Why You Can't Be A Milk-Drinking Feminist

12/04/2016 8:16 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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A calf is nursing her mother's milk.


Like me, you're undoubtedly appalled by common crimes against women such as trafficking, rape, domestic violence, murder and the killing of children for being the 'wrong' gender. You may consider yourself a feminist.

But do you consume dairy foods? If so, you're supporting these very types of cruelty, albeit to 'women' of a different species.

On dairy farms across India, cows and buffalo are abused because they are female.

These gentle animals are often torn from their mothers, babies or other loved ones and sold to the highest bidder.

Like humans, cows and buffalo produce milk only to feed their own babies, so dairy farms repeatedly rape and forcibly impregnate them by way of artificial insemination in order to maintain milk production. In this often crude, filthy and painful process, a worker jams an arm far into the cow or buffalo's rectum in order to locate and position the uterus and then forces an instrument into her vagina.

These exploited females are often moved around the farm under threat of beatings or by being yanked by the rope that pierces their nostrils. Otherwise, they are chained in place, where they are forced to eat and lie down in their own excrement. Standing in one unsanitary spot like this causes painful lameness.

Their bodies are manipulated by being bred or drugged to produce unnaturally high quantities of milk. In India, even though administering the hormone oxytocin for this purpose is illegal, its use is common. Veterinarians warn that improper use of oxytocin can cause painful uterine cramping or rupture.

Calves are typically taken away from their mothers shortly after birth so that humans can steal their milk. When mother cows and their calves are separated like this, they bellow frantically to each other, and the cows can be heard mournfully calling after their calves for days.

Male calves are considered garbage by the dairy industry and are left to starve or are sold for slaughter. In its report about Indian dairy farms, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India wrote:

In Mumbai tabelas, male calves have their feet tied so they cannot try to go over to their mothers for milk and their mouths tied shut with ropes so they cannot cry out when they are hungry (this is done so the residents of buildings near the tabelas do not come to investigate why they hear the babies' cries). These babies are then left to die a slow, agonising death in a corner. Once or twice a week, a haath gaadi wala comes by and picks up the dead and sometimes dying ... baby calves and takes them to Deonar [slaughterhouse], where they are skinned for calf leather.

Other male calves are simply abandoned by the roadside to fend for themselves, while female calves are subjected to the same confinement, artificial insemination and abuse as their mothers.

cows india

After being treated like inanimate objects - and being used and abused for their bodies - the female cows and buffalo are typically abandoned or sold to slaughter, helping to make India the world's largest beef exporter. At the slaughterhouse, their throats are commonly slit while they are still conscious and aware of what is happening to them.

Is this any way to treat a mother?

Animal behaviour scientists now increasingly acknowledge that cows and other animals are capable of suffering and experiencing grief, happiness and other emotions, just as humans do. They tell us that cows have long-term memories and can even hold a grudge against other cows or people who treat them badly. In light of the knowledge that cows and buffalo are sensitive, intelligent individuals, can we truly consider ourselves feminists if we limit our concern for females to those of our own species? I don't think so.

Cow and buffalo milk is for calves, not humans. Like other mammals, we do not need any milk except that of our own species, during infancy. But for those who enjoy the taste, there are many non-dairy milks available - such as soya milk and almond milk, which can be drunk on their own or added to tea - without supporting this vicious cycle of cruelty to our sisters in the animal kingdom.

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