The report by the European Food Safety Authority found that genetic selection for milk yield was the major cause of poor welfare among dairy cows. Selecting cows for breeding instead on the bases of fertility, health and longevity would lead to improved welfare and greater profitability.
"There is an urgent need to promote changes in the criteria used for genetic selection in the dairy industry," it claimed.
The findings have led to renewed calls by animal welfare organisations to improve dairy herd welfare. "We need to breed a robust cow that can produce sustainable amounts of milk on pasture without mining her own body - a cow with a work-life balance," said Compassion in World Farming.