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Selected articles from Arkangel No.7
Spring 1992



The Compassionate Vegetarian

by David Lane

I can accept that someone might decide to become a lacto-vegetarian solely for reasons of health. Numerous studies and a great wealth of statistical evidence exists to back-up such a position. I can also sympathise with someone who, by degrees, becomes vegetarian for compassionate reasons. People who take this position regard their abstention from eating flesh as a step in the right direction, and by implication as something less than completely freeing themselves from being a direct cause of animal suffering.

What I cannot accept though, is that someone who claims to be a lacto-vegetarian for compassionate reasons, can be content to remain so. I do not see that it is possible to have knowledge about the dairy and egg industries, and then to think about the issues involved, then to come to the conclusion that to support either is consistent with a compassionate lifestyle. But I will not rely on rhetoric to make my case. Using only basic facts and simple logic I will show that compassionate lacto-vegetarianism is a contradiction in terms!

First some facts about dairy farming. It is a constant source of amazement to me how many people believe that a cow naturally produces an endless stream of milk, and that it is actually a kindness to relieve her of it - otherwise her udder would explode! And of course it would be a shame to waste this almost miraculously nourishing food! But it is for someone else to discuss the value of milk as a food, I want to deal with the process of producing it.

A Dairy cow has a natural life expectancy of about twenty years. Those who are not used for veal and who make it to the dairy herd are killed at between four and six years, when poor health or declining yield make her no longer profitable as a food production unit. In order that she produces milk during her short life, she will be inseminated several times and produce probably four or five calves. She will be pregnant for most of her life. It is a myth that cows have one calf and continue to produce milk indefinitely.

Time for some logic. One cow produces say, four calves. Males are largely unnecessary and in any case only one calf is required to maintain the dairy herd's size. Three or four calves are killed at a few weeks for veal, or after several months for beef. There is no escape, no pushing the unpleasant facts aside. If you want milk, then someone will eat cattle.

Let's take the compassionate lacto-vegetarian's aim to its logical conclusion - a Britain where no-one eats meat, but where dairy foods are in demand. We have to export all our unwanted calves to countries where...? Silly, isn't it? And I haven't even mentioned selective breeding and drug treatment which produces cows with udders so huge they can barely walk. Compassion? I don't think so.

And it's no good talking about the solution being humane slaughter, banning live exports, or generally trying to get people to be nicer to cows! The compassionate lacto-vegetarian has already rejected killing animals in order to satisfy dietary desire.


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