Free-range cows are a modern invention | Letters

‘Cows are rather inscrutable when it comes gauging their emotional state,’ writes Patrick Devlin. Photograph: Finbarr Webster/Rex/Shutterstock

The overarching assumption in Joanna Blythman’s anthropomorphic article on “free range” milk (1 March) is that it’s better for cows to graze on pasture than be kept, milked and fed in a closed environment.

That grazing is more “natural” (and so better) is a silly assumption. None of our domesticated beasts have led a “natural” life for thousands of years now and are evolved into creatures that are as dependent on us and our care as we are on them. If we use as a measure of “happiness” or “contentedness” the milk-yield of each cow and its susceptibility to illness, indoor husbandry wins hands down over traditional farming every time. “Cows belong in fields” may have an emotional appeal – but in a world of daft slogans it is surely one of the daftest.

Cows are rather inscrutable when it comes gauging their emotional state but one emotion that is unmistakable is the love between a cow and its calf. We routinely break this loving bond, of course, in dairy farming, causing horrible anguish to mother and offspring – as any farmer will tell you. The cries of the two bereaved beasts is awful to hear. But this “animal welfare” problem is probably insoluble and all of us, animal welfare activists included, have to go on pretending that it doesn’t matter.

People who care about animals should concern themselves with trying to ensure that, following Brexit, we don’t in this country become consumers of animal products from countries where animal welfare legislation is unheard of or completely disregarded.
Patrick Devlin
Wembworthy, Devon

• It is welcoming to see the feature in G2, which clearly seeks to improve consumer awareness about the treatment of farmed animals. What is absent, however, are the details which show that, behind labels such as “free range” and “outdoor reared”, life for farmed animals is far from idyllic. How many people would know, for example, that even during the production of free range products, calves are separated from their mothers shortly after birth and male chicks who cannot lay are gassed? Cows and chickens who can no longer produce large enough quantities of milk and eggs meet their bloody end at the slaughterhouse. If consumers wish to protect animals, the environment and their health, the best option is to cut out animal products and go vegan. With delicious options readily available in health food stores, supermarkets and coffee shop chains, it has never been so easy to enjoy a cruelty-free meal.
Luke Steele
Farming and slaughter campaigns manager, Animal Aid

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