Animal Suffering | The problem with milk and eggs | Health Issues | The Planet

The problem with milk and eggs

Although dairy and egg products are not obtained directly from the slaughterhouse, animals who produce them normally endure a ruthless farming regime before being killed at an early age.

Dairy farming

Dairy cows are amongst the most exploited animals in modern farming. In order to produce milk, they must first be made pregnant. This is usually performed by invasive artificial insemination with the pregnancy lasting for nine months, just like in humans. The calf born at the end of the pregnancy is considered little more than an unwanted by-product who will drink the milk that the farmer wants to bottle and sell. So the calf is taken away, causing enormous distress to both mother and baby, who form a strong maternal bond.

Far more female calves are born than can be used by the dairy industry, and males will never produce milk, so are of no use. So some are reared for beef, some go for veal, and many – tens of thousands each year – are shot soon after birth.

Cows have been selectively bred to produce larger and larger quantities of milk so that farmers now take such unnaturally vast amounts that it can seriously affect the health of the cows. Many suffer from lameness and a painful udder infection called mastitis, and after just 4-5 years of being subjected to repeated forced pregnancies and intensive milk production, most are left physically exhausted and are sent to slaughter. Cows can naturally live to around 25 years old.

Despite the popular image of cows wandering around grassy fields, almost all are kept in often filthy and crowded sheds for around 6 months of the year, even those certified under the Free Range Pasture Promise. An increasing number are also being kept permanently inside, in what are known as intensive zero-grazing units.

For more information about the suffering of dairy cows, click here.

Egg production

Chickens reared for egg-production begin their lives in huge, industrial hatcheries. Just as in the dairy industry, males are considered useless as they will never lay an egg and don’t put on weight quickly enough for meat production, so millions are gassed to death at just one day old each year. This is true for all types off egg production, including caged, free-range and organic. The females go on to a life of perpetual egg-laying until their productivity begins to drop and they too are slaughtered, usually at around 72 weeks old. Chickens can naturally live for around 5-6 years.

As with dairy cows, egg-laying hens have been bred to lay unnaturally large numbers of eggs – around 300 per year, compared to around a dozen in the wild. This constant egg production drains calcium and other nutrients from their bodies, leaving them with brittle bones that are easily broken when they are handled or transported to slaughter.

Despite a ban on battery cages coming into effect in 2012, around half of all eggs laid in the UK still come from caged hens. The battery cages have simply been replaced with ‘colony cages’ (above), which can house dozens of hens at a time, providing each with little more space than that of an A4 sheet of paper. They can scarcely move around, let alone stretch their wings, and they are unable to perform many of their natural behaviours, such as nesting and dust-bathing. Injuries and feather-pecking are common in the crowded cages, so they usually have the tips of their beaks seared off to prevent them harming each other. Buying free-range eggs is no gurantee of avoiding those from caged hens as they are often used by hotels and restuarants and in processed foods, such as cakes, quiches and fresh pasta.

And what of so-called ‘free-range’ eggs? Rather than pecking around idylic farmyards as many people imagine, most are in fact kept in crowded sheds (left) with only limited access to the outside. Conditions are often so packed that hens may not be aware that they can even leave the barn or may find it too difficult to actually reach the outside. Those who do are exposed to germs to which they have no immunity, which is why free-range hens have one of the highest on-farm death rates of any farmed animal.

For more information about the suffering of farmed chickens, click here.