D is for…
Recently, I wrote about bobby calves. Today, I want to examine the messages that the Australian dairy industry disseminates to children, specifically primary school students.
What is the dairy industry telling school students about cows’ milk, and the lives of dairy cows and bobby calves?
To answer this question, I visited Dairy Australia’s website, Discover Dairy. Visitors to the site can explore sections aimed at students, teachers, and canteen staff. Apparently, Dairy Australia developed the section for teachers, in order to:
‘engage and educate teachers and students about the Australian dairy industry and the nutritious products it provides’.
Teachers and students are introduced to 3 ‘learning’ modules – Unbeatable Bones, Fuel for Life and Farm to Plate. Teachers are encouraged to ‘Discover Dairy with [their] students today!’.
The site includes lesson ideas and student activity sheets for primary school children covering subjects such as art, mathematics, English, and science & technology.
What is the industry telling children about the lives of cows and calves on dairy farms?
In the section aimed at students, I navigated to Games and Interactives. I imagine this is the most popular section for students. Lets face it, any self-respecting 8 year old would head straight there!
I viewed two ‘interactives’:
The Milk from Farm to Plate – What’s it all About? interactive has this to say about the ‘milk cycle’: ‘Milk is created inside the udders of dairy cows on the farm’. It then describes the pumps that ‘gently suck milk from the cow’. There is no mention of her calf.
This interactive provides the illusion that cows naturally or automatically lactate, that they need to be milked by humans. It fails to mention that cows lactate as a consequence of giving birth.
The second interactive is titled: How do Dairy Cows Make Milk? It begins: ‘ How dairy cows make milk is really cool’. It then describes the four stomachs that cows possess – it is interesting. No doubt about that. But, I was left thinking: hang on! We (humans) are drinking the milk of a species with four stomachs?! It is truly absurd!
The interactive states: ‘Milk is stored in the udder until the cow is milked’ – as though the milk is just waiting there in a vessel, for humans. For our convenience. It does not mention that the milk is produced for her baby. Children are not told that the cow’s baby would suckle many times throughout the day. There is definitely no mention of the fact that a cow’s udder can become painful and engorged, and that cows can suffer from mastitis. No, the milk is just filling up her udder, ready to be ‘gently’ sucked out by a machine.
Clearly, the ‘interactives’ only tell part of the story.
What about the 3 ‘learning’ modules?
I discovered a reference to calves in the module From Farm to Plate. In a section called Hand-Feeding Calves, it states:
‘After only 12 to 24 hours, calves are weaned off their mothers but are still given milk to drink. The first milk they are given comes straight from their mother and is called colostrum…The colostrum is milked into a bucket which is then transferred to a bottle with a very large teat on the end and fed to the calf’
This paragraph glosses over the severing of the maternal-calf bond. The industry wants children to believe that life is good for a calf:
‘The calves soon learn to eat grass and often get to eat the best pasture on the farm to help them grow strong’.
Calves are denied a relationship with their mothers. They are fed from an artificial teat. They are only a day (or less) old. But, apparently, children should not be concerned, because the calves are compensated for this loss by having access to ‘the best pasture’.
There is no mention of male calves, shipped to specialist calf-rearing properties or slaughterhouses. The information gives the impression that calves have an idyllic life in a lush green paddock. Rather, a female calf will ‘grow up’ to be a dairy cow herself, and endure repeated pregnancies and loss of offspring.
In another location, I read this:
‘Male calves become bulls and are often sold’.
The key phrase is ‘often sold’. Sold to whom? For what purpose? The use of ‘often sold’ implies that some are not sold. What happens to them? Dairy Australia asserts that bobby calves are the foundation of their industry, so why aren’t they telling children the truth about them?
In reality, bobby calves are not given high priority by the industry. A bobby calf’s only ‘use’ is his ability to initiate his mother’s lactation.
At 5 days old, calves can be transported, and the industry standard permits the withholding of milk from calves for up to 30 hours before they are slaughtered. They certainly aren’t sharing that information with children.
The module From Farm to Plate includes a section titled ‘How cows make milk’. Here, calves are mentioned in connection with milk production:
‘A cow only starts to produce milk once her first calf is born.’
The module states that:
‘Most cows give about 25 litres of milk a day.’
The use of the term ‘give’ implies that cows are willing participants in their enslavement. Obviously, the milk is ‘taken’ or ‘stolen’. This misuse of language disguises the reality of dairy cows’ lives.
Under the heading ‘Milking Time‘, I was disturbed to read the following :
‘Milking time is an enjoyable experience for the cows for many reasons. Sometimes the farmer plays soothing music in the background to relax the cows. It is important that cows are kept happy because they need to be relaxed to produce their milk’ .
A ‘happy’ cow. (Source: Discover Dairy)
I wonder what style of music ‘keeps’ cows happy, and compensates for the loss of a baby? Mozart? Moby? Muse? Despite the assertion that there are ‘many reasons’ that milking time is ‘enjoyable’, no further information of this nature is provided. Perhaps they’ll start telling children that the gentle sucking of the machines is quite relaxing, and preferable to the constant suckling of a baby.
What is the industry telling children about dairy products?
Children are told that dairy is ‘fuel for life‘, and that they require 3 serves a day.
(Fuel for life? That is actually true. A cow’s milk is fuel for her calf; nourishment that is biologically designed to promote bovine life).
Children are encouraged to:
‘speak to [their] teacher or principal about adopting a healthy canteen policy that includes plenty of milk, cheese and yogurt on the menu’.
Children are directed to ‘lead by example’ so that their friends will be:
‘slurping yogurt, slicing cheese, and sipping milk right along with you before you know it…Keep up the yummy fun!’
‘Yummy fun’ (Source: Discover Dairy)
I was surprised to read the following in a curriculum guide for the Picasso Cows program:
‘New research has found milk is a more effective drink than water to rehydrate active kids’.
A footnote is provided in the curriculum guide.* I imagine that this finding would be regarded as a boon to the industry. Time constraints prevent me from following up on the ‘new research’ at this stage. However, I find it difficult to believe that the lactation fluids of a mammal with 4 stomachs can provide ‘more effective’ rehydration of ‘active’ human children than water. Water is fuel for life!
So, why am I concerned about the information that the Discover Dairy web site promotes to teachers and students?
Firstly, lets examine the stated role of Dairy Australia:
‘Our role is to help farmers adapt to a changing operating environment, and achieve a profitable, sustainable dairy industry’.
Secondly, lets look at the language that the industry uses about primary schools and school children.
In a curriculum guide for a national project called The Great Wall of Dairy, it states:
‘Primary schools provide an ideal channel to reach a large number of children aged 5–12 years’.
A captive audience!
‘Children are also developing their long term food consumption behaviours at this age so it is important to build healthy, positive eating habits while they are young’.
And who better to ‘educate’ them about positive eating habits than Dairy Australia?!
‘Educating children about nutrition and where their food comes from is important to establish positive attitudes and perceptions about the industry and the products it produces which they can carry into adulthood’.
Clearly, children in classrooms are fair game for an industry seeking to advertise its products and ensnare lifelong consumers of dairy products. Naturally, the establishment of ‘positive attitudes and perceptions about the industry’ would be hindered if young children were provided with factual information about bobby calves, rather than misinformation. A young child who has been unwittingly separated from her parents (such as losing sight of them in a shopping centre) would be able to identify with the fear and panic of a calf who has been separated from his mother.
I am opposed to school teachers being used as conduits to promote dairy products to students in their classrooms. I would not be impressed if my children were learning about calcium and nutrition from Dairy Australia.
Source: Discover Dairy
As mentioned above, Dairy Australia’s stated role is to achieve a ‘profitable’ industry. They do not develop learning modules, free classroom resources and national curriculum programs because they care about the health of Australia’s children. The industry is not interested in educating children about nutrition. The industry is interested in ‘educating’ children about dairy products. They are interested in maximising their profits. These programs, modules and resources are part of a marketing strategy.
Nutrition education in schools should not be driven by industries with vested interests.
Dairy: ‘A unique combination of bone-building nutrients’. (Source: Discover Dairy)
It’s unlikely that parents would give consent for their children to view television advertisements (during class time) that are designed solely to establish positive ‘perceptions about [an] industry and the products it produces which [their children] can carry into adulthood’.
So, why should we tolerate this covert form of advertising being conducted under the guise of ‘education’?
*Footnote cited by Dairy Australia – Volterman K et al. Children and Exercise XXVII: The Proceedings of the XXVIIth International Symposium of the
European Group of Paediatric Work Physiology 2011; Chapter 13: 101–105
In My A-Z of Veganism series, I discuss and explore a topic or issue related to veganism, and my experiences as a vegan – as I work my way through the alphabet!