United Poultry Concerns December 16, 2003

Huge article in The Guardian questioning health benefits of and govt subsidies for milk

By Karen Dawn www.dawnwatch.com

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 addresses:

Part One:
Part Two:

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% of Indians."

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 contrary:

"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 conceived?

"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' bodies:

"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 more antibiotics."

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 at: letters@guardian.co.uk
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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