A Campaign to Make European Cows Happier

Blame it on all those lattes and cappuccinos, but Europeans are the world’s leaders when it comes to the production and consumption of milk. Despite this, Europe’s 23 million dairy cows have no specific legislation protecting them when it comes to standards of housing, health, food, or behavior.

The Supporting Better Dairy Campaign—launched this week by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), Ben & Jerry’s, and Compassion in World Farming—seeks to change that by launching the first European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) that addresses animal welfare.

“Getting more milk means more welfare problems,” said Suzi Morris, the UK director of WSPA, “The number of cows is actually decreasing while the amount of milk consumed is increasing so with that, we need to make sure that cows’ welfare is safeguarded.”

The ECI is a new method for public participation in governance which began in the EU in April of this year. It requires one million signatures from citizens residing in at least 7 of the EU’s 27 member states in order to get consideration from the European Commission and to be put into law. While there are some concerns over the difficulty of collecting signatures online using the ECI framework, 89 percent of Europeans polled in a recent survey expressed that they saw a need for legislation protecting dairy cows, with 81 percent saying they would sign a petition to enforce this.

The initiative, if passed, will act as a baseline requirement for all European dairy farmers rather than an opt-in certification scheme like Fair Trade or organic. The specifics of the initiative were modeled after legislation that governs dairy production in Sweden (the only EU country that currently has welfare standards for dairy cows) and includes daily access to pasture for grazing; minimum space allowances; prohibiting “tethering” or the restraint of cows; addressing widespread instances of mastitis and lameness seen in dairy cows; regular checks by veterinarians; and yield expectations that do not exceed the natural limits of a lactating cow.

“At the moment there is no way of knowing where your milk comes from unless you buy organic,” Morris said. “Any other milk that you buy in Europe is just going to mixed up whether its got high welfare standards, low welfare standards or medium standards. So this campaign is about creating a level playing field and having a basic minimum.”

No brand is perhaps more responsible for the public perception of happy dairy cows in an open green field than Ben & Jerry’s itself, which emblazons images of Vermont pastures on all their ice cream tubs. Prior to the current campaign, Ben & Jerry’s launched its Caring Dairy initiative in 2003 in an effort to source its dairy from sustainable farms.

“We came up with our own voluntary standards nine years ago and in consultation with our own farmers,” said Ilaria Ida, the social mission manager for Ben & Jerry’s. “We know that not only is it possible, it’s actually desirable for [farmers]. It’s not only a competitive advantage, but in general, a happy cow makes a happy farmer because you have a healthy animal that you can continue milking for a bit longer.”

Flickr: The Digital Story

Rosie Spinks

Rosie Spinks is a freelance journalist from California with a degree in Environmental Studies. Her work has been published in publications including Sierra magazine, GOOD magazine, the Ecologist, and the Guardian Environment Network. A passion for travel, running barefoot outdoors, and reconnecting people to what is good dominates most of her thoughts. You can follow her writing on Twitter and Tumblr.