Milking It for All It’s Worth? Unpalatable Practices, Dairy Cows and Veterinary Work

Clarke, Caroline and Knights, David (2022). Milking It for All It’s Worth? Unpalatable Practices, Dairy Cows and Veterinary Work. Journal of Business Ethics, 176 pp. 673–688.



Viewing animals as a disposable resource is by no means novel, but does milking the cow for all its worth now represent a previously unimaginable level of exploitation?  New technology has intensified milk production fourfold over the last 50 years, rendering the cow vulnerable to various and frequent clinical interventions deemed necessary to meet the demands for dairy products. A major question is whether or not the veterinary code of practice fits, or is in ethical tension, with the administration of ‘efficient’ techniques, such as artificial insemination, to enhance reproduction levels among cattle? Vets perform these interventions and their ‘success’ is measured by the maximisation of milk production, requiring perpetually pregnant cows.  Our empirical research on 33 farm vets explores how their professional ethical code promising  to protect the welfare of the animal ‘above all else’, is increasingly in conflict with, and subordinate to, the financial demands of clients. Since vets cannot stand outside of the productive power-knowledge relations that have intensified the consumption of animal bodily parts and secretions, we argue that a process of adiaphorization’ (Bauman and Lyon, 2013: 8) occurs, whereby humans become morally indifferent to cruel practices deemed necessary to our consumerist ways of life. However, this indifference reflects and reinforces a taken for granted anthropocentrism among vets, animal owners and the population generally.  We suggest that posthumanist ideas may offer new insights for the study of human-animal relations in organisations that transcend the coercive and negative impact of discourses that deny any alternative to prevailing farm/veterinary practices. Our study has major implications in relation to climate warming and zoonotic diseases, both partly derived from our unethical relationship to animals, that are increasingly threatening our, and their, lives.

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