The dairy industry used to get a free pass, even from many animal rights campaigners. But with the mainstream emergence of veganism, more people are becoming aware of practices that are normal in milk production. Now, they are even talking about it at the Oscars.
In his acceptance speech for the best actor award, Joaquin Phoenix spoke of our “egocentric world view” and how we “plunder” the natural world for its resources. Turning to dairy, he said: “We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow and steal her baby, even though her cries of anguish are unmistakeable. Then we take her milk that’s intended for her calf and we put it in our coffee and our cereal.”
The reality of dairy farming can be shocking for people who have always assumed milking a cow is harmless. From the age of 15 months, female cows are artificially inseminated with semen drawn mechanically from a bull. Once born, the calf will usually be taken away within 36 hours. This is so farmers can take the milk the mothers are making. Experts say that a strong bond is formed quickly after birth and the separation is traumatising for both cow and calf.
If the calf is male, he will be considered a byproduct and either killed immediately or sold on to be raised as veal, which postpones his death for a few months. If it’s female, she will follow her mother in the cycle of forced pregnancies until she is too old to carry on, after which she will be killed.
The rise of veganism is hitting dairy bosses hard. Sales of plant-based milks are soaring. Last year it was revealed that almost a quarter of Britons are consuming non-dairy milk alternatives. Meanwhile, the average person’s milk consumption in the UK has fallen by 50% since the 50s.
Phoenix linked the oppression of animals with the oppression of humans. The “cries of anguish” from mother cows are finally being heard.