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January 1st, 2011 | By Alicia Silverstone

Unfortunately, the dairy industry’s answer to complaints about treatment of dairy cows and the quality of regular dairy products is to offer “organic”? products that are actually produced just like regular dairy.

According to, big agriculture has moved in on the organic dairy market, and these big companies don’t always follow the rules. Not only are factory-style organic dairy farms threatening smaller farmers, they have a track record of violating laws concerning organic dairies, while lobbying for looser enforcement of these laws. Aurora Dairy/Horizon Organic (owned by Dean Foods) is one large, organic-certified farm that got caught violating 14 organic dairy laws, including confining their animals and denying them grazing. The Bush administration’s punishment for Aurora Dairy’s violations was a mild one year probation.

Organic dairy regulations require farmers to comply by rules such as:

  • All feed must be organic
  • Animals must have unrestricted access to pasture
  • No antibiotics or hormones are allowed, with the exception that sick animals must be treated as needed and removed from the herd

These regulations reduce but do not eliminate the cruelty involved in dairy production. Here is some information Farm Sanctuary gave to me about why most organic dairy is far from cruelty-free:

“Cow’s milk can never be obtained without immense cruelty. Dairy cows are forcibly impregnated on what the industry calls the “rape rack” every year. Immediately after giving birth, the mother cow has her calf dragged away from her so that he or she does not drink her milk. The mother cow shows clear signs of mourning her loss including bellowing, hiding in dark places, not eating or drinking, pacing, and more. If the calf is male, he is immediately chained by the neck in a 2-ft wide crate, so small that he can’t turn around, stretch his limbs, or lie down comfortably. There he spends his entire short life being fed an anemic diet, just to be slaughtered at only a few months of age for veal. If the calf is female, she is raised to be a dairy cow like her mother.

Immediately after losing her baby, the mother cow is hooked up to metal milk machines 3 times a day and forced to produce ten times more milk each day than she would in nature. Just 2 to 3 months after giving birth, she is re-impregnated. While in nature a cow would live to 20 years, cows on modern farms are slaughtered at just 3 or 4 years of age to become cheap hamburger meat. More information about the routine abuses of the dairy industry is available at the Farm Sanctuary website.

In addition, the standards regulating the treatment of “organic” dairies are extremely weak and many animal protection, consumer advocacy, environmental protection, and public health organizations have argued that the animals in large organic farms face the same conditions as those on non-organic factory farms. Investigations at farms owned by some of the largest organic dairy companies like Horizon Organic have verified this. More information about the truth behind “organic” and other “humane” food labels is available in this article.”

On top of this, we know that cow’s milk, organic or not, is unhealthy for humans! Even if you know where your dairy comes from, and think that it is cruelty-free, there are many reasons why dairy consumption is unhealthy. Many people have trouble digesting cow’s milk, and consumption of dairy has been linked to obesity and cancer. In chapter 3 of The Kind Diet, I discuss the health problems associated with consuming dairy in more detail. Buying yummy milk alternatives like soy, rice, cashew, almond, hemp, hazelnut, coconut, or oat milk, is the best way to avoid the immense cruelty involved in the dairy industry. There are so many options with varied flavors, health benefits, and price points, you won’t miss dairy once you kick the habit of consuming it.

To fight against big agriculture’s lobbyists, and help to strengthen organic dairy standards you can go here. Again, I do not recommend consuming dairy at all, but in a world where many people do, we want to make sure dairy cows are treated as well as possible.

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