfect for a calf, its structural composition specifically designed to turn a 100lb calf into a 1,500lb cow. We are quite clearly not meant to grow to such a size.
Our unhealthy obsession with milk in this country has a long history. It started being given to children in schools back in 1924, and subsequent decades have seen some very clever, persuasive advertising, most notably with milk-moustached celebrities.
Similar campaigns continue today with millions of pounds pumped into aggressive public relations exercises aimed at reinforcing the absurd notion that cow’s milk is a normal commodity we all need and want.
The prominence of cow’s milk in society, however, harms parents and children in multiple ways. The UK has the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world, with the World Health Organisation critical of the way cow’s milk formula is promoted at the expense of breast milk.
Despite universal acceptance that breastfeeding is beneficial for the health of mothers and babies, and lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, there is still stigma attached to it. Cow’s milk is bizarrely more socially acceptable.
But isn’t dairy good for our bones because it is full of calcium? Far from it. That’s the tale most of us have been hoodwinked into believing for years. There is now extensive evidence showing the opposite to be true.
Not only do we absorb very little of the calcium in cow’s milk, research suggests it actually depletes existing calcium from our bones. While a vegan diet does not guarantee strong bones, rates of osteoporosis are highest in countries with the highest dairy intake, and lowest where dairy is consumed the least.
We are led to believe that cow’s milk is the best or only source of calcium yet it is found in high quantities in green vegetables, almonds and tofu, all of which also have higher absorption rates.
Knowledge and understanding of dairy practices has grown rapidly. People are increasingly concerned with the presence of hormones and antibiotics in cow’s milk, with a high number also discovering they are lactose intolerant.
This has led to a steep, if not terminal, decline in dairy; a failing industry being propped up by the taxpayer. A third of dairy farmers’ income comes from subsidies amounting, on average, to around £25,000 per dairy farmer per year.
With so many excellent plant-based alternatives to dairy milk now available: almond, soya, oat, coconut, hemp, rice, hazelnut, with cashew coming soon, there is simply no need to contribute to such a cruel, exploitative industry.
Regardless of gender, whichever way your family is formed and however you were raised, please think about animal mothers this Sunday. They feel sadness, loss and grief every bit as much as love, joy and togetherness with as strong a desire to protect and care for their offspring as you or I.
We should try to look beyond our own species. This Mother’s Day consider doing something wonderful for mothers in the animal kingdom by going vegan. It’s never been easier. If you sign up free to our 30 Day Vegan Pledge (www.vegansociety.com/pledge), you’ll receive daily emails of info, advice and delicious recipes.