The UK vegan organisation Viva! has issued formal complaints against some of the UK’s biggest food firms for their misleading advertising regarding dairy products. These companies have been accused of using images of cows grazing in green fields to promote their milk products, despite sourcing their milk from intensive industrial dairy units where cows have no or limited access to pasture, and are milked three times daily, producing up to 32 litres of milk each day.

Viva! has launched a campaign on the conditions of “zero-grazed” cows, citing research showing that these cows have a higher level of health problems, such as lameness and mastitis, and mortality. Juliet Gellatley, the founder and director of Viva!, said, “These battery cows are denied their most inherent instinct: grazing on grass outdoors…Consumers are misled into believing that cows graze outdoors.

Campaigners describe the units as a “disgrace” and there is mounting pressure on the dairy industry for better labelling and transparency in the supply chain, identifying products containing milk from cows with no access to pasture. At present, there is no requirement for mandatory welfare labelling of milk products. Viva! has complained to the Advertising Standards Authority regarding some of the dairy products’ publicity. 

As a type of “humanewashing”, food chains promote milk with images that do not show the reality of how cows are kept on farms. For instance, The Observer newspaper established that Tesco’s fresh milk is promoted with an image of a grazing cow on its cartons, but one of its biggest suppliers is Lea Manor farm in Cheshire, which keeps 2,600 dairy cows in open-side sheds with no access to pasture. Arla Foods has promoted its Cravendale milk brand with farmer suppliers singing “everybody’s free” in fields but has confirmed that its supply chain for other products includes milk from zero-grazing units. Müller UK & Ireland has pictures on its website of cows standing in fields in front of a table with a glass and cartons of fresh milk, but its milk supply chain includes some cows’ units with no or limited access to pasture.

Jordi Casamitjana
“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.