Farming With Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde. It’s not a chemical one expects to connect with dairy farming, but it’s sadly the case.

Formaldehyde is used in “footbaths” for dairy cows to prevent hoof diseases (although “footbath” is perhaps too generous; it’s really more of a chemical soup cows are forced to walk through multiple times a day).

Hoof diseases, such as “strawberry foot” or “hoof rot,” which cause extremely painful lesions and infections of the foot, are increasingly common in the dairy industry as more and more cows are confined indoors on concrete thick with feces. In fact, nearly 75 percent of Canada’s dairy cows live in “tie-stalls,” where they are literally chained to their stalls for much of their lives.

Although formaldehyde can be used as a disinfectant, it is also a known carcinogen.

A study was conducted to measure formaldehyde levels at various locations in dairy farms that use the toxic chemical. The purpose of the study was to determine the level of risk posed to humans (not the beings who actually have to soak their feet in the carcinogen, sometimes with open sores or wounds).

The study summarized the health risks posed by formaldehyde: “Formaldehyde exposure can cause irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, as well as headaches, fatigue and dizziness. … [It] can lead to changes in pulmonary function. … Skin exposure to formaldehyde … can cause irritation and allergic contact dermatitis. Repeated skin exposure to formaldehyde can lead to sensitization, resulting in allergic reactions at concentrations much lower than the original exposure level.”

If the thought of forcing animals as sensitive as dairy cows to soak in toxic chemicals is enough to turn you off of milk, you’re not alone. You can join an increasing number of Canadians in moving toward a plant-based diet. To learn more, go to