WHY I AM JOINING PETA IN
SUING THE CALIFORNIA MILK BOARD OVER THEIR "HAPPY COWS COME FROM
CALIFORNIA" AD CAMPAIGN
By John Robbins
The Food Revolution
As the only son of the founder of the
Baskin-Robbins ice cream empire, I grew up eating plenty of ice
cream and being groomed to take over the family business.
However, I became aware of the tremendous suffering of dairy
cows and their calves and the devastating impact dairy
production has on the environment. Instead of following in my
father's footsteps, I turned away from the family business and
committed myself to working for a more compassionate and
environmentally responsible world.
In my books, including Diet for a New
America and The Food Revolution, I detail the
horrific abuses suffered by dairy cows and their calves and the
detrimental impact that large-scale animal operations,
particularly those in California's dairy industry, have on human
health and the environment. The books are international
bestsellers, which reinforces my belief that these are issues of
great importance to people. And the issues are nowhere more
fully exemplified than in California.
The average size of a California dairy herd is
more than ten times the national average. The amount of milk
produced yearly by the average California cow is now nearly
3,000 pounds more than the national average. This increased
production is achieved at great cost to the animals. The vast
majority of California's dairy cows are kept on dirt and mud.
They're repeatedly impregnated in order to keep them producing
milk. Their male calves are taken from them and slaughtered or
condemned to languish tethered within the small confines of veal
crates. And when dairy cows can no longer produce the
unnaturally high amounts of milk required of them, they are
The life of the California cow today is not a
happy one. It is a life filled with difficulty and misery. Are
we going to hold our advertisers accountable to reality? Are we
going to ask that what they tell us bare some resemblance to the
truth? The California Milk Advisory Board has built an
advertising campaign that portrays the life of these animals as
one of ease and comfort. By its very name, "Happy Cows," the ads
deceive consumers and betray any sense of moral or responsible
stewardship that the industry has toward these animals.
The ads present the California dairy industry
as a bucolic enterprise that operates in lush, grassy pastures.
This is completely false. Most California dairy cows are kept in
dry feedlots that are a far and painful cry from the green
pastures the ads portray. The ads show calves in meadows talking
happily to their mothers. This is completely false. The calves
born to California dairy cows typically spend only 24 hours with
their mothers, and some do not even get that much. The
defendants employ the slogan "So much grass, so little time,"
implying that the living conditions of California dairy cows are
luxuriant with grass. This is completely false. A more accurate
slogan would be "So many cows, so little space."
The ads propagate the image that California
dairy cows live in natural conditions and the practices of the
dairy industry are in harmony with the environment. Once again,
this is completely false. The amount of excrement produced each
year by the dairy cows in the 50-square mile area of
California's Chino Basin would make a pile with the dimensions
of a football field and as tall as the Empire State Building.
When it rains heavily, dairy manure in the Chino Basin is washed
straight into the Santa Ana River and some makes its way into
the aquifer that supplies half of Orange County's drinking
The 1,600 dairies in California's Central
Valley produce more excrement than the entire human population
of Texas. About 20 million Californians (65% of the state's
population) rely on drinking water that is threatened by
contamination from nitrates and other poisons stemming from
dairy manure. Nitrates have been linked to cancer and birth
Many consumers today are willing to pay extra
for products that have been produced humanely and with respect
for the environment. If you are selling eggs from free-range
chickens, you can sell them for a higher price than
conventionally produced eggs. If you are selling bread made from
organically grown wheat, you can get a higher price for it. But
if you were to tell the public that your eggs were free-range
when this was false, or if you were to tell the public that the
wheat in your bread was organic when this wasn't true, your
actions would be dishonest and criminal. You would be attempting
to take advantage of the people who place great value on and are
willing to pay more for humanely raised animal products and
Earth-friendly food. In much the same way, the Milk Board's
"Happy Cow" ad campaign portrays California dairy products as
humanely produced in harmony with the environment, when this is
not the case.
The Milk Board defends the ads by saying they
are entertaining, and are not intended to be taken seriously.
However, the Milk Board is not in the entertainment business. It
is not spending hundreds of millions of dollars on this ad
campaign to amuse the public, but in order to increase the sales
of California dairy products.
The Milk Board says the ads show talking cows,
and no one thinks cows talk. This is true. But there are a large
number of consumers who are willing to pay extra for humanely
raised animal products, and products raised in Earth-friendly
ways. There is not a similar movement of consumers demanding
animal products from talking animals.
The Milk Board knows that showing calves being
ripped away from their mothers and confined in tiny veal crates
won't sell their product. Neither will showing emaciated, lame
animals, who have collapsed from a lifetime of hardship and
over-milking, being taken to slaughterhouses and having their
throats slit. But this is the reality of the California dairy
industry. Covering up this misery with fantasy ads of happy cows
is irresponsible, and, we contend, unlawful.
I am joining with People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals in a lawsuit that challenges the Milk
Board's ads as unlawfully deceptive. It is inhumane to inflict
widespread suffering on cows and their calves. It is inexcusable
to poison the state's ground water basins. It is dishonest to
deceive consumers about this animal suffering and environmental
devastation. And it would be irresponsible to sit by and do
nothing while the Milk Board continues in this deceptive course
Question: Don't you think the ads are
I think they are clever, but they are only
funny if you don't take animal suffering seriously. There's
nothing funny about cruelty, and misleading the public does not
become legitimate when it is done in an "entertaining" way.
Question: You are joined in this lawsuit by
PETA. Aren't your complaints about the ads something that only
vegetarians and animal rights advocates would make?
The consumers who want the animal products
they buy to be from humanely raised animals can be found in
every segment of society. McDonald's has recently increased the
size of the cages in which their chickens are kept, and
decreased the number of birds in the cages. They have made this
change at considerable cost, because they recognize the strength
of the market demand from their customer base for more humanely
raised poultry. Burger King and Taco Bell have made similar
changes. The customer bases for these fast food franchises are
not primarily vegetarian, nor are they made up of animal rights
advocates. On the contrary, they are composed of mainstream
Americans. Consideration for the plight of animals is a central
part of the American character. It is an essential part of who
we are as a people. Abraham Lincoln was not speaking only for
vegetarians or for animal rights advocates when he said, "I care
not much for a man's religion whose dog or cat aren't the better
Question: Are you joining this lawsuit
because you are a vegetarian?
No. Being a vegetarian is a personal choice.
It is not a personal choice whether you tell the truth about
products you are marketing to the public. That's obligatory.
It's not a personal choice whether you abide by the law and tell
the truth. That's mandatory.
In fact, it is the non-vegetarian population
that is more the victim of this ad campaign. Many vegetarians do
not consume any kind of dairy products, so this kind of false
advertising actually affects them less.
Question: Aren't all ads like this? When I
buy a beer, I don't expect to get two women in bikinis standing
next to me.
Many ads exploit the desires of people for
happier and more exciting lives, and some do cross a line and
become ethically marginal. But the "happy cow" campaign is
uniquely irresponsible and deplorable. Our society is not
experiencing a concerted and serious social movement composed of
people from all walks of life demanding that commercial beer
products come with women in bikinis. There is, however, exactly
that kind of movement demanding that dairy and other animal food
products come from humanely treated animals and environmentally
sustainable practices. The "happy cow" ads are an insult to the
legitimate humanitarian concerns of millions of people.
Question: Are California cows treated any
better than cows in other states?
No. The reality is actually the opposite.
California's dairy industry is concentrated for the most part in
the dry Central valley, which is now the number one
milk-producing area in the United States. Here, the cows are
typically kept in dirt feedlots, unlike the green pastoral
fields common in Wisconsin, for example, where there is much
higher annual rainfall. California dairy cows are kept in larger
numbers in smaller areas than anywhere else in the country. In
1998, when the national average dairy herd size was 60 cows,
California herds averaged 650 cows.
Furthermore, California dairy cows are pushed
to produce more milk per cow than cows in other states. In 2000,
the nationwide annual average milk production per cow was 18,204
pounds; in California, the average was 21,169 pounds - nearly
3,000 pounds greater.
When dairy cows are made to give vastly more
milk than their bodies are designed for, nutrients such as
calcium and magnesium that would otherwise be used for the
animals' nutritional needs are diverted to the milk the cows
produce. As a result, California cows suffer from brittle,
broken bones, and many forms of disease, or emaciation and
weakness to the point that they cannot stand up.
Question: The Milk board says that PETA has
already filed this complaint with the Federal Trade Commission
(FTC), and it was rejected. Are you and PETA just fishing for
someone who will take it on?
No. Earlier this year, PETA filed a complaint
with the FTC over the deceptive dairy ads. On October 7, 2002,
the FTC sent PETA a letter making the historic finding that the
humane treatment of farm animals is, in fact, an important issue
for consumers. The FTC declined to allocate its resources to
take formal action against the Milk Board, but stated that its
decision "should not be construed as a formal Commission
determination of whether or not the challenged advertising
campaign complies with FTC advertising law."
Question: What are you trying to accomplish
with this lawsuit?
My ideal goal would actually not be to ban the
ads. My preference would rather be to see the dairy industry
reconcile the discrepancy between the conditions portrayed in
the ads and the actual reality. If the industry treated cows in
the manner exhibited in the ads, I'd drop the suit in a
However, since I think this is unlikely, I am
expecting the court to take animal suffering seriously, and put
a stop to these deceptive ads. Furthermore, I would like to see
an effort made to rectify the damage done by the ads. For
example, I would like to see the Milk Board pay fines at a level
commensurate with what they've paid for the "happy cow"
campaign; I'd like to see them required to pay for announcements
in which they apologize for defrauding the public. And I'd like
to see a public service educational campaign undertaken to
educate people of all ages about preventing cruelty to animals,
and the importance of compassion for all life.
Happy Cows? You Decide.
Against the CMAB
California Milk Board Can't Be Sued for
'Happy Cows' Campaign