Stephen Larson, attorney for Dick Van Dam Dairy, described the images as staged or taken out of context. Earlier this month, a judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by another animal rights organization against the farm, saying it had no reputation. "The allegation that they mistreated their cows is something that affects the Van Dam family very deeply because the truth is that they have looked after all of their cows for generations," said Larson.
Dairy industry experts and farmers who watched the footage expressed their dislike, saying the abuses depicted were not the norm. "These videos make every dairy farmer and veterinarian sick because we know the vast majority of farmers would never do such things to their cows," said Dr. Carie Telgen, president of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners.
Efforts to turn Americans against dairy products are gaining traction at a time when many of the country's farms are struggling to make a profit. Milk consumption has decreased 40 percent since 1975, a trend that is accelerating as more people consume oat and almond milk. In the past ten years, 20,000 dairy farms have ceased operations, which, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, corresponds to a decrease of 30 percent. And the coronavirus pandemic has forced some producers to dump unsold milk down the drain as demand for school lunch programs and restaurants have dried up.
During his Academy Awards last February for Best Actor, Joaquin Phoenix received rousing applause when he urged viewers to turn down dairy products.
"We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow, and when she is born we steal her baby, although her screams of fear are unmistakable," he said, his voice breaking with emotion. "And then we take their milk, which is intended for the calf, and put it in our coffee and cereal."
The National Milk Producers Federation, which represents most of the country's 35,000 dairy farmers, has tried to combat the bad mood in the public by promoting better animal welfare among its members. This means encouraging more frequent vet visits, low-wage workers receiving regular training in handling humane cows, and phasing out tail docking – the once ubiquitous practice of removing a cow's tail.
"I don't think you will find farmers out there who don't do their best to improve the care and welfare of their animals," said Emily Yeiser Stepp, who leads the association's 12-year animal care initiative. "Still, we can't be deaf to consumer values. We have to do better and give them a reason to stay in the duct."