Document type : Article published in the New York Times
Author: Andrew Jacobs
Preview: A small group of animal welfare scientists is seeking answers to that question. Facing a growing anti-dairy movement, many farmers are altering their practices. [...]
To [animal rights activists], dairy farmers are cogs in an inhumane industrial food production system that consigns these docile ruminants to a lifetime of misery. After years of successful campaigns that marshaled public opinion against other long-accepted farming practices, they have been taking sharp aim at the nation's $620 billion dairy industry.
The National Milk Producers Federation, which represents most of the country's dairy 35,000 dairy farmers, has been trying to head off the souring public sentiment by promoting better animal welfare among its members. That means encouraging more frequent veterinarian farm visits, requiring low-wage workers to undergo regular training on humane cow handling, and the phasing out of tail docking - the once-ubiquitous practice of removing a cow's tail.
"I don't think you'll find farmers out there who are not trying their best to enhance the care and welfare of their animals," said Emily Yeiser Stepp, who runs the federation's 12-year-old animal care initiative. "That said, we can't be tone-deaf to consumers' values. We have to do better, and give them a reason to stay in the dairy aisle." […]
Professor von Keyserlingk, [a researcher at the University of British Columbia in Canada and a widely recognized pioneer in the field of animal welfare], has similarly tough conversations with the farmers she meets across North America. Like many animal welfare scientists, she rejects the notion that dairy farming is fundamentally inhumane, but she says farmers have a responsibility to continuously improve the well-being of their herds. That means reconsidering - or at least talking about - some bedrock practices, like cow-calf separation.
Professor von Keyserlingk often tells recalcitrant farmers that ignoring the issue could come back to haunt them if enough consumers turn against dairy.
"We live in societies where people can make decisions about what they eat based on their values," she said. "This is one of the biggest challenges facing all of animal agriculture because although the public doesn't expect farming to change overnight, they expect that farmers give their cows a reasonably good life, even if it's a short one."