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“Ahimsa Milk”: There Is No Such Thing and Never Could Be

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On September 2, 2017, Sivarama Swami, one of seventy-seven all-male gurus in the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON, popularly known as the Hare Krishna movement), posted a video on Facebook entitled, Can Vegans Consume Milk? In it, he promoted something he calls “ahimsa milk.” That is, milk that is supposedly produced without violence. The video went viral. There’s nothing unusual about non-vegans (and sadly, even many vegans) promoting “happy” exploitation animal products, but in this case, Sivarama Swami suggested that “ahimsa milk” is suitable for vegans. Many vegans were quick to respond in the Facebook comments section to the video that demonstrates a profound lack of understanding of what veganism is, and ignores principles of justice for animals.

Abolitionist vegans are clear that veganism is a moral imperative and that vegans do not consume any animal products. All animal products involve exploitation and violence. “Ahimsa milk” is a pernicious lie.

Critics of this position might object: look at how wonderfully animals are treated on “ahimsa” farms. Take, for example, The Ahimsa Dairy Foundation (ADF), a not-for-profit company inspired by the farm at Bhaktivedanta Manor, in Hertfordshire. It is owned and run by ISKCON and the centre of the Hare Krishna movement in the UK. It’s clear that the ADF farm is being run according to the ISKCON “cow protection” model. They claim that no animal is killed or will ever be killed and that their cows are living a wonderful life on their farm in Leicestershire.

A Daily mail article about the farm run by ADF tells us that their cows;

live on 48 acres of cow heaven, eating only the tenderest, tastiest organic grass available–plus the odd organic carrot or digestive biscuit as a treat. They are fussed over, sung to, stroked, groomed, massaged, respected and revered. They have names such as Buttercup, Violet, Jasmine, Rosie and Cowslip and, however old they get, will never, ever, find themselves looking a steel bolt or electric stun gun in the eye.

What could be wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong is that, as Gary Francione argues, if animals are not just things but sentient nonhuman persons who have moral value, as most people believe, then we cannot treat them as resources however supposedly “humanely” we treat them. We accept this idea when it comes to humans, which is why human slavery—even the most “humane” slavery—is universally condemned. Even though human slavery hasn’t been eradicated, no one any longer defends it. If we are not going to be speciesist, then unless we regard animals as just things completely outside our sphere of moral concern, we are committed to rejecting all animal use, which means embracing veganism. As Francione states, “There is veganism and there is animal exploitation. There is no third choice. If you are not vegan you are participating directly in animal exploitation.”

There is no need to consume any animal products in order to be optimally healthy. Indeed, an increasing number of mainstream healthcare organizations, including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the British Dietetic Association, Dieticians of Canada, the British Nutrition Foundation, the Dietetic Association of Australia, the National Institutes of Health (US), the British National Health Service, and the American Heart Association, have stated that a healthy vegan diet can be just as nutritious as an omnivorous diet. Some health authorities add to this by saying that a vegan diet confers certain health benefits compared to a diet including animal products. In any case, no one can credibly maintain that we need to consume any animal products, including dairy, in order to maintain good health. In addition, it’s inarguable that animal agriculture is extremely destructive to the environment, including being the major contributor to greenhouse gases (at least 51% of the total) and therefore climate change. Animal agriculture is also a significant factor in unjust distribution of food resources contributing to human hunger and starvation.

As far as breeding and raising animals for their flesh or secretions is concerned, although less suffering is certainly better than more suffering, when there is no necessity whatsoever to consume animal products, including dairy, for health, what is the justification for causing any suffering at all? There is none, other than palate pleasure, tradition, and convenience. These do not suffice as justifications for enslaving animals and exploiting them for milk or any other product, however “humanely” it’s done.

In other words, it’s not the way animals are treated, but the fact that they’re used as resources, that is the issue. Exploiting other sentient beings exclusively as resources constitutes himsa–violence. “Reduced,” “humane,” “compassionate,” “spiritual,” or “ahimsic” animal exploitation is still exploitation. If we believe that animals matter morally, no animal exploitation can be justified. There is no way to acceptably violate the fundamental right of animals to not be owned as property and used as resources. So the supposedly (and I stress “supposedly”) idyllic conditions for cows on “ahimsa farms” do not in any way justify their exploitation. We would never defend human slavery because the slave-master gives his slaves nice food and good bedding. We reject human slavery unequivocally. Any other approach to animal exploitation is simply speciesism, based in the belief that animals have less moral value than humans, simply as a reflection of their species. As Francione argues, it’s no more morally acceptable to discriminate on the basis of species than it is to do so on the basis of sex, gender, class, race, ethnicity, sexual preference or any other morally irrelevant criteria.

So it makes not one bit of difference how melodiously mantras are sung to Buttercup, Violet, Jasmine, and friends; how luscious and juicy the grass they eat; whether they get to sleep on waterbeds in a centrally heated barn with piped in music in a selection of six different genres; whether they are adorned with flower garlands, and lavished with daily relaxation massage, aromatherapy, and all the treats they can eat; and even if they are surrounded by well-wishers comforting them and praying for their souls when they pass gently from this world. All of that may mean less suffering compared to life in a standard, commercial dairy, but none of it could possibly justify owning nonhuman persons as property and exploiting them as resources. Non-speciesism requires that we reject all animal use, regardless of treatment. This means rejecting “ahimsa milk” and going vegan.

In fact, contrary to the picture that “happy” exploitation outfits and promoters, such as Sivarama Swami, like to paint, it’s not possible to use animals for milk or any other resource without violence. But even if we could, it would still be morally wrong.

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To learn how to go vegan, see here.

Thanks to my dear abolitionist friend, Balint Balasa, for his feedback and suggestions. 

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0 Comments
  • t.conway1

    Linda– thank you for an excellent critique of this absurdity. The loving, compassionate Hindu deity Krsna would not be pleased by this insidious attempt to maintain speciesism in his name– and would surely be very happy if we liberated him altogether from the obsolete pastoralist (“cowboy”) Indo-Aryan culture that birthed him.

    • Linda McKenzie

      I could not agree more, Timothy, about liberating Krishna from any association with this paradigm of speciesist oppression.

      • Roy Tay

        Wow, t.conway1 seems to be an expert on how to make Krishna happy! However, Krishna (in the Bhagavad Gita) explains that humans are indeed superior to animals. Would you like the verses?

    • Lilavati Eva Pinter

      God doesn’t need to be liberated He loves the cows and they love Him. If you think it is slavery than working for minimum wage also slavery so any business owner stop using us for working for peanuts. When cows treated right,after they fed their calves they still have enough milk and need to be milked because their udder would get infected.

      • Lilavati Eva Pinter: “…When cows treated right, after they fed their calves they still have enough milk and need to be milked because their udder would get infected…”

        Considering the fact that humans created domestic animals with specific characteristics that are beneficial to humans and detrimental for the animals’ survival on their own, and after deliberately bringing the cow into existence and impregnating her with the purpose of getting milk, to say that cows need to be milked is no different from saying that the man’s leg needs to be amputated after we intentionally damaged it.

        “…If you think it is slavery than working for minimum wage also slavery so any business owner stop using us for working for peanuts…”

        Working for a minimum wage, although unjust, is distinct from slavery. Slaves do not work for a wage. Slaves are owned by slave owners and the slave owners have the legal right to do with their property whatever benefits them economically; they have the right to beat, sell, forcibly impregnate, separate families, and even kill them under certain circumstances.

        Domesticated animals are the property of humans and the property owners have the right to do whatever they want with their property. Some owners may choose to treat their animals well just like some property owners may choose to maintain their cars with extra care, but the owners also have the right to get their animals killed if they choose to.

        Low wages and unhealthy working conditions are unfair and we need to address them as well, however the fact that the large proportion of the work force is not being fairly compensated does not give us the green light to engage in other forms of discrimination based on irrelevant criteria such as race, gender, sexual orientation or species.

        By the way, did you read the essay? What did you think about the point “if animals are not just things, but sentient nonhuman persons who have moral value, as most people believe, then we cannot treat them as resources however supposedly “humanely” we treat them.”?

  • T.A. McDonnell

    Thorough, meticulous and altogether brilliant. Kudos to Linda McKenzie & to Ecorazzi for publishing this important essay.

    • Linda McKenzie

      Thank you, Tracy. And thanks to my animal rights mentor, Professor Gary Francione, without whose brilliant and world-changing insights on animal ethics I would have remained clueless on this important social justice issue.

  • Linda McKenzie

    Lilavati, I agree completely with what Balint said regarding the property status of animals and how this means that their situation is not analogous to minimum wage workers, but rather to slaves. I’m sure you reject human slavery. Why would you support animal slavery? The only reason can be speciesism. That’s not an acceptable reason, as it’s nothing more than discrimination based on the morally irrelevant criterion of species, no different than racism and sexism.

    But in any case, we should not be using one form of oppression—that of ruthless exploitation of workers by capitalists—to try to justify another form of oppression. We need to oppose all forms of oppression. They’re all connected.

    And although minimum wage work is not the same thing as slavery, there’s a reason it’s called “wage slavery.” So yes, that needs to end, too, and the sooner the better.

  • Roy Tay

    “There is no way to acceptably violate the fundamental right of animals to not be owned as property and used as resources.”

    With regards to animals being owned as property, are you against the concept of pets? People owning and taking responsibility for cats and dogs?

    • Linda McKenzie

      Yes, we do reject the institution of pet ownership. Pets are property. However, we believe in fostering and adopting animals needing homes while opposing the breeding of more. If you want to know more about our position on pets, have a look at an essay entitled “Why keeping a pet is fundamentally unethical” on the Aeon site. Sorry, I can’t link it. Comments with links get hidden for some reason.

    • Xaviar

      Well, at most her “logic” is consistent here (unlike many so called veeeeegans)… have to give credit where credit is due. Be very leery of people that say or type “sorry” all of the time. The word sorry is usually used as a lie/deception in today’s society.

  • Christine Oyewo

    I do not understand this article. Animal rights come one at a time. I commend Ahimsa. As human beings have to work for survival, so do animals. If not we will not survive. Please note that God expects animals to have a peaceful and good life not contribute nothing. The non slaughter and mother feeding calve policy is very good. This is what our diary farm objectives should be. Land to graze, mother breast feeding calve and no artificial insemination or slaughter or selling for veal. We should be thinking of how to contribute to make this a worthwhile enterprise so other diary farms can follow this practice not condemn it. Human beings will continue to drink milk. We as animal lovers should guide the diary industry towards Ahimsa’s diary practices and guide towards restricted used of milk products for only babies that may need it so that the industry will not be under so much pressure to provide milk which is the actual reason behind intensive farms and animal suffering.
    Human exploitation is almost as bad as slavery. They are similar in that the former can leave but only to starve and suffer and the latter to serve a punishent as a runaway slave. Another name for human exploitation is economic slavery.

    • Xaviar

      Thank you for that lovely read… couldn’t have written it better myself!

  • Para Bhairava

    Thats not animal protection what you do. Its religion. No not hare krishna is religion. YOU! Or better its called extremism. There is no argument against slaughter free farms. Or we have close every sanctuary.

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