Can dairy milk be "ahimsa milk"?
Updated: May 27
As the sustainability movement evolves to a focus on cruelty-free practices, an ever increasing portion of the global population is becoming more fully aware of the cruelty within the commercial dairy farming industry. In response, some "ahimsa milk" brands are cropping up. They advertise themselves as being cruelty-free and slaughter-free. But, does treating dairy cows with less cruelty and committing to not slaughter adequate enough to meet the principle of ahimsa?
Let's start with the meaning. In recent times, the intricate concept of ahimsa has been boiled down into the simplistic interpretation of “non-violence.” However, it has a more nuanced and richer meaning that goes beyond a basic interpretation of non-violence or cruelty-free. Ahimsa is an ethical Vedic concept that was first used in the ancient Veda and Mahabharata texts thousands of years ago. While the literal translation is the absence of harm or injury, the complete meaning is the dual practice of: 1) refraining from the intention of causing direct or indirect harm 2) actively acting with compassion towards other living beings and ourselves The goal of ahimsa is to have the right relationship with ourselves and with others through practicing universal compassion in our thoughts, words and actions. Using this lens, let's evaluate "ahimsa milk" dairy farming practices. These dairy farms reduce direct and indirect harm towards dairy cows through a combination of practices such as providing more pasture, never killing the cow, permitting baby calves to drink milk from their mothers, milking cows by hand, and not using artificial insemination. However, these dairy farms continue to exploit dairy cows for their reproductive systems. They confine dairy cows as property, decide when it's time for a dairy cow to become pregnant, extract breast milk that was intended for the baby calf, and then use or sell that milk as part of their commercial business. Additionally, raising dairy cows in less confined pastures and not slaughtering them (and their offspring) when they have no economic value would result in increased land, water, and feed requirements necessary to support all of the dairy cows and their offspring. This practice would not be sustainable nor economically viable, raising doubts about "ahimsa milk" claims, while also siphoning off precious resources needed to feed the world's population. "Ahimsa milk" is a step in the right direction and improves the current plight of commercial dairy cows. But, if alternative options are available and accessible, then continuing to exploit and profit from imposing our will on another is not consistent with practicing universal compassion towards other living beings and cannot be considered ahimsa. Can dairy milk be "ahimsa milk"? Yes, for a baby calf!