On Saturday, December 13, one of the world's leading
newspapers, The Guardian (UK), published a lengthy article seriously
questioning the place of cows' milk in a healthful diet and government
subsidies for the dairy industry. The article looked at both the
UK and the US. It is available on the web in two parts at the following
I highly recommend reading it, but will summarize it below for those
who don't have the time to read a 5467 word piece.
The article is headed, "DAIRY MONSTERS: We used to take it
for granted that milk was good for us. But now the industry faces
a crisis, with the public questioning such assumptions. So just
how healthy is milk? Anne Karpf investigates."
Karpf notes that there is mounting scientific evidence that "regular
consumption of large quantities of milk can be bad for your health,
and campaigners are making a noise about the environmental and international
costs of large-scale intensive European dairy farming." But
she comments, "So thorough is our dairy indoctrination that
it requires a total gestalt switch to contemplate the notion that
milk may help to cause the very diseases it's meant to prevent....Today,
there's a big bank of scientific evidence against milk consumption,
alleging not only that it causes some diseases but, equally damning,
that it fails to prevent others for which it has traditionally been
seen as a panacea."
She refers to the work of Frank Oski, former paediatrics director
at Johns Hopkins school of medicine, "who estimated in his
book Don't Drink Your Milk! that half of all iron deficiency in
US infants results from cows' milk-induced intestinal bleeding."
You can buy that book at:
She discusses lactose intolerance, which causes "bloating,
cramps, diarrhoea and farts.": "In 1965, investigators
at Johns Hopkins found that 15% of all the white people and almost
three-quarters of all the black people they tested were unable to
digest lactose. Milk, it seemed, was a racial issue, and far more
people in the world are unable than able to digest lactose. That
includes most Thais, Japanese, Arabs and Ashkenazi Jews, and 50%
Karpf notes that milk critics say that the idea that osteoporosis
is caused by calcium deficiency is "one of the great myths
of our time." She writes, "In fact, the bone loss and
deteriorating bone tissue that take place in osteoporosis are due
not to calcium deficiency but rather to its resorption: it's not
that our bodies don't get enough calcium, rather that they excrete
too much of what they already have. So we need to find out what
it is that's breaking down calcium stores in the first place, to
the extent that more than one in three British women now suffers
from osteoporosis. The most important culprit is almost certainly
the overconsumption of protein. High-protein foods such as meat,
eggs and dairy make excessive demands on the kidneys, which in turn
leach calcium from the body. One solution, then, isn't to increase
our calcium intake, but to reduce our consumption of protein, so
our bones don't have to surrender so much calcium. Astonishingly,
according to this newer, more critical view, dairy products almost
certainly help to cause, rather than prevent, osteoporosis."
She notes, "American women are among the biggest consumers
of calcium in the world, yet still have one of the highest levels
of osteoporosis in the world" and that "Most Chinese people
eat and drink no dairy products and... consume only half the calcium
of Americans." Yet "osteoporosis is uncommon in China
despite an average life expectancy of 70." Further, "In
South Africa, Bantu women who eat mostly plant protein and only
200-350mg of calcium a day have virtually no osteoporosis, despite
bearing on average six children and breastfeeding for prolonged
periods. Their African-American brothers and sisters, who ingest
on average more than 1,000mg of calcium a day, are nine times more
likely to experience hip fractures."
She quotes T Colin Campbell, the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor
of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University: "The association
between the intake of animal protein and fracture rates appears
to be as strong as that between cigarette smoking and lung cancer."
Another quote from Campbell associates milk consumption with an
increased risk of cancer: "Cows' milk protein may be the single
most significant chemical carcinogen to which humans are exposed".
Karpf discusses the conflicts of interest that have led to milk's
status as the perfect food despite much scientific evidence to the
"Another reason why official policy on milk is often at odds
with medical evidence lies in the conflict of government role, both
in Britain and the US. The US department of agriculture, for example,
has the twin, and often mutually incompatible, tasks of promoting
agricultural products and providing dietary advice. In 2000, it
was still recommending two to three servings of dairy products a
day, to the rage of critics such as the Physicians Committee for
Responsible Medicine. PCRM claimed that six of the 11-member drafting
panel had close ties with the meat, egg and dairy industries (five
of them with dairy).
"Britain isn't free from conflict of interest, either. The
government is heavily involved in encouraging us to drink milk."
Karpf criticizes the UK's National Dairy Council advertisements,
commenting, "Of course, it's no crime for the industry to promote
itself; what's disturbing is its masquerading as a disinterested
source of incontrovertible information."
Karpf feels that perhaps the "most insidious dimension of the
dairy fightback is funding research."
The article discusses animal welfare concerns in detail. She starts
with "the vegetarian fallacy" which allows people to separate
the dairy and veal industries:
"Alongside the researchers raising questions about milk sits
the more inflammatory animal rights movement, which has recently
focused its attention on dairy farming and what it argues is its
intrinsic cruelty. For a long time, those concerned about animal
welfare seemed magically to exempt milk from their preoccupations.
They suffered from what Richard Young of the Soil Association calls
'the vegetarian fallacy': non-meat-eaters who still drink milk and
so perpetuate the cycle that ends in crated veal calves destined
for European dinner tables. Now many of them have begun to contend
that, organic or not, there's no such thing as humane milk. For
in order to lactate, cows - like humans - first have to get pregnant.
Calves are essentially the waste by-product of the industry. What
happens to them once they've done what they were created to do -
stimulate a cow's milk production by the very fact of their being
"Male udderless cows are of no value to the dairy industry,
so if prices for male calves are low and the veal route unprofitable,
most are killed within a couple of weeks for baby food or pies,
to make rennet, or sent to rendering plants to be turned into tallow
or grease or, in other countries, animal feed. Female calves, on
the other hand, are bred as replacement stock for their mothers.
The provision of beef essentially originates in the dairy industry:
if we didn't drink milk, we wouldn't have all that extra meat to
get rid of.
"Though a male calf's life is unenviable, its mother's is
no better. To ensure almost continuous lactation, she endures annual
pregnancies. Her calf is removed from her within 24 hours of its
birth. Calves hardly ever drink their mother's milk.
She goes on to discuss the exhaustive exploitation of the cows'
"Like agribusinesses everywhere, milk producers have tried
to increase output while cutting costs. The victims are the cows.
Today, from the age of two, they're expected to produce up to 10,000
litres of milk during their 10-month lactation stint (before they
dry off, are re-inseminated and the whole process starts up again).
Milked once or twice (or even three times) daily while pregnant,
they produce around 20 litres a day, 10 times as much as they'd
need to feed a calf. The amount of milk cows are required to make
each day has almost doubled in the past 30 years, because having
a smaller number of high-yielding cows reduces a farmer's feed,
fertiliser, equipment, labour and capital costs. That's why the
variety of cattle breeds in Europe has declined so much - everyone
wants the high-yielding black-and-white Holstein-Friesens.
"You don't need to be sentimental about animals to pity the
poor bloated creatures, dragging around their vast, abnormally heavy
udders. Many each year go lame, and they rarely live longer than
four or five years, compared with a natural lifespan of around 25
years. Then they are slaughtered.
And she notes the pain of mastitis and its impact on human health:
"The official view is that not only do dairy farmers care
about their cows, but that it's in their interests to keep them
healthy. The reality is that overmilking, problems with cleanliness
and the choice of high-yielding breeds together cause more than
30 incidents of mastitis per 100 British cows each year. Mastitis
is a painful infection of the udder. Cows' mastitis has implications
for human health, too, because to control infection farmers use
Finally, Karpf discusses government efforts to protect the dairy
industry, such as the food disparagement acts introduced in 13 US
states, and the UK's Common Agricultural Policy, which she writes
is so absurd it "will have you thinking you've woken up in
the middle of a Dali painting." She details the ways in which
the government props up the dairy industry at the expense of small-scale
farms in developing countries, human health, and animal welfare.
She asks what the alternative might be, and notes that people don't
want their eating habits policed. "Yet," she writes, "what
we eat and drink isn't just the result of individual choice and
cultural tradition: the contents of our shopping trolleys are at
least equally shaped by government policy and official decisions."
She quotes Dr Tim Lobstein, co-director of the Food Commission,
an independent watchdog on food issues, who "advocates the
removal of all EU subsidies from dairy production, with the money
going to support sustainable forms of food production, including
some organic dairy farming." He comments, with regard to struggling
dairy farmers: "I can't help to stay in business the producers
of commodities that aren't helping human health - they'll have to
find alternative employment. The EU should help farmers transfer
to products more helpful to human health, such as horticulture."
Karpf calls for a national debate on milk production and consumption.
She writes, "Part of this debate will have to be a frank appraisal
of whether milk can jeopardise human health.... it seems increasingly
clear that dairy products alone probably don't protect bone health
in the way we've long thought, and that calcium intake on its own
has only a small effect on bone density."
The article concludes: "At the same time (and Atkins notwithstanding),
while some fats are essential, the human body does not thrive on
excessive amounts of milk fat. Yet milk's connotations are so primordial,
its associations so pastoral and the interests that promote it so
enormous, that changing the way we think about it, and drink it,
will be a process every bit as challenging and root-and-branch as
the loss of unquestioning religious faith."
The appearance of this article in one of the world's leading papers
tells us that there has been a real shift in the perception of milk.
And the article will surely further that shift. The Guardian deserves
many appreciative letters to the editor. The paper takes letters
It notes, "We do not publish letters where only an email address
is supplied; please include a full postal address and a reference
to the relevant article. If you do not want your email address published,
please say so. We may edit letters."
Copyright ©2003 by Karen Dawn. KarenDawn@DawnWatch.com
May not be reprinted without permission.
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