Joanna Lumley is fronting a new campaign to improve the welfare of European dairy cows.

Supporting Better Dairy is being orchestrated by Compassion in World Farming, the World Society for the Protection of Animals and Unilever’s Ben & Jerry’s ice cream brand.

The campaign will run a European Citizens’ Initiative, and the organisers aim to collect one million signatures across seven EU member states in favour of a new European Union directive on dairy cow welfare in the next year, requiring the European Commission to formally respond to their proposals.

The campaign argues that while there are specific EU welfare rules for laying hens and pigs, no specific protection currently exists for dairy cows, meaning welfare standards vary greatly.

“The image many people have in their heads when they think of cows is of these very contented animals,” said Lumley, who is a CIWF patron. “They hear the Archers theme tune, but they don’t know what the life of a dairy cow is really like.”

To improve welfare for dairy cows, the campaign is calling for minimum standards on housing – including a right to access to pasture and the outdoors – health, feed and the cows’ ability to engage in “appropriate behaviour”.

Lumley said it was worrying that dairy farmers were increasingly being driven to more intensive farming methods, which often limited cows’ access to the outdoors.

“They use words like zero-grazing, which is a weird euphemism that blurs the mind and is designed to deflect from the reality of these animals’ living conditions,” she said. “You can’t look after 8,000 cows and know them; that’s like having a classroom with 50 children in it. In our amazingly rich countries, this is not the way to treat our animal citizens.”

A dedicated campaign website,, went live today, and the three organisations plan to promote their campaign to consumers through events, PR and digital media.

However, there will not be any on-pack activity on Ben & Jerry’s packs or above-the-line advertising, a spokesman for the brand said.