Dairy Farmers of America: Stop the Cruelty & Shift to Vegan Milk

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I spent more than two years working as an undercover investigator on factory farms for Animal Outlook. I’m now stepping out of the shadows to shine a light on the stomach-churning horrors I witnessed while working at Dick Van Dam Dairy, a massive factory farm in California. During my investigation, we followed a truck from this farm directly to a plant that produces Alta Dena and TruMoo products. Both brands are owned by Dean Foods, the nation’s largest milk processor.

Dean Foods recently filed for bankruptcy and the majority of its assets (including Alta Dena and TruMoo) are now owned by Dairy Farmers of America, the nation’s largest dairy cooperative.

Dean Foods (which continues to operate under this brand name) claims to require humane treatment of cattle at all times and says it expects the same of their suppliers. Yet at Dick Van Dam Dairy, one of their suppliers, I witnessed gentle mother cows and their babies enduring daily horrors and abuse. 

Conglomerates like Dairy Farmers of America and others in the cruel dairy industry don’t want you to know the ugly truth about where milk comes from. Dairy producers forcibly impregnate cows. They take the babies away just a few days after being born so they can harvest the mother’s milk. Year after year. Heartbreakingly, these babies enter the same vicious cycle. Ultimately, they all face the same fate: slaughter. 

In dairy, male calves simply aren’t profitable, so the workers I saw at Dick Van Dam didn’t take care to ensure their survival. I remember a worker pulling a dead calf from his mother’s womb. His fate was sealed before he took his first breath. Females are sent to other farms to grow until they can be impregnated and milked and may live longer, but they live agonizing lives.

This is where milk comes from – a profit-driven industry that treats these gentle, smart, and social animals like mere milk-producing machines or unwanted by-products.

On farms like Dick Van Dam, workers crowd scared and injured cows into the milking area and hook them up to mechanical milking machines. Often, the cows had no choice but to trample each other due to the extreme overcrowding. I saw one cow crawl helplessly through a thick layer of feces on the ground while a worker sprayed her with a firehose. She was then dragged by a metal clamp on her hips and dangled about 20 feet in the air with a tractor.

Using this cruel device to move sick or injured cows, referred to as “downer cows,” is, sadly, commonplace in the dairy industry. I also saw workers violently kicking and jamming their fingers into the eye sockets of helpless cows who had collapsed from exhaustion or abuse. 

Because of constant and unsanitary milking practices, many cows suffered from painfully swollen, inflamed udders. Though workers were supposed to check for infection before milking, many didn’t. The workers referred to the stringy, thick milk as “cheese.” I also often saw milk tinged pink with blood. But instead of receiving veterinary care, these cows were marked and sent to slaughter. In fact, in the two months I worked at this farm, I never saw a veterinarian on-site, despite seeing many cows languishing with injuries and ailments. 

As if this appalling abuse and neglect weren’t sickening enough, cows were also the victims of senseless violence. Night after night, I witnessed workers and a manager brutally striking cows with wooden canes and a metal rod with such force that loud cracks rumbled through the building like thunder. With such vicious abuse--even committed by supervisors--and no effective monitoring or enforcement system in place, how can Dean Foods stand behind its claim that it does “not and will not tolerate neglect or willful abuse of any animal?”

We submitted our investigative materials to law enforcement encouraging enforcement of animal cruelty laws, and so far the authorities have not taken any action. We're also pursuing other avenues. In addition, the Animal Legal Defense Fund just filed a lawsuit based on the cruelty uncovered in this investigation.

Unfortunately, the suffering I witnessed isn’t confined to Dick Van Dam Dairy; we have seen workers use violence as a tool in every single dairy we have investigated. Across the dairy industry, many extremely painful procedures are commonplace and considered acceptable. For example, on 94% of all dairy farms across the country--including many which supply Dean Foods--young calves have their horns brutally burned or gouged from their skulls in a cruel process known as “dehorning” or “disbudding.”

Ultimately, the journey of a cow on a dairy farm is one of never-ending misery. If a cow manages to survive the torment of the factory farm, she is forced and electrically prodded onto a truck bound for slaughter.

Even though I’m leaving the field, I know that I--just like you--can still make a difference for animals by continuing to keep dairy out of my kitchen and off my plate. Join me and millions of others in choosing dairy-free foods. 

At the end of 2018, The Economist aptly declared that 2019 would be “The year of the vegan.” Indeed, the market for plant-based milk products is projected to grow to over $37 billion by 2025, and one-quarter of 25- to 34-year old Americans identify as vegan or vegetarian. Food giants are, in turn, waking up to this shift: Nestlé recently ditched its US ice cream business and unveiled vegan Nesquik after a months-long Animal Outlook campaign, while Starbucks is incorporating a shift toward vegan milks in its sustainability plan. Most recently, McDonald’s new CEO said that vegan options were on the way.

Despite desperate efforts to squash plant-based milk labels and even promote a price-fixing conspiracy theory, dairy is clearly a dying industry as these industrial farms continue closing their doors.

Consumer taste for cow’s milk is souring.

OCTOBER 2020 UPDATE: Almost immediately after Animal Outlook released our investigation footage, Dairy Farmers of America dropped Dick Van Dam as a supplier. While this victory is a big step in the right direction, we won’t let DFA off that easily. After all, the only way to truly end farmed animal suffering is by not consuming their meat or by-products.

Please join me in urging Dairy Farmers of America to shift at least 20 percent of its supply chain (Dean Foods included) to vegan dairy alternatives--as well as to seize this opportunity to reposition itself as a true industry leader by ending cruel dehorning. Thank you.

In solidarity,
Erin Wing
Former Undercover Investigator, Animal Outlook

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