The dairy industry deserves many accolades for the success of their "Got Milk?" campaign which put white mustaches on celebrities and made their catchy phrase a ubiquitous part of the American dialect. Unfortunately, those happy people with their perfectly placed milk mustaches are pedaling a product that turns out to have a more sinister side. It's like watching a horror film and realizing that the cheery, smiling clown is actually a vicious monster -- not what you expect or want to happen, but the reality. The millions of cups of milk consumed today, the hundreds of thousands of ice cream cones licked and the tons of cheese devoured on melted sandwiches, were most likely produced by an industry that has a dark, disturbing side.
The recent media coverage by Nightline and Alternet about the dairy industry is helping to shine a bright light in dairy barns across the country. Don't think of a cute little red barn surrounded by a grasshopper-green pasture of smiling dairy cows. That image, like the horror-film clown, is a fake. Instead, the reality is thousands of dairy cows crammed into Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) which are massive indoor facilities where animals are fed food and hormones, kept lactating and pregnant (to increase milk production), have their tails docked (removed while awake and in a painful manner) and are killed after only a few years of life to be a hamburger at your next meal. This isn't exactly the image plastered on your butter or yogurt container.
Our rush to produce the cheapest foods possible comes at a cost to cows and consumers. Says the Humane Society of the U.S.' Paul Shapiro, "We think of food as being cheap but in reality there are a lot of external factors that we don't really pay for when we go the supermarket, those are increased animal suffering, increased environmental degradation, and increased food safety risks."
What about organic dairy, though? Doesn't this mean that the cows really do have happy lives? Well, not according to Tara Lohan, who writes in Alternet that companies like Horizon Organic, owned by massive food conglomerate Dean Foods, carries the organic label but is actually more like the factory farm (i.e., CAFO). On the flip side, Organic Valley, which represents 1,350 farms, has made notable efforts to improve the welfare of its animals.
I ended my 10-year Oprah hiatus today when I watched her show about Food, Inc. Guests, including Michael Pollan and Alicia Silverstone, all emphasized the need for consumers to be better educated about their food choices. What you eat impacts your health, the environment, your community and animals. You don't have to give up dairy, but you can start buying dairy from local farms that treat their animals humanely.
The Eat Well Guide is a simple user-friendly site that will help you to find a farmer near you. Improving our food system so that it's safer and healthier for us, animals and our environment will take effort from all of us. We have the opportunity to vote for a better food system three times a day. Your ice cream sundae will taste a lot better with milk from a truly happy cow.
Sarah's Social Action Snapshot originally appeared on Takepart.com