The Corrupt Life-Cycle of Cows within Factory Farms Comes Back to Bite Humans
We are born into a society where as soon as a human baby is weaned off of its mother’s teat, they are swiftly latched onto another creature’s, without knowing the cruelty involved or the associated health problems inherited by the consumption of animal products1. Cows are creatures that humans have bred for our own dietary needs over thousands of years with little change in farming techniques. However, more recently we have greatly exceeded the actions of our ancestors, moving away from small-scale pastoral farming communities to large-scale factory farms. This transition has produced terrible consequences to the cows’ well being and dramatic medical changes with the routine application of antibiotics and hormones2.
The life of a cow from calf to adulthood: The factory farming way
The newly born calf is removed from its mother within a couple days, (sometimes within a couple hours), before the calf has even consumed the colostrum (immunoglobulin and nutrient rich first postpartum milking ). The calves are reared with milk replacer, instead of their mother’s milk, and kept in isolated pens--denying them the normal social interaction cows engage in. Female calves are sent to dairy farms; male calves and surplus female calves are sent to veal and beef farms. The calves are all forced through multiple painful procedures without anaesthetic, including: disbudding of horns through chemical cauterisation, tail docking with a hot iron or a rubber band that cuts off blood until necrosis occurs, and branding with hot irons2.
Dairy cows are quickly brought into milk production through artificial insemination--the nonconsensual impregnation of another creature--with a goal to have that cow producing milk for human consumption, not for the consumption of the calf it carries within itself for 9 months. Bovine Somatotrophin (BST) is a hormone, banned in the EU, that is widely used in the U.S. to synchronize cow reproductive cycles and increase milk yield; however, it also causes mastitis (udder inflammation) and lameness. These cows give birth and immediately go into a cycle of being milked 2-3 times a day, often by milking machines. After 2 months, they are returned to the pregnancy cycle, with the goal of producing one calf a year2. This intensive process wears down the body of the birthing cow, dramatically reducing their natural lifespan from 20-25 years to 4-5 years3. For some perspective, women are advised to wait 12 months after one birth before attempting for a second birth so that their body can recover from the process of creating another being4.
After losing their ability to be effective dairy cows, they are sent to slaughterhouses where animals are killed by being paralyzed by electrocution, being hung upside down, having their major neck arteries slit, and then slowly bleeding to death as blood flows from there rears to their heads3. In the U.S., 60% of cows endure this entire life-cycle, albeit a short life-cycle, tethered within isolated stalls, unable to participate in natural socialization, and a shocking 90% are confined indoors5. The sunny, green, flourishing meadows filled with joyful and free cows are an advertisement and do not accurately represent the typical lives of the 9 million plus cows comprising the dairy and beef industry5.
How animal cruelty contributes to cancer rates: Carcinogenic animal products
It is typical for factory run dairy farms to milk their cows into their 3rd trimester, up to 60 days before their next calving in a 270 day pregnancy cycle. At this point of the cycle, cow milk contains 20 times more estrogen hormones than the milk of a cow who is not pregnant6. Unsurprisingly, our consumption of milk from factory farmed cows has been shown to produce increased levels of estrogen (E1) and progesterone in humans7. In addition, higher levels of growth hormones have been reported, the consumption of which can spike human insulin levels, potentional acne8. There is growing knowledge and understanding that certain estrogen hormones are carcinogens, which aid in the development of breast, endometrial, and other cancers in humans. When these hormones are metabolized, intermediate oxygen radical byproducts are produced which damage our DNA, which can turn into a mutation and leads to cancer cell proliferation9. The Physicians’ Health Study found that men consuming more than 2.5 servings of dairy had a 34% increase in prostate cancer in comparison to men consuming less than half a serving10. Multiple other studies support this finding, including one with 11 case studies that found a 68% increase in prostate cancer with consumers of large amounts of dairy products. It should be noted that the actual cancer causing mechanism within dairy products has not been pinpointed, and the fats, calcium, hormones, and other dairy components are being considered as culprits for future research11. In 2016 alone, there were about 180,890 reported new cases of prostate cancer, the most common non-skin cancer in men, and about 26,120 reported deaths13. The implications that a correlation exists between the consumption of dairy products and cancer risk is astounding.
During World War II, meat and dairy consumption dropped, and that change from a diet high in animal products, to one that isn’t, has been noted to reduce cancer rates. An analysis of cancer and diet reports during that time period has found a correlation between diets and cancers occurring in the colon, rectum, breasts, prostate, lungs, skin. In breast cancer, researchers found a decreased rate of incidence in women that were in puberty during the WWII dietary shift, and an increased rate of incidence in women who went through puberty after WWII when the diet shifted back13. Japan was hit particularly hard after WWII with a 25-fold increase in the prostatic cancer death rate, which researchers have attributed to the 20-fold increase in milk consumption because of its high quantities of estrogen hormones and saturated fats14. There is ample evidence supporting the trend between dairy and cancer rates, but Dairy Farm lobbyist efforts to advertise dairy products as an essential part of a balanced diet--despite a multitude of other sources for protein, vitamin D, and calcium--persist in the U.S. Their efforts have also worked to bring about legislation that criminalizes activists for going undercover in factory farms, called “Ag Gag Laws.” Montana, Utah, North Dakota, Missouri, Kansas and Iowa passed this legislation, but an Idaho judge at the District Court level decided it to be unconstitutional in respect to the First Amendment protections of free speech. The ethical problems and health implications of the situation are not being dealt with properly due to the immense contributions made by Dairy Farm lobbyists15.
By partaking in the consumption of factory dairy farm products, you not only feed a corrupt industry that “depends on the exploitation and destruction of motherhood3,” and bolsters animal cruelty, of which some states prosecute at a lower standard than other animals16, but you are also putting your own body at risk of cancer and other associated health problems. The UN has identified animal products as carcinogens of the same category as asbestos and cigarettes, and Canada has stood up against the Canadian Meat Council’s attempt to defund the UN World Health Organization’s research on the matter17. It is time for the U.S. and other industrial nations that partake in factory farming to stand up for the health of their citizens, and to stand against practices that perpetuate animal cruelty.
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Pape-Zambito, D. A., A. L. Magliaro, and R. S. Kensinger. 2008. 17β-estradiol and estrone concentrations in plasma and milk during bovine pregnancy. J. Dairy Sci. 91:127–135.
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Chan, J. M., and E. L. Giovannucci. "Dairy Products, Calcium, and Vitamin D and Risk of Prostate Cancer." Epidemiologic Reviews 23, no. 1 (2001): 87-92. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.epirev.a000800.
Qin, Li-Qiang, Jia-Ying Xu, Pei-Yu Wang, Takashi Kaneko, Kazuhiko Hoshi, and Akio Sato. "Milk Consumption Is a Risk Factor for Prostate Cancer: Meta-Analysis of Case-Control Studies." Nutrition and Cancer 48, no. 1 (2004): 22-27. doi:10.1207/s15327914nc4801_4.
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Ganmaa, D., X.m Li, L.q Qin, P.y Wang, M. Takeda, and A. Sato. "The Experience of Japan as a Clue to the Etiology of Testicular and Prostatic Cancers." Medical Hypotheses 60, no. 5 (May 2003): 724-30. doi:10.1016/s0306-9877(03)00047-1.
Runyon, Luke. "Judge Strikes Down Idaho 'Ag-Gag' Law, Raising Questions For Other States." NPR. August 4, 2015. Accessed November 15, 2016. http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/08/04/429345939/idaho-strikes-down-ag-gag-law-raising-questions-for-other-states.
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