Do Grown-Ups Really Need to Drink Milk?
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A recent episode of the Diane Rehm Show, a nationally broadcast left-leaning radio program, assembled a politician, a dairy industry advocate, a farm advocate, and a USDA undersecretary to discuss problems facing dairy. Most of the conversation focused on federally-funded bailout options for the dairy industry, but one caller made a futile attempt to frame the problem in a larger context. Voicing concerns that milk isn't good for adults and that dairy production creates a lot of greenhouse gas, she was disconnected mid-sentence.
After a moment of audible snickers among the guests, Ruth Saunders of the International Dairy Foods Association gave a limp response: "the dietary guidelines for Americans have always had as one of their key recommendations three daily servings [of dairy]."
Saunders didn't mention that these recommendations largely exist because of intensive lobbying efforts by organizations like hers. But scientific research that's not in the pocket of Big Dairy tells a different story. According to the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, "approximately 75% of the world's population loses the ability to completely digest lactose after infancy." And Harvard researcher Ganmaa Davaasambuu, M.D., Ph.D., has found that dairy intake correlates with ovarian cancer, testicular cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and other so-called "hormone-dependent" tumors because of the high levels of estrogen in cows' milk -- especially in milk from pregnant cows, which are routinely milked in large dairy operations.
Meanwhile, the disconnected caller had a valid point about the cattle industry's greenhouse gas emissions, which constitute 2% of the national output. When fed soy-rich diets, as most large dairy herds are, cows belch methane, which traps 20 times more atmospheric heat than carbon dioxide.
While the lifestyle-changing crisis afflicting dairy farmers is creating heartbreaking stories, perhaps for the greater good this is an opportunity in disguise. There are other ways to make a living off the land, and instead of federal price supports, maybe that money should be spent on re-tooling dairy farms. Despite what the food pyramid says, we don't need milk after we're babies. Maybe it's time to wean ourselves from cow tits and grow up.
If not quitting cold turkey, perhaps we should turn it down a notch or two and consider limiting dairy products to special occasions, rather than as a daily staple. If we return the dairy industry to it's small-scale, alfalfa-fed roots, where producers have personal and respectful relationships with their animals and make fine artisanal products like cheese or yogurt, perhaps there's a place for such delicacies. A splash of cream in your coffee, or a pad of butter in your mushrooms, might not kill the world. But maybe the days of standing in front of the open fridge chugging milk from the bottle will come to an end.
Ari LeVaux writes a syndicated weekly food column.