A lobbying success story of milk: Unnatural, unhealthy, unwise

(Illustration by Ginger Pugh)

Humans are the only animals on the planet that drink another animal’s milk. Thus, by definition, drinking cows’ milk is extremely unnatural.

Despite thousands of years of cattle domestication, the human digestive system hasn’t even adapted to dairy consumption, which is why you probably can’t do the “Gallon Challenge.” 

In fact, 60 percent of adults worldwide are unable to effectively digest lactose, the main sugar found in milk. So why do Americans insist on consuming massive amounts of dairy products? Dairy industry propaganda and decades of lobbying have made us believe that milk “does a body good,” when in fact it only increases the risk of disease and unhappiness for millions of humans and cows alike.

Milk’s inclusion in the U.S. Department of Agriculture food pyramid is a direct result of ties to the dairy industry. Most non-Caucasian ethnic groups are almost completely lactose intolerant, yet receive all their required nutrients.

While our favorite, mucus-like mammary secretion does contain large amounts of calcium, that calcium is unlikely to be fully absorbed. Enzymes such as phosphatase, critical to calcium absorption, are completely destroyed by pasteurization.

This means that the calcium content on the label isn’t what your body can utilize. The best sources of calcium are actually leafy green vegetables, like broccoli, collard greens, kale and spinach, which also come without the high proportion of saturated fat that contributes to obesity and heart disease.

Harvard studies have actually shown an increase in osteoporosis and bone-breakage in people who drink milk. The former chairman of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Frank Oski, has identified hormone-ridden commercial milk as the cause of 60 percent of ear infections in kids under the age of 6. Milk consumption is the biggest cause of iron-deficiency anemia in children, according to the American Association of Pediatrics.

According to Mercola.com, the journal Medicine lists more than 1,500 papers dealing with milk consumption, and not one of them expounds its health benefits – this is because milk is made to fatten baby cows, not to be a health drink.

The conditions on modern dairy farms contribute to the inclusion of pus, blood and antibiotics in every tall, white glass of milk. Bovine Growth Hormone is banned in the European Union, but in the U.S., it is pumped into dairy cows to increase yields. The hormone increases incidents of mastitis, an udder infection that leaks pus into the cow’s milk.

This means farmers have to treat cows with subtherapeutic antibiotics — those same antibiotics have been found in 38 percent of milk samples tested by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. This overconsumption of antibiotics contributes to drug resistance in bacteria that commonly affects human health. Thus, milk increases our risk of some diseases and makes it harder to recover from others.

Small, traditional dairy farms have been almost completely pushed out of the market by large corporations. Of the roughly 70,000 U.S. dairies, 4 percent of the farms produce about half of our milk. The near constant impregnation required to keep milk flowing, combined with the stress of losing one’s calf the day it is born and the discomfort of a constantly swollen udder has reduced life expectancy of the average corporate dairy cow from 20-25 years to just 3-4 years.

And what a life those three years is. Fresh air, range of movement and social activity don’t promote milk production as much as hormones, artificial insemination and confined conditions do.

Drink your milk, eat your cheese and enjoy your ice cream as much as you like. But don’t believe the lie that dairy is good for your health. The mucus, blood, pus and antibiotics found in your average glass of milk are symptoms of a larger problem — the power and influence of an American dairy industry that doesn’t care about the cows or your health as much as the bottom line.

Be wary of any information presented by those with a financial incentive to support the unnatural, unhealthy consumption of milk — including the Department of Agriculture.

-Beth Mendenhall is a senior in political science and philosophy. Please send comments to opinion@spub.ksu.edu.