You might be familiar with veal: the flesh of a young cow, used as food. But did you know that if you’re drinking cow’s milk or eating dairy foods, you’re actually supporting the cruel treatment and slaughter of baby cows for veal? Here’s how:

Cows on dairy farms produce milk only for the same reason that humans and other mammals do: to feed their newborn babies. But millions of mother cows on U.S. dairy farms are used in an industry that takes away the milk meant solely for their young.

They are forcibly impregnated over and over for most of their lives to force them to produce milk for human consumption.

Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals 

If given the chance, a mother cow would nurture and care for her baby, but in the commercial dairy industry, workers pull calves away from their mothers just one to three days after birth. This causes both cows and calves extreme distress. Mother cows have been known to cry out for days after their babies have been dragged away from them.

Female calves are either slaughtered or fed a milk replacement (not the milk that the mother cows produce) so that they can one day replace their mothers and be subjected to the same horrid treatment.

cows on factory farms

Here’s where veal comes in: Since males are considered useless to the dairy industry, some of them are shipped off to feedlots to await slaughter, while others—those who will be used for veal—are confined to tiny crates no bigger than 30 inches wide and 72 inches long so that their flesh stays tender, and they’re fed a diet that’s purposely low in iron to make them become anemic so that their flesh stays pale.

Calves raised for veal live short, miserable, and very painful lives. After being isolated and almost completely immobilized in veal crates for their first few months of life, the babies—many of whom can barely walk because of sickness or muscle atrophy—are packed into metal trucks that transport them to the slaughterhouse. On the way there, the terrified calves are often trampled, exposed to extreme temperatures, and denied food, water, or veterinary care. At the slaughterhouse, workers hang them upside down by one leg and slit their throats.

Why do these calves suffer so much? Because people will pay more for soft, pale calf flesh than for meat from adult cows. The demand for dairy foods is also a direct cause of their suffering.

Basically, if you drink cow’s milk or consume dairy, you’re also supporting the slaughter of baby cows.

Many people are already aware that cow’s milk is bad for you, but increasingly, people are starting to realize how much cows in the dairy industry suffer—and how far-reaching the impact of consuming dairy foods truly is.

What You Can Do to Help

The best way to stop the cruel slaughter of baby cows for veal is never to consume dairy. Mother cows have been shown to develop a “strong maternal bond” with their young in as little as five minutes. Without human intervention, calves suckle from their mothers for almost a year. Forcibly separating baby cows from their mothers causes both animals extreme distress.

If you already avoid veal, you’re nearly there. Make the compassionate choice to stop supporting the dairy industry altogether by breaking up with dairy foods. With all the super-delish nondairy milks, cheeses, and more (coconut whipped cream, anyone?), the options are endless.

Check Out Our Guide to Going Vegan to Get Started!