Film & TV

BBC Panorama: A Cow's Life and the Cost of Dairy

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Samuel Anthony
Apr 5, 2023
A close up of a cow's pink nose and whiskers

BBC Panorama documentary A Cow's Life: The True Cost of Milk exposes animal abuse in UK dairy farms, growing a national trend to boycott cattle products.

On Monday the 14th of February, BBC Panorama - an investigative documentary series - aired 'A Cows Life: The True Cost of Milk?'.

It revealed the limited understanding the majority have around the realities of the dairy industry, but it also opened many eyes to the horrors and malpractices that encompass it.

The reaction has been somewhat explosive, particularly on social media.

As a result of watching the documentary, many individuals have decided to boycott dairy farms and their products.

According to Surge Activism (co-founded by Ed Winters - or Earthling Ed), "BBC Panorama showed the reality of dairy [and] the reaction has been wild."

One social media user wrote, "I don't think I can drink cow's milk again after seeing those scenes, barbaric!"

Graphic scenes of animal abuse that are understood to be standard practice and not isolated to the investigated farms have left many viewers distraught.

According to Grocery Gazette, "angry UK customers have taken to social media to boycott the dairy industry following a BBC Panorama documentary exposing cruelty to animals."

The reality of the dairy industry is beyond unpalatable.

Many backlash articles in defence of dairy are circulating as farmers begin to retaliate to the ground-shaking exposure.

The simplest way to debunk them: the dairy industry has a vested interest in shutting onlooking eyes; vegans do not receive an advantage with more people opting for plant based.

Without graphic detail, this article will explore the reality of the dairy industry, how farmers produce dairy, and the nutritional considerations of living with or without dairy.

The results of a poll showing 71% of non vegans want to transition to plant based after watching a cow's life on BBC panorama

Go Plant-Based ran a Twitter poll which asked, "where did A Cow's Life on Panorama leave you?"

Despite 81% of those reached by the poll already being vegan, 70% of non-vegans claimed they are going vegan due to the documentary.

Considering the popularity of dairy and derivatives, this investigation of the dairy industry could be one of the most influential motivators for transitioning to veganism in recent months.

Cows are intelligent, sentient beings

Let's begin by exploring the intelligence of our dairy cows.

Cows have demonstrated good memory retention, including remembering how handlers have treated them (see study), and they show the ability to feel fear and pain.

Cows can also learn to select nutrients, remember good stops for food and interact with human behaviour.

Dairy cows are sentient beings that think, feel and fear.

Their average day includes experiences comparable with torture.

These include clamping cows in place, attaching them to machines that cause pain and infection, restricting access to sunlight, and separating mother from child.

The literature suggests the likelihood is they experience this with full conscious awareness - as you or I would.

A cow in a dairy farm

So why separate mother and child?

Cows do not make milk.

Mothers make it.

Milk is a perfectly formulated solution secreted by the mammary glands of mammalian mothers specifically for their offspring.

It is nature's baby growth fluid.

Cow's milk, formulated by the mother, raises and grows a baby calf.

Not an adult human being.

To produce milk, a female cow has to have given birth.

In the dairy industry, they used what's known as a 'rape rack' to impregnate cows forcibly.

Then when the magical day comes in which she gives birth to her baby, we immediately separate the two and force the now-milk-secreting mother to deliver milk.

If the calf is male, often within days, farmers cull them.

If the calf is female, the bleak future is the same as their mother's.

So why separate them? Because the offspring will drink the product, and as we know, that is for humans to steal, commoditise and sell.

Whatever your views on veganism or dairy, torture and abuse are the cold, brutal reality of most dairy cows' entire lives.

It is the most joy they may ever experience.

The most freedom ever exercised.

Oat milk in a latte coffee

Life without dairy comes with its benefits.

Start with cholesterol.

While milk contains high-density fats and cholesterol (produced to nourish a rapidly growing baby calf), all plant milk contains no cholesterol.

Excessive milking causes an infection to the mother cow's udders.

For this reason, it is well established that every pint of milk is a rather distasteful source of pus.

Yes, milk contains pus produced by infections.

Firstly, cows spend most of their lives indoors in tight spaces and unclean environments.

Secondly, farmers milk them until the day that they "fall down".

If you do not like the sound of pus on your plate or in your glass, consider avoiding dairy products.

So that's cholesterol, fat, and inflammatory pus - what else?

Fast releasing sugars.

Lactose, the sugar present in cow's milk, is released into the bloodstream rapidly and can cause blood sugar spikes.

While fruit contains sugar, they - like all plant foods - contain complex carbohydrates that take longer to break down and provide a steadier supply of blood sugar.

While our gut bacteria thrive on plant materials and complex carbohydrates, dairy offers very little - in fact, no fibre at all.

Many people experience weight loss after removing dairy products from their diet.

This weight loss is partly due to the calorie density of plant milk (or none) compared with baby calf's milk.

Calcium is readily available when you eat a balanced plant-based diet.

Milk is not the only source of calcium, and according to PETA, it could rob your bones of calcium.

Even broccoli contains some calcium!

Leafy greens can provide plenty while also delivering antioxidants, minerals and nutrients - without pus or cholesterol.

According to the findings of Ornish et al. (2001), milk and cheese have become associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer.

The same study found plant-based diets to be the reverse of this.

Antibiotics have an undesirable effect on gut health.

Our gut is home to microbes.

Trillions of microbes.

We use bacteria, alongside other beneficial parasites, to digest our food.

They can help us extract more nutrients and provide benefits.

Of course, certain types of bacteria can be harmful, but this is not the case for the balanced, diverse gut microbiome (the world of bacteria in our gut).

Microbes in our gut play a vital role from immunity, inflammation and well-being to energy, blood sugar, and sleep.

Without our microbes, we would find difficulty in sustaining ourselves.

The microbiome explains why antibiotics can be disastrous when not required to control a dangerous infection.

Milk contains antibiotics.

Cows are prone to infection, chiefly dairy cattle.

Farmers use antibiotics to deal with infection and enjoy the added benefit of their effect on fattening up animals.

After farmers discovered the ability of antibiotics to fatten up their livestock, profits came first.

The best way to avoid damaging the gut via antibiotic overconsumption is to steer clear of animal products.


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Plant-Based Nutritionist & Fitness Coach
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