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Mothers Against Dairy activists take on Fonterra

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

On Sunday 10 November, dairy giant Fonterra held its third 'Open Gates' open-day at 14 of their shareholder's private farms. As the public lined up to get a glimpse of the inner workings of their local dairy farm, they were met by 'Mothers Against Dairy' protestors who had showed up to demonstrate their opposition to dairying and to draw attention to its dark side.

Animal Rights and Environmental activists believe that Open Gates is an attempt to restore public support for the dairy industry which is rapidly crumbling due to increased awareness of the serious animal welfare and environmental issues inherent in the industry. They are calling for a rapid and urgent transition from all forms of animal agriculture to cropping and horticulture.

The nationwide series of protests were coordinated by Jessica Strathdee (a former dairy farmer turned vegan animal rights activist) and Avalua Tavui (also a vegan animal rights activist), who are both New Zealand ambassadors for international animal advocacy group, 'Mothers Against Dairy' (MAD)(

Strathdee and Tavui decided to become New Zealand's Mothers Against Dairy ambassadors because they believe that the message is important in the current social climate.

"In 2015, New Zealand legally recognised the sentience of animals, but this hasn't translated into anything of practical help for the animals being exploited to make a profit", Strathdee said.

(Strathdee's powerful personal story of transformation can be seen here:

She spent four years living and part-time working on a Canterbury dairy farm. It was after experiencing first-hand the treatment of cows by the industry that she and her partner reassessed their view of the industry and animals as commodities and decided to go vegan. "I became a parent for the first time while dairy farming and as a breastfeeding mother I could no longer deny the distress and anguish the cows and their new-borns were suffering in the industry. I began to wonder why humans were breastfeeding from another species? When the four day old babies were put on the slaughterhouse truck, while their mothers were still in the paddock calling for them, I knew what I was doing was wrong".

New Zealand slaughters around 1.7 million neonatal calves annually so that humans can drink the milk intended for them. This fact was not broadcast at the Open Gates event and Strathdee and Tavui felt that it was important to show the attending public the full picture in the interest of true transparency.

"This is portrayed as an attempt to educate the public about the dairy industry but the irony is so much is left hidden. They won't hold this event during calving season and allow the public to watch the babies being removed from their mothers, will they?" Strathdee said. "Fonterra can try to green-wash their image with their native tree plantings but the public can see through that. The world is turning plant-based. Academic think tanks are predicting the end of animal agriculture within 20 years because it's such an inefficient way to get our protein."

The public appeared curious about the protestors with a quite a few toots of acknowledgement and agreement from the passing traffic.

Tavui mused: "To think that another species of mothers and babies suffers needlessly is both unethical and morally repugnant. We need to re-examine our food choices and choose to do the right thing, because this premise that we apply to another species, is fundamentally wrong. Additionally, the human species' physiology in general, lacks the necessary enzymes to break down milk proteins. The reason why you may be lactose intolerant is because, you're actually not a baby cow."

The Mothers Against Dairy (MAD) movement is the brainchild of Ashley Capps, a passionate American animal rights campaigner who works to expose the plight of cows in the industry. MAD's website features personal accounts from women detailing why they are turning away from consuming the bodily secretions of other mammals.

Capps explains: "Our hope is to get a conversation going around the fact that at its core, dairy IS the exploitation of motherhood. The farming of mothers for their breast milk: just think about that. The very idea of breeding animals into existence in order to force them to become mothers so that we can then invade and parasitise their mothering relationships, abduct their children and steal their maternal lactations in order to turn them into non-essential items like ice cream and cheese is so violently entitled, so deeply offensive and fundamentally anti-mother. We shouldn't exploit the motherhood of anyone. It really is that simple."

"If the concept of reproductive rights and reproductive autonomy is morally legitimate, then it applies to anyone with a reproductive system, else it is meaningless. If you are advocating reproductive rights for human beings while supporting the reproductive subjugation and exploitation of other animals, you render your cause meaningless by emptying the very concept it is based on of meaning and integrity."

Dunedin protest spokesperson, Carl Scott told us, "It's important to recognize, we don't hate dairy farmers. We acknowledge that most of them are good people who work hard to make a living. My own grandparents were dairy farmers and they were good people.

But times change, and modern advances in scientific understanding of human nutrition have now conclusively proven that dairy is unnecessary for human health. There is even evidence it is detrimental.

We also have to acknowledge that dairying involves significant yet unnecessary suffering and death for innocent animals and causes serious environmental damage.

New Zealand slaughters around 1.7 million newborn calves annually so that humans can drink the milk intended for them. The adult cows are also killed after 5 or 6 years when their milk production declines. Their normal life expectancy can be up to 20 years," Scott said.

"Most Kiwis are also very aware now, of the serious damage the dairy industry is doing to our waterways. We know too, from NZ government figures, that 49% of our country's greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, and almost all of that is from animal farming.

We believe very strongly that relatively trivial human interests such as taste preference, or even habit, custom, and tradition are not more important than an animal's life.

Many of the protestors here today are mothers. They understand the beauty and sacredness of the bond between a mother and her baby. They know that both cows and calves suffer high levels of distress when they are separated," he added.

He continued, "The serious environmental problems caused by the dairy industry can no longer be ignored anymore either. The health issues of dairy consumption have got to be acknowledged as well. Academic think tanks are even predicting the end of animal agriculture within 20 years because it's such an inefficient way to produce protein.

The meteoric rise in popularity and availability of plant-based/vegan alternatives to dairy has made dairying a redundant, 'sunset' industry. The future of food is clearly plant-based. The future of our relationship with other animals has got to be vegan.

We aren't out to 'attack' animal farmers. We simply want to see them transition to cropping and horticulture. We also want to see ordinary Kiwis transition to plant-based foods," he said.

"How can people make informed decisions, unless they are fully and accurately informed? We are protesting at these events to make sure both sides of the story are told. Not just the sanitised version that the dairy industry wants us to see," he concluded.

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