It's udderly silly: California's 'happy cow' ads will be filmed in New Zealand

The "happy cows" advertisements sponsored by the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) always have me wondering if the state's agriculture department isn't colluding with the tourism department (those ads where California's famous residents complain about how hard they're working, as they surf and be glamorous and, you know, play governor on TV). Cows are happier in California? I'm sure Vermont's cows would beg to differ!

The New Zealand cows, soon, will have a say in the matter because the CMAB is bringing its production crews to Auckland, New Zealand, to shoot a new series of 10 commercials claiming that California cows are happier. That's right. New Zealand will stand in for California in a series of TV ads arguing that the Golden State's milk is superior.

At issue is, of course, cost. Film production is pricey in California, and that's why many movies, TV shows and commercials have fled to far-away locales from New Zealand and Australia to Canada and Portland, Ore. In response, the state recently began a film tax credit program, giving back approximately $100 million annually between 2009 and 2014. The credits, however, are reserved only for TV and movie production, not ads.

So the CMAB -- which is funded by dairy farmers throughout the state, but supervised by the California Department of Food and Agriculture -- is, as VP of advertising Michael Freeman told the LA Times, exercising its "fiduciary responsibility to spend [the dairy farmers'] hard-earned dollars as efficiently as we can" and taking the cameras to New Zealand. The board argues that the filming is a "minor portion of production" and that all the cows that are identified as Californian in the ads will be actual California cows. The board says all its post-production work, about 80% of the total job, will be done in California.

To throw a little stinky fuel on the fire, PETA is renewing its 2002 argument that these commercials are part of a campaign of false advertising. PETA claims that dairy cows in California are anything but happy and don't live in such lovely lush fields, but in fact are cooped up in manure-filled barns. The organization is filing a complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

And by all accounts, New Zealand cows are quite happy. The country is known for its lush climate with plenty of meadowland perfect for feeding dairy cows. PETA, I'm guessing, would approve.

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