24/02/2012 18:18 GMT | Updated 25/04/2012 06:12 BST

Ethically Opposed to Veal? Then Dump Dairy

When I saw Rachel Wilson-Couch's piece about vegetarians who eat veal, I naturally assumed she was being alliteratively tongue-in-cheek. No one with a conscience would eat the bodies of calves who spend their short lives in misery. In fact, veal is often what prompts people to switch to a vegetarian diet. But Wilson-Couch is right to call the dairy industry - the reason why veal exists - into question.

Cows are individuals with distinct personalities. Some are bold and adventurous; others are shy and timid. Some are friendly and considerate; others are bossy and obstinate. Animal behaviourists have found that cows interact in socially complex ways, developing friendships over time and sometimes holding grudges against other cows who treat them badly. Cows have been known to go to extraordinary lengths to escape from abattoirs.

Cows are also protective and nurturing mothers. Yet in the dairy industry, whether she gives birth to a male or a female, the time a mother cow will get to bond with and care for her baby is measured in hours. Female calves, like their mothers, face a lifetime of forced pregnancies and babies lost to the milk industry, and males - referred to as 'by-products' - are either shot at birth or destined to become veal.

Make no mistake: both mother cows and their calves are emotionally traumatised as would be any parent and child when forcibly separated from one another. The mother cows bellow in desperation, and the calves wail inconsolably. They cry out for each other for days. Wide-eyed and terrified, the babies are desperate to suckle and will attempt to suckle people's fingers for comfort. What they get instead is a bottle of milk replacer.

Our most basic need as parents is to love, shelter, feed, nurture and protect our children from harm. And yet we ignore the very same innate need in animals. We are the only species to drink another species' milk and the only species to continue to consume milk beyond infancy. Human children have no nutritional requirement for cow's milk and grow up healthy and strong without it. Research suggests that cow's milk is linked to numerous common health problems (runny noses, allergies, ear infections, recurrent bronchitis, asthma, etc.) that often keep kids out of school and parents home from work.

There are really unpleasant and unhealthy substances in milk, including growth hormones, saturated fat and cholesterol. It's also acceptable under UK standards for milk to include pus. A safer and more natural choice for adults and children is to consume soya milk, almond milk or another plant-based alternative to cow's milk. Parents who want to keep their children healthy should look behind the dairy industry's well-financed marketing promotions.

World-renowned paediatrician Dr Benjamin Spock urged mothers to breastfeed. Dr Frank Oski, the former director of paediatrics at Johns Hopkins University in the US, said, "There's no reason to drink cow's milk at any time in your life. It was designed for calves, it was not designed for humans, and we should all stop drinking it today, this afternoon."

Milk and veal go hand in hand - one does not exist without the other. If the thought of animal suffering bothers you, remember: you don't have to support an industry that tears calves away from their mothers for milk or for veal.

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