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Most of What You Think You Know About Milk Is Probably Dairy Industry Lies

The powerful dairy lobby has been spreading dangerous health claims about milk for decades.

Got milk allergy? Many people including Native Americans and people of Asian, African and  South American descent are lactose intolerant and can’t and don't drink milk. That is the way nature made them over epochs and no one ever died of a dairy deficiency.

But there is money in dairy. That is why American fast food companies try to bring the love of dairy to cultures where it traditionally hasn't existed. And that is why the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board and the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board in the US disseminate "educational" materials that address "misconceptions about lactose intolerance" according to research in  Born With a Junk Food Deficiency, How Flaks, Quacks, and Hacks Pimp the Public Health. The marketing groups bragged to Congress that they regularly assure people in such ethnic groups that their lactose intolerance "should not be a barrier to including milk in the diet,” in an ongoing effort to help US dairy farmers. Ka-ching.

Battling "misconceptions" about lactose intolerance is only one of many marketing campaigns by the dairy lobby. Since the 1990s, the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board and the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board have partnered with the USDA to push milk drinking, which had been falling since the 1970s, especially among teens and tweens. The promotions even have included partnerships with fast-food restaurants like Wendy’s and McDonald’s, who would seem unlikely comrades for a government agency sworn to protect the public health.

The milk campaigns began in the early 1990s with the catchphrase “Milk: It Does a Body Good” and used top model Tyra Banks and musician Marc Anthony to push milk for strong bones. “One in five victims of osteoporosis is male,” said the Banks ads. “Don’t worry. Calcium can help prevent it.” “Shake it, don’t break it. Want strong bones?” said the Anthony ad.  “Drinking enough lowfat milk now can help prevent osteoporosis later.” The ads were targeted toward African Americans, Latinos and men though all of the groups are among the least likely to get osteoporosis!

Next, the dairy lobby promoted milk  as a treatment for premenstrual syndrome or PMS. Television ads showed bumbling boyfriends and husbands rushing to the store for milk to detoxify their stricken women. The ads disappeared as it became evident the study on which the campaign was based credited  calcium not milk with helping PMS. And calcium is found in many sources besides milk--including the calcium-fortified juices that the milk ads are designed to sell against. Oops.

Then milk marketers tried to portray milk as a  diet food that would help people lose weight until the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Bureau of Consumer Protection  told them to cease “until further research provides stronger, more conclusive evidence of an association between dairy consumption and weight loss.”

Susan Ruland, spokesperson for the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board, begged to differ. “There’s a strong body of scientific evidence that demonstrates a connection between dairy and weight loss,” she said, although she promised that future ads would comply. After the FTC clampdown, marketing materials claimed that low-fat dairy products  do not necessarily add weight and may have “certain nutrients that can help consumers meet dietary requirements”--pretty much the definition of “food” when you think about. Soon the ads "went negative" and read, “Soft drinks and other sweetened beverages are now the leading source of calories in a teen’s diet and these nutrient-void beverages are increasingly taking the place of milk.” Take that!

The factually-challenged campaigns did not made a dent in posters of mustache-wearing actors, sports figures, musicians and models shipped to 60,000 US elementary schools and 45,000 middle schools in outrageous promotion of private industry by the government. In-school milk promotions have included  the “Healthiest Student Bodies,” which promised students they could win an iPod, Fender guitar and other prizes if they visited the milk marketing site. And students at three California high schools got a chance to create their own “Got Milk?” campaigns to sell milk to their peers and win a $2,000, an all-expense-paid trip to San Francisco to present their ideas to the milk advertising agency.

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