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PETA: 'Happy cows' ad is a lie
The animal rights group PETA plans to sue the California Milk Advisory Board Wednesday over its award-winning "Happy Cows" campaign. PETA says the idyllic conditions portrayed in the ads amount to false advertising.

The two-year-old campaign features talking and singing cows discussing the pleasures of life in warm, sunny California. The slogan: "Great cheese comes from happy cows. Happy cows come from California." The state produces 1.6 billion pounds of cheese a year, second only to Wisconsin.

The suit, which is expected to be filed in California Superior Court, says California dairy cows live on muddy, feces- and urine-soaked lots devoid of any vegetation, not on grassy hillsides as depicted in the ads.

"Our goal with the lawsuit is to let people know that if they're consuming dairy products, they're promoting cruelty to animals," PETA's Bruce Friedrich says.

Nancy Fletcher of the California Milk Advisory Board says she hasn't seen the complaint and can't comment. But she did point out that PETA filed a similar complaint with the Federal Trade Commission in April, and the FTC found that it was without merit.

The ads do portray an idealized and unrealistic view of the life of a dairy cow, but consumers know the difference between reality and fantasy, says Jim Reynolds, a professor of veterinary science at the University of California-Davis and chair of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners Animal Welfare Committee, an international association of veterinarians.

"I know when I buy a beer in a bar, I don't get two women in bikinis standing next to me," Reynolds says.

Still, a dairy cow's life isn't easy. At 2 years old the animals are artificially inseminated to keep them pregnant and producing milk. Calves are taken from their mothers within 24 hours of birth because calves drink only 1 to 3 gallons of milk a day, while modern dairy cows produce up to 10 gallons a day. The extra milk would be a potential source of infection, endangering the cow. The bull calves are either sent to veal pens or to feedlots, while the heifers are raised until they can be mated.

After three pregnancies and thousands of gallons of milk, the cows are sent to the slaughterhouse, where they're turned into hamburger and low-grade steak.

PETA, which advocates a meat- and milk-free diet, says the treatment is inhumane.

"For people who are concerned about cruelty to animals, they need to wipe dairy products off their shopping list, period," Friedrich says.

But Reynolds maintains that cows' lives aren't horrible. Forty percent to 50% of California dairy cattle are raised in dairies built in the past two to three years, in which cows are well cared for so they can produce more milk, he says.

"A new dairy would be a happy place to be a cow. They have roofs to protect from summer heat and winter rain, comfortable stalls and clean bedding," Reynolds says.

It's only in older dairies that cows might still exposed to the elements and live in the "urine- and dung-fouled dirt" referred to in the suit, Reynolds says. PETA's pictures are of such older dairies.

The suit doesn't seek a ruling on whether California cows are truly happy, but rather whether the depiction of the dairy cows' living conditions is unlawfully deceptive.

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