Like humans, cows only produce milk after they have given birth, and dairy cows must give birth to one calf per year to continuously produce milk. Calves are taken away from their mother shortly after birth, which has long-term effects on the calf’s physical and social development and can cause severe distress to both mother and calf.
Over the last fifty years, dairy farming has become more intensive and worse for animals—all to increase the amount of milk produced by each cow. In the US, the average dairy cow produces more than seven gallons of milk per day. Compare that to the one gallon per day she would produce only to feed her calf. Overproduction of milk leads to severe welfare problems for dairy cow, including lameness and mastitis.
If you buy dairy, ensure it is certified to Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) standards. If unavailable, look for Certified Humane. Labels that say rBGH-free or rBST-free mean that the cows were not dosed with genetically-engineered hormones that increase milk production. These hormones are banned in the EU because of human health concerns. Check out our “Know Your Labels” page for more details.
In addition, look for 100% grass-fed dairy products, certified by the American Grassfed Association. You can also explore widely-available dairy alternatives, such as soy, coconut, or nut-based milk; cheese; yogurt; or desserts.
When you’re eating out or making a supermarket purchase, remember that the milk in your coffee and ice cream—or the cheese in your sandwich—is unlikely to be grass-fed or hormone-free unless indicated.
Download our free Food Guide for more information about buying dairy products!
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Know your labels
Labels and certifications can be confusing. We’re here to help!
Cows belong in fields. We have known it for a long time. And the cows agree!
About dairy cows
Modern dairy cows are bred specifically to produce large quantities of milk.
Welfare issues for dairy cows
The majority of US dairy cows are kept without access to pasture all year.
Higher welfare for dairy cows
Find out about the systems that take into account the welfare of the cow.