Some years ago, Animal Aid undertook an investigation into British goat farms. The unsavoury facts about the production of cows’ milk were hitting home, and consumers were switching to goats’ milk in the assumption that – because they hadn’t heard anything bad about it – all must be well. It really, really wasn’t. Everything that was wrong with cows’ milk was also the case for goats, except that where some cows spend time on pasture, all commercially farmed goats are raised in zero-grazing, factory farm units. On these farms, we found mutilations, overcrowding, the use of artificial hormones to manipulate reproductive cycles, and dead and dying animals. We found a kid huddled up to her mother who had been shot in the head.
When we released our findings, we took more phone calls all asking the exact same thing than I have ever experienced before or since. The callers asked: ‘Is there a way I can get ethical goats’ milk?’ I replied; ‘there is only one way.’ And I went on to explain that, if they could find an animal sanctuary that happened to have recently taken on a goat who happened to be pregnant, and if the mother produced more milk than the kid needed, there was a chance the sanctuary would be able to spare a cupful of milk. I expected them to understand what I was saying – that, no, it wasn’t realistically possible – but without fail they all asked ‘Great. Do you have a number for such a sanctuary?’
The truth is, there is no humane and compassionate way to produce commercial quantities of milk. Cows, goats and sheep must be made pregnant and the offspring are often no more than unwanted by-products. One goat farmer we investigated admitted he sent his unwanted kids to the hunt kennels. Calves may go for veal production or be shot at birth. The free-range milk promise, which sounds like a high welfare initiative, actually allows the cows just six months outdoors, and therefore six in. Now, being stuck outside all through the winter wading through mud as the rain lashes down is no fun, but if the only other option is six months stuck inside a barn wading through faeces, then something is wrong. If this is how milk is produced, then I welcome the huge and growing range of plant milks that don’t force animals into a life that is miserable – indoors or out. You may have heard of Ahimsa Milk, or slaughter-free milk, but this is not sustainable. The male calves will be kept at the farm and the older females will retire, and somehow the care for this ever-expanding herd of ageing, non-productive animals will be paid for by the sale of milk – a product whose price is in terminal decline. It looks a lot like the UK pensions situation – an ever-increasing older generation being paid for by a smaller proportion of workers, and we know that this model cannot work indefinitely. I visited the site’s FAQs to see if they addressed this issue, but all I got was an error message with ‘Oops! Something went wrong.’ It most certainly did.
Free-range eggs should not be mistaken for a genuinely high welfare product. The millions of birds who happened to be born male and therefore unable to lay eggs will still be gassed as day-old chicks. The females are likely to join unnaturally huge flocks of tens of thousands of birds (see photo from a ‘free range’ farm, left), once they have had the ends of their beaks cut off to prevent them harming one another. The birds don’t need to actually go outside to be free-range, they just need to have access to the outdoors. In such large flocks, weaker birds will be too frightened to cross other birds’ territories and so may never leave. Those who do get outside may find a scrubby patch of dirt is all they have. Far too many investigations have laid bare the reality of commercial free-range farming – birds in cramped, filthy conditions, the floor littered with rotting corpses. The images portrayed in adverts rarely match up to the reality. If they did, they wouldn’t sell many eggs. And, of course, productivity is everything. When egg numbers drop, the birds are gathered up by catching gangs, rammed into crates and sent off to slaughter. Where is the compassion there?
And what of meat? Is there ethical meat? Perhaps there is. It’s called roadkill. But an animal who spent a life of torment inside a factory farm – or even one who spent happier days on a truly free-range farm – will still have his or her life taken from them. And we know from our own investigations that there is no humane slaughter. Animals who were reared free-range, under the Freedom Food (now RSPCA Assured) or Soil Association labels, were battered and abused to their deaths inside British slaughterhouses every bit as much as factory-farmed animals. Those with a strong stomach can see how these ‘high welfare’ animals met their deaths below.