Wednesday, October 10, 2007

“Is your milk certified local?”

So asks the billboard that I saw beside Highway 163 yesterday. Another on Aero Drive asks “Is your milk Californian? Look for the new ‘Real California Milk’ seal.” The California Milk Advisory Board is back at it, and this time they’re extending their campaign (featuring talking/singing cows discussing the pleasures of warm, sunny California and their slogan “Great cheese comes from happy cows. Happy cows come from California.”) to other milk products besides cheese. Oh sure, I loved the Happy Cows from the commercials as much as the next person. They’re cute and funny. But they’re also complete fiction. A coworker of mine was devastated when I told her that there is absolutely nothing about California dairy cows that make them happier than out-of-state dairy cows. And those rolling green hills in the commericals? Not so much. It was like telling an six-year-old there is no Santa Clause. She had no idea.

A dairy cow’s life – regardless of the state in which they live – is troubling. Here are some of the the standard industry practices:
1. Cows are artifically inseminated beginning at 2 years old so that most have a calf every year.
2. Calves are taken away at birth or within 24 hours, males sent to veal pens or feedlots, and heifers raised as future milk producers (often housed with other calves of silimar age and no adults).
3. Many cows live outside on ‘dry lots’ in which thousands of cows are confined in small areas with only dirt and their own waste below them. Others are kept their entire lives inside standing on cement floors and hooked to milking machines.
4. The high stress and crowding, as well as the frequent pregancies, leads to high instances of sickness in the cows. Diseases such as Mastitis, Laminitis, Johne's Disease, Milk Fever, Bovine Immunodeficiency Virus and Bovine Leukemia Virus occur far too often.
5. Naturally, cows live to their mid-twenties, but in current practice, cows are sent to the slaughterhouse when they’re only five or six, where they're turned into hamburger and low-grade steak.
(Click here to learn more.)

There are exceptions, of course. I don’t know how many cows are raised on pasture here in California (I doubt anyone is keeping track of it), but I do know of some organic dairies that steer well clear of the practices listed above (look at Organic Pastures Dairy near Fresno and Struass Family Creamery in Marshall). If you’ve been following the Aurora Dairy stories or have read my post on Rockview Dairies in L.A., you will remember that the organic seal does not at all guarantee rolling green hills and happy cows. The Cornucopia Institute provides a listing of organic dairies throughout the nation and rates them based on their management practices and living conditions of their herds. Before you purchase milk with a “Real California Milk” seal, check out the dairy here to find out if their cows really are happy.


Daniel said...

Hi there. I just stumbed on your blog, and I'm glad I did. I just finished Omnivore's D. and I'm wondering about many of things you are posting on. I hope you keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

I knew a family on the east coast with a dairy and they took their cows out to their very green and hilly pasture daily and brought them in at night for milking.

I don't, however, have any recollection of where their calves lived -- I know there were 'houses' for the calves, so they must have separated them at some point. And, I never thought about what happened to the boy calves. See what you've done to my happy childhood memory? Now I'm thinking they were calf killers intead of peaceful dairy folk!