Dairy cows

FOUR PAWS: Global Thirst for Dairy Is Milking Cows Dry

Global milk production is rising, causing immense suffering of 277 million dairy cows and massive greenhouse gas emissions


Vienna, 29 May 2024 – The world is thirsty for milk: more than six billion people are drinking milk according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which, together with the OECD is expecting global production to increase by about 15% until 2032. With more than 150 kg annual milk supply per capita, Europe and the United States rank among the top milk producers but developing countries are catching up, as milk consumption has almost doubled in these countries since the early 1960s according to the FAO. The world-wide thirst for dairy is taking a high toll on dairy cows. In the run-up of World Milk Day on June first, global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS is reminding that behind every glass of milk lies a life of suffering. To increase animal welfare FOUR PAWS calls for a structural change in the whole dairy production, allowing mother-bonded or fostered calf rearing and a complete ban on tethering of animals and fully slatted floors.

“In industrial farming, cows are abused as milk-making machines. Behind every glass of milk lies a life of suffering. Contrary to what the dairy industry wants to make us believe, they often don’t spend their time on lush meadows. Dairy cows are mostly tethered in stables, standing on dirty hard floors. They are kept pregnant from the industry most of their life and can barely walk due to their oversized udders. They suffer from metabolic disorders, lameness and painful udder infections. We urgently need a system change towards more animal welfare in dairy production,” says Carolina Cardoso Nagib Nascimento, Expert Farm Animal Welfare at FOUR PAWS. Today, dairy cows give up to 30 litres of milk per day. This high milk yield is taking a high toll on them. They are often fed concentrate feed, made of soy and grains, leading to digestion and metabolic disorders, as opposed to their natural diet which is high in fiber and consists of grass and hay. Furthermore, early on in milk production, dairy cows get emaciated as their bodies can’t take in enough nutrients. 

Cruel separation of mothers and their calves shortly after birth

“To give milk, dairy cows must give birth to a calf every year. It is heartbreaking to see that only within a few hours mothers are cruelly separated from their calves. Instead of feeding their offspring, the entire milk then goes into dairy production, so that humans can quench their thirst. This cruel practice needs to end”

Carolina Cardoso Nagib Nascimento, Expert Farm Animal Welfare at FOUR PAWS

Instead of nursing on their mother’s udders, calves are often fed skimmed milk powder mixed with water and kept isolated in boxes, leading to behavioural disorders, psychological stress and illnesses. To maximise production, mother animals are then inseminated already a few weeks after giving birth. Their lives end prematurely as many are slaughtered and replaced by new animals at the age of five, when milk production decreases, despite a natural life expectancy of 20 years.

Milk & butter: greenhouse gas emissions quadruple compared to plant-based dairy alternatives

About two thirds of all global animal agriculture emissions come from cattle farmed for beef and dairy. Dairy milk generates two to four times more greenhouse gas emissions compared to plant-based milk. This also holds true for butter, for the production of which about four times as many greenhouse gases are emitted (12.1 kg of CO2) than for plant-based spreads (3.3 kg of CO2). “We are having more dairy than our planet can digest. A massive reduction of current milk consumption is urgently needed to save cows, the climate and nature – instead of celebrating the benefits of milk, the industry should take its responsibility, and stop the suffering of cows and to harm to our planet,” says Herman van Bekkem, Program Lead Climate at FOUR PAWS. To stay within health and planetary boundaries, the scientifically renowned EAT Lancet Commission recommends a maximum of 250 grams of milk per day per person. This is equivalent to one glass of milk or one slice of gouda cheese. FOUR PAWS promotes to reduce, refine and replace animal products.

Cows inside factory farming

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Vera Mair PR International Officer

Vera Mair

PR International Officer


+43 (0) 664 409 05 16

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FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. www.four-paws.org

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