If there is anything good to have come out of ‘Februdairy’, it is surely the unintended consequence of an increased focus on and awareness of the dairy industry.
This includes its ‘standard practices’; the artificial insemination of cows whilst restrained in a stanchion, their calves taken from them within 24-48 hours of birth every year - year after year, the [by-product] male calves killed soon after birth or raised for veal, the cows slaughtered at only a few years old when their bodies are considered ‘spent’...
Whilst the ‘Februdairy’ campaign was ostensibly to counteract an increasing interest in dairy-free diets and promote positive messages about dairy produce and farming, much of what has appeared in the press and social media seems to have instead descended into a campaign to discredit and denigrate those who have chosen not to consume these products (which could be for any number of reasons).
There have also been personal attacks on those who have been trying to raise awareness of how dairy is produced and the ethical, health and environmental concerns and implications that come with it.
The recent ad hominem attacks on Australian vegan campaigner Joey Carbstrong in particular have been quite extraordinary.
In their unwillingness (or inability?) to address the genuine concerns that an increasingly aware public have regarding dairy and its production, the industry - aided and abetted by elements of the UK media - have resorted to disparaging commentary on a vegan campaigner, as well as on vegans more generally – deriding them as ‘militant’, and going as far as to use the deliberately inflammatory labels of ‘extremists’ and ‘fanatics’ in some reports.
This tactic detracts and distracts from the real issues and is used repeatedly by the media in an attempt to silence opposition voices; dare to speak out against the status quo, and potentially face a very public and sustained character assassination.
Activist Joey Carbstrong has faced a vicious media backlash. Subscribe to PBN's YouTube channel here
Threatening language directed towards dairy farmers is of course wrong – it doesn’t help anyone and has been rightly condemned.
Accordingly threatening language directed towards vegans by those with a vested interest in animal agriculture, whether from farmers or meat eaters, is equally unacceptable but is not extended the same degree of media attention – it is not what you could consider a ‘level playing field’.
In the autumn’s politically motivated and highly controversial badger cull (in which nearly 20,000 badgers were killed in 2017 alone at the bidding of the dairy industry), there were numerous recorded incidences of wildlife crime as well as extremely antisocial behaviour repeatedly directed at peaceful protestors.
Intimidation and harassment, vehicle damage, dangerous and threatening driving and having fireworks launched at them to name are just a few.
These incidents were directly linked to the industry and whilst some of these additional issues surrounding the cull were reported by PBN and on social media, they did not receive widespread media coverage.
We mustn’t allow ourselves - or our families and friends - to be misled, antagonised or disheartened by a divisive media narrative that endeavours to depict animal advocates as ‘militant’ or ‘extremists’ on the one hand, and farmers as victims on the other.
Dairy farmers are trying to make a living in what is undoubtedly a difficult industry, within a culture that has normalised the consumption of dairy products; they may well feel that increasing interest in the dairy alternative market and veganism is a threat to their present livelihoods, but they are not the victims here...
The real victims are of course the millions of cattle born into the industry; an industry which necessitates the systematic and egregious exploitation of the female reproductive system, and treats young male lives as unfortunate and disposable by-products.
Februdairy: Epic fail? Subscribe to PBN's YouTube channel here
A poignant paragraph in moral philosopher Prof. Peter Singer’s book ‘Eating’, describes an experience of American author/journalist Peter Lovenheim, who ‘watched a cow give birth and begin to lick her calf’.
He adds: “But forty minutes later a farmhand came and took the calf away. The cow sniffed the straw where the calf had been, and bellowed, and began to pace around.
“Hours later she was sticking her nose under the gate to the barn in which she was confined and bellowing continuously. Meanwhile her calf was in another part of the farm, lying shivering on a concrete floor.
“Within a few days he was dead and his body was lying on the farm’s compost pile.”
As with many issues concerning injustices that have come before, the dairy industry should not be exempt from question or criticism for reasons of culture or tradition.
As advocates for the animals who have no voice, it is our duty to continue to speak out and to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who publicly expose the unpalatable truths of dairy farming, regardless of the ridiculing and hostility from those whose vested interests are in maintaining the status quo.
No-one ever said that taking on the political and financial might of the animal agriculture industry would be easy.