Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Care For Some Mastitis to Go With That Milk?

Many people who drink cow's milk and eat cheese made from the milk of cows are not familiar with the bacterial infection called mastitis. They should be. That's because mastitis infects more than half of all dairy cows in the U.S., affecting the quality of cow's milk sold to the consuming public for use in products like cheese, yogurt, whey and butter.

Dairy cows are not living the idyllic life most people imagine. Contrary to the grassy plains which they are seen roaming on in commercials, dairy cows are crammed into Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) or factory farms that provide little room for movement, greater chance of acquiring infections, and inhumane living conditions.

Today's dairy cows produce 100 pounds of milk a day, 10 times more than they would produce naturally for their own calves. (Incidentally, none of which is fed to their calves.) The industrialized process of generating cow's milk for human consumption takes a toll on dairy cows, triggering a number of severe health problems. Milk fever occurs when a cow's calcium reserves are depleted from making too much milk, causing her bones to become brittle and weak. Laminitis, instigated by being fed too many carbohydrates, results in impaired circulation and often contributes to lameness. One of the most common ailments among dairy cows is mastitis, an extremely painful and potentially fatal infection which causes an increase in white blood cells in their udders or mammary glands. As a result, cow's milk infected with mastitis will often contain flakes, clots, and pus. Yes, I said pus!

The white blood cell count, or what is commonly known in the dairy industry as the somatic cell count, is an indicator of the quality of cow's milk. The greater the likelihood of an infection, the greater the somatic cell count (SCC). The general consensus is that cow's milk that is not infected with mastitis has a SCC of less than 100,000 mL; however, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) says that Grade A cow's milk is acceptable as long as the SCC doesn't go beyond 750,000 mL! It's possible that if the USDA were to raise its standards, the dairy industry might not have any suitable cow's milk to sell. In fact, mastitis has become such a common and costly problem for the dairy industry that a group called the National Mastitis Council was formed to help squelch the 1.7 to 2 billion dollars the industry loses to it every year. To be sure, it is a problem the dairy industry has brought upon itself, and, sadly, upon the billions of cows whom it callously treats as mere machines.

The dairy industry utilizes many methods to increase the rate at which dairy cows produce milk. For one, dairy cows are artificially impregnated every year in order to generate milk on a non-stop basis until they can no longer do so, at which point they are sent off to be slaughtered for meat. The calves born to dairy cows are abruptly taken away from their mothers at birth; female calves are doomed to repeat the misery of their mothers, while male calves are instantly shipped off to the veal industry, weak and sticky from having just come out of the womb. (Separation is immediate so that mother and calf don't become attached to each other, and so not a drop of cow's milk is "wasted" on her calf!) And if being raped and torn away from their babies every year isn't bad enough, dairy cows are also injected with growth hormones so as to speed up the milk-producing process even further, causing more stress and sickness.

Furthermore, cows would not be able to supply the amount of milk the industry demands on their natural diet of grass and herbage. The industry's answer to this is to turn these biological herbivores into carnivores - even cannibals - by feeding them cheaper, by-product feedstuffs containing soy, corn, feathers, hair, hooves, blood, bone meal, road kill, manure, plastics, pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, garbage and the flesh and blood of other animals, even that of their own species.

The exorbitant amount of milk dairy cows are made to store beyond their natural capacity coupled with 10 months or more of incessant machine milking every year contributes greatly to mastitis. Rather than reduce the quantity of milk cows produce, factory farmers, instead, have opted to administer dairy cows with huge quantities of medication and antibiotics so not to slow down production. In fact, about 80 percent of all antibiotics in the U.S. are now used to treat "food" animals.

So, once again, there is a choice to be made. We can continue to drink the Kool-Aid - I mean the cow's milk - stealing it away from the mouths of calves, all while continuously sickening ourselves, the planet and the innocent animals who are manipulated by a cruel and greedy industry. Or, we can choose healthier, humane, non-dairy alternatives which are widely available and evolving all the time. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Photo courtesy of Farm Sanctuary.

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