Thursday, 31 May 2012

Stumbling-block-of-cheese Part 1: What's wrong with dairy?

By Cathy, Vegan Pledge Buddy 2010, 2011 & 2012, and Vegan Campaigns volunteer since 2009

Lots of new vegans say cheese is their biggest stumbling block. This two-part post is here to help.

The first thing to say is you are not alone: many have been through this before and found the way through. You will too! If that sounds like advice for people afflicted with some kind of addiction, well that’s not so far from the truth, seeing as cheese contains casomorphins, which have an opioid effect on the brain. The good news is, the addiction subsides and then vanishes once you wean yourself off it, and there are many great reasons to do just that.

This first post gives a very quick insight into those reasons. Tomorrow’s post will be on the more upbeat subject of how to live happily without cheese.

Since I mentioned weaning, let’s start there.

Suffering for cows and their calves…

Image from
No calf = no milk, so cows are kept almost constantly pregnant throughout their curtailed lives, with each birth followed by an agonising separation of mother and calf. The ‘lucky’ female offspring get to follow in their mothers’ footsteps: their reproductive systems exploited without respite from the moment they reach sexual maturity. As well as the loss of their calves, they suffer routine mutilation through the widespread practice of ‘disbudding’ (the industry term for burning off young horn tissue), as well as being subject to lameness, metabolic disorders, and mastitis due to being selectively bred over generations to massively overproduce milk.

Photo from Animal Equality 
The young males are either shot at birth or shipped to Europe to be incarcerated in veal crates which induce anaemia in the name of producing pale flesh for human consumption. Continental veal production is banned in the UK because it is deemed so cruel. However, some UK dairy farmers, keen to cash in on the flesh of their male calves, are now trying to promote ‘rosé veal’. Obviously profit is their true motive. The young calf is still taken from his mother, castrated, disbudded, reared indoors, and butchered after a few months. It is clear that the only way to have no part in the suffering of cows and their offspring is to say no to all forms of dairy. 

You can search ‘dairy farm cruelty’ on Google, YouTube, etc, and sadly you will find countless hits that illustrate the suffering that takes place in the production of cheese and other dairy products, much of which is very upsetting to witness. For easier watching, I recommend this watchable short video, in song form, recently released by the comedian Vegan Smythe, which uses humour to make some important points in an very accessible way, without any distressing footage.

Environmental costs

As with all animal products, cheese and other dairy products take a heavy toll on the environment. Dairy farms are one of the most significant contributors to water table pollution (this was actually one of the main reasons for refusal of permission for the controversial Nocton mega dairy). As ruminants, cows contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions as their digestive systems emit large quantities of methane. Together with emissions from feed production and fertilisers associated with dairy production, the industry is responsible for 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The dairy industry is also responsible for 7% of the global water footprint, in addition to its vast land footprint for both grazing and the production of feed crops.

Human health issues

Using cows' milk as food for humans doesn't just hurt them and the environment – it is not a healthy choice for us either. This is perhaps unsurprising, when you consider that we are the only species that drinks the baby food of another, or indeed consumes milk after infancy at all. Although the industry spends millions trying to convince us that dairy products are good for us, we can meet our calcium needs from plant sources in a form that is more accessible to our bodies, and without the health problems associated with dairy. These include links to higher rates of osteoporotic bone fracture, some cancers, autoimmune diseases, and ear infections and allergies in children, as well as the prevalent symptoms of lactose intolerance. The overuse of antibiotics in dairy cows is now also being linked to antimicrobial resistance, with worrying implications for human health too.

So, the case against dairy is compelling - but, once you’ve realised that dairy-free is the way forward, how do you make the transition? This is what tomorrow’s post is all about, focusing on the one that people tend to find most challenging: cheese.

Further reading

Dairy - Vegan Peace

Milk is cruel - 
Occupy For Animals warning: includes links to upsetting short videos

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