Fewer dead male calves and chicks: the beginning of ethical dairy and eggs? (Nope.)
The news that the UK intends to drastically reduce the number of male calves killed for dairy is welcome, as are announcements from Germany and France, who have both made similar announcements regarding male chicks born to the egg industry.
...could this be the beginning of ethical dairy and eggs?
Not even close.
The industry has desperately attempted for decades now to keep the deaths of billions of these infant animals a secret. It is due to many years of outreach from vegan activists and organisations that much of the public is finally aware.
But those countless deaths are, sadly, only part of what makes dairy and eggs so cruel.
As horrible as it is, the painful fate of these calves and chicks is dwarfed by the suffering meted out to their female counterparts. Today is International Women's Day, so we celebrate the gains we have made, focus on the battles we still have yet to win and honour the many women and men who have fought--and who continue to fight--for gender equality and a better life for us all. But as we do so, let's not forget the female non-human animals and the many ways their reproductive rights and bodily autonomy are violated.
We discussed in our post Are eggs and dairy MORE cruel than meat? the fact that the industry has intentionally manipulated the reproductive systems of these animals to the point that their bodies can barely support them. Dairy cows give 10 times more milk than they would in nature; the result is mastitis, milk fever and more. Often a cow is still producing the milk that was meant for her previous calf (who was taken from her long ago) while pregnant with the next one. The result of these massive nutrition requirements results in a 'coat rack' appearance, where her bones protrude dramatically from her emaciated body. And egg-laying hens--whether caged, barn or free range--lay at least 300 eggs a year, far more than the 10 to 15 they would in nature. They are debeaked and forced into cramped spaces, where a lack of proper physical and mental exercise results in constant fighting. The massive calcium and mineral requirements needed to produce so many eggs means that their bones are incredibly fragile and brittle: in fact 36% of caged hens experience at least one bone fracture and as many as 45 to 86% of barn and free-range hens! (source)
After a few years of this--5 or so for dairy cows and 1 1/2 to 2 for egg-laying hens--their production begins to slows down. Thus the industry considers them 'spent' at a fraction of their lifespans and so we kill them and process their abused bodies into cheap meat that doesn't show bruising and injury.
Not only is this repeated exploitation of their reproductive systems one of the most abhorrent ways we use animals, it is one of the many things that demonstrate the commonalities between the suffering of human and non-human animals, and why veganism is a crucial part of our fight for collective liberation.
One of the ways that patriarchy keeps its power is by convincing us that another group’s oppression has absolutely nothing to do with our own. (Aph Ko)
In her article The Feminist Case for Veganism (quoted above) revolutionary activist Aph Ko explains why it is crucial that feminists go vegan--and that vegans become feminists. (The article is definitely worth reading, as it discusses why telling non-vegan feminists that they 'should' go vegan can backfire, and how we can get around this potentially sensitive issue.)
So the answer is no. This is not the beginning of ethical dairy and eggs. There is no ethical way to exploit the reproductive systems of other animals--whether they be human or not.
Germany's Chick Cull Ban is No Cause for Celebration, Surge, 3 February 2021
Vegan Feminist Network homepage
Carol J Adams and The Sexual Politics of Meat