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This article provides summarized information about cattle in the context of animal rights, including injustices and suffering, humane labels and certifications, sentience and cognition, the environmental consequences of cattle farming, the health risks of beef, and impacts to communities and workers.

General Information


Cattle are "domesticated quadrupeds held as property or raised for use," or more specifically "bovine animals on a farm or ranch."[1] We use this word reluctantly because of its etymology from property,[2] but related words, as shown below, don't adequately describe our topic, while cattle does.

Bovine is sometimes used as a synonym for cattle, but zoologically means "any of a subfamily (Bovinae) of bovids including oxen, bison, buffalo, and their close relatives."[1]

Cow is sometimes used generically to refer to male and female cattle, but technically is "the mature female of cattle (genus Bos)."[1] The word can also used for females of other species, such as elephants and whales.

Calf refers to "the young of the domestic cow." It is also used for the young of related species such as bison, as well as certain other mammals like whales and elephants.[1]

Livestock denotes "animals kept or raised for use or pleasure." It is usually used for farm animals.[1]

Heifer refers to "a young cow, especially one that has not had a calf."[1]

Steer usually means "a male bovine animal and especially a domestic ox (Bos taurus) castrated before sexual maturity." It can also refer to "an ox less than four years old."[1]

Bull means "a male bovine," particularly an uncastrated adult. It is also used to refer to adult males of various other species, such as whales and elephants.[1]

Ox refers to "a domestic bovine mammal (Bos taurus)," or more broadly simply a bovine mammal. It is sometimes used to mean "an adult castrated male domestic ox."[1]


Cattle were domesticated from the now-extinct aurochs (wild ox) at least twice, and possibly three times.[3] In the near east, they were domesticated about 10,500 years ago,[4] while on the Indian subcontinent they were domesticated about 7000 years ago. The latter are known as zebu cattle and differ in several ways — for example, they have humps and upright horns. There may also have been a third domestication event in Africa, though this is controversial. Modern domestic cattle are significantly smaller than their wild ancestors.[5] Historically, they have been used for meat, milk, leather, and transport.[4]


Worldwide, over 352 million cattle are slaughtered for meat each year, while over 290 million are killed by the dairy industry. In the United States alone, over 32.82 million are killed annually for meat and over 9.35 million for dairy.

Using data from the USDA Census of Agriculture and the EPA's definitions of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, the Sentience Institute estimates that 70.4 percent of cows in the USA are factory-farmed.[6] The figures for other industrialized nations are likely to be similar.

Injustices and Suffering

The injustices inherent in exploiting cattle and other non-human animals stem from seeing them as commodities having only instrumental value, lacking any inherent worth apart from their usefulness to humans.

As Tom Regan put it, the animals we use "have a life of their own that is of importance to them, apart from their utility to us. They are not only in the world, they are aware of it and also of what happens to them. And what happens to them matters to them. Each has a life that fares experientially better or worse for the one whose life it is."

As shown in the section on sentience and cognition, cattle not only have a will to live and value their lives, just as humans do, but also have desires, preferences, emotions, families, social communities, natural behaviors, a sense of themselves, and a sense of the future.

The injustices discussed below—all arising from a failure to recognize the inherent worth of other sentient beings—are either standard practice or not unusual. And, as shown in the section below on humane labels and certifications, this is true even for products with a humane label or certification. To omit a significant number of these injustices would likely render the cost of such products unaffordable by all but the most affluent, and we would still have to slaughter them.

As shown below, the injustices and cruelties that cattle must endure are many and often draconian. The life of a dairy cow is particularly egregious because the cycle of artificial insemination, separation from offspring, and mechanical milking repeats for 4 or 5 years until she is slaughtered, usually for cheap meat.[7]

Loss of Life

To take the life of any sentient being is to harm that being by depriving them of opportunities for fulfillment, even if it is done suddenly and painlessly (which it is not, as explained below).

We have no nutritional need for beef or for cow milk (or any animal product) so denying cattle their lives is unnecessary, as are the other forms of suffering enumerated here. Not only are we taking their lives—we are doing so after allowing them to live just a fraction of their natural lifespans. Dairy cows are slaughtered after living 20 percent of a 15-20-year natural lifespan, while cattle used for beef are slaughtered after living less than 7 percent of a 15-20-year natural lifespan.


According to the Humane Slaughter Act in the USA, cattle are required to be rendered insensible before slaughter.[8] However, very fast line speeds and poorly trained workers mean that animals are often improperly stunned and still conscious when their throats are slit. Workers have reported cattle blinking and looking around when they are supposed to be dead. As a result, many cows have their limbs cut off and even their hides removed while fully conscious. According to one former USDA inspector, this happens on a daily basis all over the US.[9]

When slaughter plants are caught violating laws, action is rarely taken. One technician was even fired for reporting the violations. USDA inspectors, who are responsible for enforcing humane slaughter standards, complain that they have little access to the kill floor and do not receive support from plant supervisors.[9]


Dehorning and Disbudding

Dehorning. Cows and calves (including females) often have their horns removed to prevent them from injuring people or other animals. A USDA report found that cattle were dehorned on 94 percent of American dairy farms.[10]

This process involves cutting through bone and horn tissue with either a wire, a saw, or a mechanical gouger, which has been shown to be painful.[11] According to Temple Grandin, an expert in humane livestock handling, it is very stressful and "the single most painful thing we do." She stresses that anesthetic should always be used,[12] although in practice it is usually not used.[11] Calves may be in pain for several hours — if not longer — following the procedure.[13] When done on adult cattle, it increases their risk of infection, sinusitis, and prolonged wound healing.[14]

Disbudding. In calves under two months of age, the horns have not yet attached to the skull. When the procedure is carried out at this stage, it is called "disbudding." It is usually done with either a hot iron or caustic paste.[11] In one survey, almost half of farmers said that calves appeared to be in pain for more than a few minutes after disbudding.[14] Studies suggest that wounds from hot iron disbudding may still be sensitive 75 hours later.[15]

Some farmers selectively breed for polled cattle, meaning those without horns. However, this is far from widespread and dehorning and disbudding procedures are still common.[16]


Male calves are usually castrated to reduce aggression and prevent reproduction. This may be carried out physically, chemically, or hormonally, though physical methods are most typical. Pain relief is often not used for younger calves.[17] However, studies show that the most common methods of physical castration (rubber ring, Burdizzo, and surgery) all cause acute pain.[18] This is evidenced by behaviors such as struggling, kicking, foot stamping, restlessness, reduced food intake, and lying down more than usual.[19]

Rubber ring method. This involves using an elastic band to prevent blood from flowing into the testicles and scrotum so that they eventually fall off. It is usually used on younger calves and can cause infections like tetanus and blackleg.[17]

Burdizzo. A Burdizzo is a metal clamp used to crush the blood vessels leading to the testicles. This causes the testicles to initially swell and then shrivel.[17]

Surgical castration. This involves making incisions in the scrotum and pulling out the testicles, then cutting the cord containing the blood vessels and spermatic cord. It results in an open wound, meaning there is a risk of infection.[17]

Chemical castration. This means injecting chemicals into the testicular parenchyma to cause permanent damage. Studies suggest it is as painful or even more painful than surgical castration. Wounds take longer to heal and do not heal as well.[20]

Hormonal castration. Usually, this involves injecting immunocontraceptives into the body.[21] It is not common as it is considered less effective than physical methods of castration.[19]


Cattle are often branded with hot irons as a method of identification. According to USDA data, 20.5 percent of cattle in the US were branded in 2007-8, the latest years for which data is available at the time of writing.[22] During the process, cattle show symptoms such as kicking, tail flicking, vocalizations, and falling down, indicating that it is painful (as if there could be any doubt).[23] Evidence shows that the resulting wound likely remains painful for at least eight weeks.[24]

Tail docking

Dairy cows sometimes have their tails docked as it is believed to improve hygiene during milking. However, there is no evidence to support this.[25] A 2008 survey carried out in the USA found that 82.3 percent of cows had their tails docked.[26]

Tail docking is carried out without anesthetic, usually using either a knife or a rubber band. It causes acute pain,[27] and there is evidence that it also causes chronic pain.[28]

Cows use their tails to keep flies away, but docked cows are unable to do this. Studies show that they are attacked by more flies as a result.[27]

Living Conditions


Beef cattle are usually born in the winter or spring and raised on pasture for the first seven months of their lives.[29] In the fall, they may be sent to feedlots.[29] This often involves being transported for hundreds of miles.[30] On feedlots, thousands of cattle are crammed into and made to stand in small pens that quickly fill up with waste.[31] The aim is to fatten them up quickly, so they are fed an unnatural grain-based diet that makes them extremely bloated. This can be so extreme that it compresses the lungs, impairing breathing and sometimes even causing death. It can also cause liver abscesses.[32]

The huge amounts of manure on feedlots emit gases like methane and ammonia, which may give cows chronic respiratory problems.[33] Cows may also be given antibiotics to make them grow faster and stave off disease in the filthy conditions.[34]

Factory Farms

Most dairy cows are raised on factory farms where they have no access to pasture. Undercover investigations have shown cows forced to stand knee-deep in waste on concrete floors.[35] Others have shown cows with swollen or ulcerated leg joints and huge swellings oozing pus and blood. The cows were not given veterinary care and some were found lying dead in the manure.[36]

Despite being herbivores, many cows are fed unnatural diets that include fish and chicken feathers. This is because high-protein diets increase their milk production.[37] By the time cows are 4 years old, they are worn out from constant milk production and sent to slaughter. Their natural lifespan is about 20 years.

Mechanical Milking

Cows on factory farms are milked by machines rather than by hand. Machine milking usually takes place two to three times a day and lasts 5-7 minutes each time.[38]

There is evidence that machine milking is harmful and uncomfortable. Teats often become swollen after milking and may become callused when it is done regularly. This does not occur when cows are allowed to suckle their calves naturally.[39]

These changes in the skin of the teats make it easier for bacteria to penetrate, increasing the cow's risk of mastitis (discussed later on). Automated milking machines also allow cows to be milked more frequently, meaning there is less recovery time.[39]

Denial of Natural Behaviors

Nurturing and Being Nurtured

In the dairy industry, calves are usually taken from their mothers almost immediately after birth. This is very upsetting for both mother and calf. Mother cows have strong maternal instincts and often call for their calves for hours or even days after separation.[40][41] Calves are often kept in isolation for at least a few weeks after birth, and will never be nurtured by their mothers. Studies suggest that this has long-term effects — for example, calves separated from their mothers cope worse with stress than those allowed to remain with them.[42]


Cattle are often not permitted to reproduce naturally. Instead, females are artificially impregnated without their consent[43] (described below), while most males are castrated (discussed above).[17]

Social Behaviours

Cows on dairy farms are sometimes kept in isolation. This is a stressful experience as they are not able to carry out natural behaviors like grooming. Attempts to reduce stress with automated grooming brushes have proved unsuccessful.[44] One study also found that cows have best friends and become stressed when separated from them.[45]

Reproduction and Breeding

Artificial Insemination

Worldwide, approximately a fifth of cows are impregnated by artificial insemination[46]. It is much more widely used in dairy cattle than beef cattle — approximately 78 percent of dairy cows in the United States are impregnated this way,[47] compared to less than 10 percent of beef cattle.[48] The procedure calls for an entire human arm being inserted into the cow's anus to guide the semen injection gun which is inserted through the cow's vulva.[43]

Semen Collection

Teaser Bull. To artificially inseminate a cow, semen must be collected. This involves a teaser-bull, usually a male, and an involuntary donor bull. The "donor" bull is manipulated into becoming aroused and mounting the teaser bull. Semen is collected in an artificial vagina,[49] also known as a "loving cup" by the industry.[50]

Electroejaculation. In the US dairy industry, semen is sometimes collected by electroejaculation. This method is normally used with bulls who can't be easily handled or aren't capable of mounting.[49] It involves placing an electric probe into a bull's rectum and slowly increasing the setting until the bull ejaculates. The process is painful and distressing, and no pain relief is given. Bulls kick and try to get away,[51] sometimes collapsing before they ejaculate.[52]


Most male calves born to dairy cows are useless to the industry as they cannot produce milk. As a result, they may be raised for veal instead.[53] Many veal calves spend their lives confined in tiny crates measuring as little as one by two meters. These are designed to prevent them from moving so that they do not build up muscle and their flesh stays tender. They may also be fed milk substitutes that are deficient in iron because pale veal is considered more desirable.[54] These living conditions make veal calves very susceptible to illnesses like diarrhea and chronic pneumonia.[55]

However, the popularity of veal has declined in recent years,[56] partially due to animal welfare concerns.[57] Unfortunately, this means that many male dairy calves are now shot shortly after birth. In 2018, an investigation carried out by the Guardian revealed that 95,000 male calves per year are slaughtered at birth in the UK alone.[58] Figures for the United States are not available, but undercover footage from the country has shown newborn male calves being shot.[59]

Handling and Transport

Abuse and Forced Movement

When they arrive at slaughterhouses, cattle who are too sick or frightened to get off the truck may be beaten, dragged with chains, kicked, shot, or shocked with electric prods.[60] Investigations have also shown cows on factory farms being beaten, including in sensitive areas like their udders.[36]

Cruel Transport

Cattle are often transported for hours or even days to reach slaughterhouses. They usually have no access to food or water and are subject to extreme weather conditions. Legally, they can be transported in this way for up to 28 hours at a time.[61] According to one former USDA inspector, many cattle are transported as far as 1500 miles with up to 45 cows crammed into each trailer. Trailers are open and in winter cows' hooves may freeze to the urine and manure. Those who are unable to stand have no choice but to lie in the waste.[62]

Disease and Mortality


Mastitis is an infectious disease involving the persistent inflammation of a cow's udder tissue. It is extremely common on modern factory farms — a USDA report found that 24.8 percent of dairy cows in the USA had the disease at some point in 2014. In a small number of cases, it was fatal.[63] Studies have shown that it causes pain and discomfort, especially as it makes it uncomfortable for cows to lie down.[64]


A downer cow is one who is unable to rise. There are a number of potential causes, but one of the most common is "milk fever," which occurs shortly after a cow gives birth.[65] Modern dairy cows have been selectively bred to produce much more milk than their ancestors, which is difficult for their bodies to sustain. As a result, they may become deficient in nutrients such as calcium, causing milk fever.[66]

While some downer cows recover, many do not and are euthanized.[65] In the USA, it is illegal to send downed cattle to slaughter. However, a loophole in the law allows some downed cattle to be slaughtered anyway. If cattle are able to stand when inspected by the USDA prior to slaughter, they can be killed — even if they later become downers.[67]

Undercover investigations have documented cruel treatment of downer cows at slaughterhouses, including being dragged with chains, shocked with electric prods, rammed with forklift trucks, and sprayed with a hose to simulate drowning.[68] A 2006 audit carried out by the USDA’s Office of Inspector General found downer cows being moved to slaughter with a forklift truck.[69]


Lameness is extremely common in high-yielding dairy cows. This is partly because their udders become so large that there is much more weight on their inner claws than on the outer ones. Studies show that the more milk a cow produces, the more prone she is to lameness.[70] Some other factors contributing to lameness include standing on concrete floors, badly done hoof trimming, and poor hygiene, which can lead to bacterial infections.[71]

Metabolic Diseases

Because of the huge demands placed on dairy cows' bodies by increased milk production, they often cannot eat enough food to sustain themselves. As a result, many develop metabolic diseases such as milk fever (discussed above), ketosis, and fatty liver syndrome.[66]

Humane Labels and Certifications

Investigations by Consumer Reports and the Open Philanthropy Project (and others) reveal that humane-sounding labels and certifications are largely meaningless, as shown below. In general, these investigations reveal that the standards are weak and unenforced, audits and inspections are rarely done, and if they are done and violations are found, which is infrequent, no one gets fined.[72][73]

Here we address the most common labels and certifications for cattle. Some labels and certifications cover some forms of abuse, and others cover different forms of abuse, but none address all forms of abuse.

Pasture Raised

According to Consumer Reports, “government agencies have no common standard that producers have to meet to make a 'pasture raised' claim on a food label, no definition for ‘pasture,’ and no requirement for the claim to be verified through on-farm inspections.”[76]

Grass Fed

In 2016 the USDA stopped regulating the grass fed label,[77] allowing producers to use the label no matter how much or little grass was used in feeding. Given that "most all beef cattle spend at least a portion of their lives on grass,"[78], the notion that the grass-fed claim confers something special is questionable.


Some have the perception that organic means humanely raised, but that is not the case. Organic farmers are free to treat their animals no better than non-organic farmers. This is because the USDA, which controls the organic label in the United States, ruled that the label does not allow "broadly prescriptive, stand-alone animal welfare regulations."[79]

Consumer Reports informs us that while there are organic standards relating to animals, they lack clarity and precision, letting producers with poor standards sell poultry and eggs.[80]

Certified Humane

Consumer Reports says that "we do not rate Certified Humane as a highly meaningful label for animal welfare, because the standards do not have certain requirements that a majority of consumers expect from a 'humanely raised' label, such as access to the outdoors."[81]

Whole Foods' Global Animal Partnership (GAP) certified

The Open Philanthropy Project criticized Whole Foods' Global Animal Partnership (GAP) for having weak enforcement and for providing only slight improvements over standard factory farming conditions.[82]

GAP doesn't even publish standards for dairy cows, arguably the most abused of any of the farmed mammals.

American Humane Certified

According to Consumer Reports, "the requirements fall short in meeting consumer expectations for a 'humane' label in many ways."[83]

Sentience and Cognition

While we are not suggesting that the degree of moral consideration given to an animal be based on their cognitive capacity, it seems that most people are not fully aware of the rich cognitive, emotional, and psychological lives that cattle experience.

Emotional Lives

Cattle experience fear and anxiety in stressful situations, shown by behaviors such as escape attempts and vocalizations. They show signs of frustration when separated from their calves or shown food they cannot access. When gently petted, their visible eye white percentage decreases, a sign of positive emotional arousal. They also become more relaxed and their heart rates decrease.[84]

Additionally, there is evidence that cattle experience more complex emotions. In one study, heifers showed signs of excitement after completing a task and receiving a reward, compared with a control group who received a reward without completing a task. This suggests that cattle may have at least some self-awareness and that they enjoy achieving goals.[84]

Studies have shown that calves make more "pessimistic" decisions following a negative experience, showing that their emotional state affects their judgment. They also show that when cattle are stressed, those nearby show signs of stress as well. This is evidence of emotional contagion, sometimes considered to be a basic form of empathy.[84]


We know that cows recognize and respond to their own offspring.[85] But the communication abilities of this highly gregarious species go far beyond that. A 2019 study reveals that they have unique individual voices and distinct vocalizations that allow them to share emotions and ask for support from their companions.[86]

Object Discrimination and Recognition of Others

Cows are able to discriminate between different geometric shapes, the same shapes in varying sizes, and stimuli in different sizes and levels of brightness.[84]

They can also discriminate between different people, showing fear when they encounter those who have treated them roughly. They are even able to tell the difference between people who wear the same clothes. In one study, cows were able to learn which of their handlers would give them a food reward and learned to approach that handler more often. This shows their ability for associative learning.[84]

Cows are also able to discriminate between others of the same species, both those they are familiar with and strangers, and remember this information for at least twelve days. When shown photographs of familiar cows in one study, they recognized them as representations of the individuals they knew. The cows immediately chose photographs of familiar cows over those of unfamiliar ones. This provides evidence that they store mental images of others. The fact that they can recognize others from photographs as well as in real life suggests that they have a "sophisticated visual discrimination capacity."[84]

A Sense of the Future

In one study, a food trolley was slowly pushed along so that cows could follow and eat from it. The trolley was then pushed into a tunnel where the cows couldn't see it. Many of the cows moved to the opposite end of the tunnel to wait for the trolley to emerge. This shows that they can anticipate the future and extrapolate it from the past.[84]

Spatial Learning and Long-Term Memory

Studies show that cattle are skilled at navigating mazes and are able to remember where in the mazes food is located for up to eight hours. Cows in one study remembered the configuration of a maze for as long as six weeks. In another study, cows learned to associate a plastic tub with food and still remembered this information a year later. A literature review concluded that cattle have "robust spatial memory abilities."[84]


Limited research has been done on personality in cattle. However, evidence shows that they do consistently respond differently to situations like being milked. Other studies show that some cattle are more nervous, aggressive, or sociable than others.[84]

Environmental Consequences

The breeding, confinement, and slaughter of cattle have a profoundly negative impact on the environment. It accounts for a large percentage of the environmental damage done by animal agriculture.[87]

You would think that might have some ramifications for personal action, and it does:

  • Researchers from the University of Chicago determined that you reduce your personal contribution to global warming more by changing to a vegan diet than you do by switching to a Prius[88]
  • In 2017, over 15,000 scientists from 184 countries issued a "Warning to Humanity," promoting plant-based eating as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.[89]
  • The Oxford Study was published in 2018 and called the most comprehensive analysis to date of its kind. Joseph Poore, who led the research said "A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth"—"It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car.”

Global Warming

A United Nations study in 2006, Livestock's Long Shadow, said that livestock accounts for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but a study by World Watch Institute three years later said the U.N. report failed to consider some of the factors, and put the figure at 51%.[90][91]

Even at the lower number, animal agriculture contributes more to global warming than all cars, trucks, trains, buses, airplanes, and ships combined—more than the entire transportation sector, which the EPA pegs at 14% globally.[92]

Land Use

All forms of industrialized animal agriculture are land-intensive because livestock are typically fed on crops. Growing these crops, as well as grazing animals on pasture, uses a huge amount of land. In total, about 30 percent of the world's land is devoted to raising livestock.[90] And according to World Wildlife Fund, raising cattle uses more land than all other farmed animals and crops combined.[87] This is leading to significant land degradation and biodiversity loss.[90]

Water Use

Beef production is hugely water-intensive, largely due to the amount of water required to grow the crops eaten by factory-farmed animals.[90] Researchers suggest that at least 2,500 gallons of water are required to produce a single pound of beef, and the figure could be as high as over 11,300 gallons.[93][94]


75 percent of deforestation in Brazil is due to the clearing land for cattle ranching. This was responsible for 50 percent of Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions from 2003-2008.[95] Forests are also cleared in order to grow crops, mainly to feed to livestock.[96]


On factory farms, animals produce huge quantities of waste in a comparatively small area. For example, a farm of 2500 dairy cows can produce as much waste as a city of 411,000 people.[97] This waste is dumped untreated into large "lagoons" or spread across nearby fields. When lagoons overflow or waste runs off the fields, it can contaminate waterways and may even flow as far as the ocean. Since manure is high in nitrogen, it can cause algae in the water to bloom and use up much of the available oxygen — a process known as eutrophication. This creates what is known as a nitrogen-flooded ocean dead zone, where it is difficult for anything else to survive.[98]

Species Extinction

Animal agriculture, including the production of beef and dairy products, contributes to species extinction in many ways. These include:[90]

  • Loss of habitat due to land-use change, for example deforestation.
  • The killing of predators to protect livestock.
  • Contamination of land and water by manure and pesticides/fertilizers (used to grow crops for livestock).
  • Increased global warming, as some species are not able to adapt quickly enough to survive.

Human Health, Nutrition

Food Safety

Pus in Milk

When cows develop mastitis (described previously), their bodies produce pus to fight the infection. Pus and skin shed from cows' udders are known as somatic cells, and they inevitably find their way into the milk.[99] In the USA, it is considered acceptable for a single milliliter of milk to contain up to 750,000 pus and skin cells.[100]

Pathogens in Beef

A 2012 investigation by the Kansas City Star revealed widespread fecal contamination in beef, putting consumers at serious risk of E. coli. Some meat also had abscesses in it. The use of meat tenderizing techniques meant that harmful bacteria were pushed toward the center of the meat, making it less likely that it would be destroyed by cooking.[101]

Diseases and Conditions

Cardiovascular Disease

Cow meat contains saturated fat, cholesterol, and heme iron, which contribute to an increased risk of heart disease.[102][103][104][105] In 2012, a meta-analysis concluded that both red and processed meat are linked to an increased risk of stroke.[106] A Finnish study carried out between 1972 and 1992 found that heart disease rates in the country dropped dramatically when the intake of saturated fat and cholesterol decreased.[107]

Dairy products are typically also high in saturated fat and cholesterol. In particular, cheese is the biggest source of saturated fat in the American diet.[108]


Processed Meat. In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) evaluated 800 studies and concluded that processed meat (such as hamburgers and beef jerky) is a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning it definitely causes cancer. The processing and cooking of meat was found to form various carcinogenic chemicals.[109] Other Group 1 carcinogens include tobacco and asbestos.[110]

Unprocessed Meat. The report also concluded that unprocessed red meat (including cow meat) is Group 2A carcinogen, meaning it is a probable cause of cancer. It has been linked to colorectal, prostate, and pancreatic cancer.[109]

Dairy has also been linked to cancer. According to renowned nutrition researcher Dr. T Colin Campbell, casein (milk protein) is the most relevant cancer promoter ever discovered.[111] Studies show that dairy consumption increases the risk of developing breast and prostate cancers.[112]

Type 2 Diabetes

Red meat is associated with an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, especially if it is processed. This is thought to be because it contains high levels of fat, heme iron, nitrites, and other harmful substances.[113]

Other Conditions

Dairy consumption has also been linked to the following:

  • Autoimmune conditions such as Type 1 diabetes[114] and multiple sclerosis.[115]
  • Digestive problems. Up to 75 percent of the world's population is lactose intolerant, experiencing bloating, gas, cramping, and diarrhea when consuming dairy.[116]
  • Acne.[112]

Animal Protein Risks

All animal protein, including the protein found in beef and cow milk, carries risks that are not associated with plant protein. A review by Dr. Sofia Ochoa cites 42 studies showing that animal protein:[117]

  • elevates hormone-insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), which stimulates cell division and growth in both healthy and cancer cells and "has been consistently associated with increased cancer risk, proliferation, and malignancy"
  • "results in us having higher circulating levels of trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO)," which "injures the lining of our vessels, creates inflammation, and facilitates the formation of cholesterol plaques in our blood vessels"
  • causes the overproduction of the hormone fibroblast growth factor 23 (FGF23), which damages our blood vessels, can "lead to enlargement of the cardiac ventricle, and is associated with heart attacks, sudden death, and heart failure"
  • can result in the overabsorption of heme iron, causing the conversion of other oxidants into highly reactive free radicals that "can damage different cell structures like proteins, membranes, and DNA" (heme iron "has also been associated with many kinds of gastrointestinal cancers")
  • can result in a higher incidence of bone fractures because of animal protein's high concentrations of sulfur
  • contributes to atherosclerosis—plaques of cholesterol that accumulate in the lining of our vessels; this condition is far less common on a vegan diet because absorbable cholesterol is not found in plants

Social Consequences of Cattle Production

Land and Water Contamination

Contamination of water supply: Most waste from factory farms is stored in lagoons. There have been cases of dairy farm lagoons leaking or overflowing and contaminating the local water supply.[98]

Health problems from manure: Manure from factory-farmed animals often contains pathogens, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, toxic chemicals, and heavy metals, which can cause illness if inhaled or ingested.[98]

Exploitation of Slaughterhouse Workers

Slaughterhouse workers have some of the highest injury rates of any industry, as lines move at unsafe speeds and workers handle very sharp knives. Several workers have even been killed in US slaughterhouses. Workers are also prone to repetitive strain injuries from repeating the same movements for hours on end. They are often dismissed when they become injured, leading many to hide their injuries and continue working.[118]

Those who work in slaughterhouses are often undocumented immigrants who speak little English. They may not be aware of their rights and often fear deportation if they try to improve their conditions. Workers may be forced to work excessively long shifts and threatened with dismissal if they refuse. Some are expected to work as much as twelve hours a day, six days a week. TThis can lead to fatigue and depression.[118]

Violence in Slaughterhouse Communities

Committing violent acts against animals leads many workers to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).[119] It may also lead them to commit violence against humans. Rates of violent crime, including domestic abuse and rape, are higher in communities located near a slaughterhouse.[120]


This article was originally authored by Bethany Chester with contributions by Greg Fuller . The contents may have been edited since that time by others.


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