Could you be suffering from cow envy?


The ethics of food is so complex. Vegans following a conscientious diet are told they are inadvertently starving Peruvians, causing deforestation and even eating with blood on their vegetarian hands. It’s not easy being green and I don’t blame vegans for being so passionate about their choice.

Life on farm is a microcosm of those ethical dilemmas. Every day, we must make decisions that impact on the well-being of an animal. Often, there is no easy answer. Should we euthanase that cow now or wait although she’s in discomfort in the hope she recovers? Should we raise that calf away from her mother or risk deadly disease transmission? And the big one: should I send heifers to China if milking just won’t pay the bills?

If nothing else, it forces you to stare hard in the mirror and here’s what I see: yes, I am a commercial dairy farmer and, hell yes, I care about our animals and our land.

Although this is something vegans on Twitter seem to find inconceivable, in my experience, this mindset is not only possible but typical of dairy farmers. It’s what keeps us on the land for generations and I am incredibly grateful to be here. My farm may not be a “cow sanctuary” as one vegan put it but I’m doing my best to make sure the cows never realise.

(Special note to my vegan friends: I realise what a privilege this is and wouldn’t blame you for some serious cow envy!)

8 thoughts on “Could you be suffering from cow envy?

  1. Isn’t it quite something that society has developed to such an extent that people can CHOOSE to follow a vegan diet?! Go back a century or two and anyone who made such a choice would live a short and uncomfortable life. Most probably they’d have died from exposure whilst they pondered the ‘morality’ of having to wear clothes that were almost exclusively animal in origin. That raises yet another point, which is that the use of animal products for clothing and other general utility items have been replaced almost exclusively with the by-products of the oil industry..Next time a vegan phones to complain about the way a farm is run, ask them to justify their use of a phone which has a plastic casing and many components made from plastic and then ask them where that plastic came from. And don’t forget to ask if they recharged that phone using solar energy!

    Life is full of contradictions and I’m afraid veganism represents yet another of the foibles and follies of human decision making. Vegans and other anti-farming types seem to forget that most animal farming takes place in those geographical areas where grain growing is not feasible. That’s why Australia, and a good many other countries, have ‘grain belts’. It is the expertise of the farmer that decides what his or her land will grow best. That is also what has allowed society to develop the way it has. The expertise of farmers has grown and expanded and so today we have grain yields that are higher than ever in the grain belts and livestock outputs that are higher than ever in those landscapes where animal utilisation is the best activity. If, as many vegans seem to desire, farmers began growing wheat somewhere around Ayes Rock, our food supply would not be a stable one. Farmers, doing what they do best, have overcome the fears of a Malthusian meltdown in the world’s food supply.

    Much of veganism is predicated upon a false view of animals in the world. I blame the Australian Philosopher Peter Singer, that champion of Utilitarianism who wrote Animal Liberation in 1975. He elevated the status of animals by giving them ‘personhood’ status, based on sentience. It is, prima facie, an appealing argument. Many have followed, adopted and championed his thoughts. However the irrationality of his philosophy is now becoming apparent with the stumbling over the rights of the intellectually handicapped, the unborn and newborn of the human species. In effect, Singer’s Utilitarianism has not just raised the status of animals, it has lowered the status of human beings.

    Animals are not people. They never have been and never will be. A cow ‘thinks’ and behaves like a cow; a dog thinks and behaves like a dog. Only humans are capable of the higher order thinking and organising that so obviously separates us from the animal kingdom. Cows and dogs don’t philosophise over how to treat humans! Those humans who, for whatever reason, decide they don’t wish to utilise the fruits of livestock production would do well to realise that, despite their best intentions, they are still contributing to the inherent societal contradictions we see every day. They need to realise that living an ethicall life also means respecting the status of their fellow human beings and labelling others as “murderers” and pillagers of the environment. That just aint so. If it were, farmers would be going broke and we’d all be mighty hungry. In fact, those so called vegans who so readily label others are doing little more than exposing their own totalitarian, intolerant attitudes towards their fellow human beings. The fact that they do so with arguments that are based primarily on a deeply flawed philosophy, on emotivism, plus false ideas about the sustainability of food production, are cause to have their credibility ,severely questioned.


    • Hi John –

      I read your comment with interest. Please allow me to respond to a few of your points, as a conscientious vegan.

      “… living an ethicall life also means respecting the status of their fellow human beings and labelling others as “murderers” and pillagers of the environment.”

      This doesn’t hold on preference utilitarian grounds. In this scenario, the human’s preference may be not to be called a “murderer” and the animals preference is not to suffer or be murdered. Surely the suffering of the animal trumps the perceived suffering of the human in his scenario? The net gain (happiness) of following the ethic outlined in this scenario is desirable. The animal doesn’t suffer, the human is not adjectively a murderer.

      “A cow ‘thinks’ and behaves like a cow; a dog thinks and behaves like a dog. Only humans are capable of the higher order thinking and organising that so obviously separates us from the animal kingdom. ”

      You obviously haven’t read Animal Liberation. In Chapter 1, “All Animals Are Equal”, Singer considers just this dilemma. Dogs are not interested in nor capable of voting. Therefore, it wouldn’t be sensible to allow the “right” to vote. However, they are interested in not and are capable of suffering. Therefore, it would make sense to not needlessly allow them to suffer.

      All you say in your comment is that Singer is wrong, utilitarianism is wrong–even though it underwrites so much of the law that you follow; and is based on deeply flawed philosophy and on emotivism. Please provide robust arguments as to why this is all the case.

      As for your mention of emotivism, I have long argued that omnivores are the sentimental ones. (1) They make moral justifications based on aesthetics (e.g. the pleasure the taste of meat brings them), (2) They insist on using animal welfare arguments wrapped in emotive language to justify their actions (e.g. the cows that we milk are happy), and (3) They often–not always–refer to vegans / animal rights activists using emotive language usually associated with discontent of religion (e.g. extremists, fundamentalists).


      • Thanks for your very thoughtful response to John, HTTN. Just one comment I’d like to make is that, unfortunately, conscientious vegans do tend to be let down by a very vocal and abusive group.

        Sadly, this blog post has received several highly abusive comments from people claiming to be vegans that I have not published. One likened my farm to the “showers of Auswich” and another suggested both John and I would go to hell and wished our souls “salvation”. In that respect, the religious reference was spot on.


      • Thanks for publishing my comment, Marian. I apologise for my colleagues . There are types that really don’t consider the consequences of their actions. They argue from a seemingly no-compromise position but do so recklessly. I am no-compromise also. It’s just I argue from a rational, philosophical position rather than one choked by emotivism.


        • You don’t need to apologise for other vegans anymore than I need to apologise for other farmers, HTTN. A little less labelling and a real attempt to understand each others’ perspectives is the best way to make a difference.


  2. Pingback: The dangers of putting everyone in the same basket. | Clover Hill Dairies Diary

Leave a Reply - comments are moderated, so don't worry if your comment doesn't appear straight away, I'm probably just off feeding a child or a cow!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s