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Milk Myths

Don’t Cows Need to Be Milked?

Like all mammals, cows only produce milk to feed their young. If they don’t have babies to feed, they don’t make milk.  To keep them lactating, cows on dairy farms are artificially inseminated once a year (they carry their babies for 9 months), in a traumatic procedure that often involves constraining cows in a device known by the industry as a “rape rack,” and forcibly inserting semen through both her rectum and vagina into her uterus.

But Drinking Milk Doesn’t Really Hurt Cows, Does It?

“The very saddest sound in all my memory was burned into my awareness at age five on my uncle’s dairy farm in Wisconsin. A cow had given birth to a beautiful male calf…On the second day after birth, my uncle took the calf from the mother and placed him in the veal pen in the barn—only ten yards away, in plain view of his mother. The mother cow could see her infant, smell him, hear him, but could not touch him, comfort him, or nurse him. The heartrending bellows that she poured forth—minute after minute, hour after hour, for five long days—were excruciating to listen to. They are the most poignant and painful auditory memories I carry in my brain.”Michael Klaper, M.D.

Humans are able to consume all the milk and dairy products they want (but don’t need) only by keeping cows pregnant and lactating, and taking away the calves for whom the milk is intended. Cows are deeply devoted to their young, and the bond formed between a mother and her calf remains long after the baby is an adult. Separation causes them tremendous stress and anxiety. What’s common knowledge to farmers, but unknown to most consumers, is that mother cows continue to search and call frantically for their babies for days after their calves have been taken away. If mother and calf have been separated by a fence, the mother will wait by the fence in vain, through rain or scorching heat, foregoing meals and water. Some mothers will even break through fences and wander for miles in search of their babies. (1) Dairy calves are taken from their mothers usually within 1-48 hours, as further bonding would make separation even more traumatic and could affect the mother’s milk production. But the maternal bond is profound and immediate, and this cruel separation is devastating for both mother and calf.

“I became a vegan the day I watched a video of a calf being born on a [dairy] factory farm. The baby was dragged away from his mother before he hit the ground. The helpless calf strained his head backwards to find his mother. The mother bolted after her son and exploded into a rage when the rancher slammed the gate on her. She wailed the saddest noise I’d ever heard an animal make, and then thrashed and dug into the ground, burying her face in the muddy placenta.”James McWilliams, from “Let Animals Amaze Us”

The typical dairy cow endures this cycle of losing her baby at least 3, and up to 7, times in her short life as a milk producer. You don’t have to support this.

Well, At Least Drinking Milk Doesn’t Kill Cows…Right?

Wrong. The constant impregnation of cows that drives the dairy industry creates a huge surplus of calves.  While female dairy calves are raised to replace their mothers, male babies are useless to the dairy industry. According to the USDA, “only a small percentage” of male dairy calves are raised as steers, as dairy cows are not considered the desirable breed for beef. (2) Instead, most male dairy calves become veal, and spend their brief, miserable existence confined or chained in lonely stalls. They never sleep next to their mothers’ warm bodies, and they never receive the mother’s touch or nourishment that they cry out for until the moment they are brutally slaughtered, at anywhere from a few days to six months old. If you consume milk, cheese or butter you are supporting the veal industry. Please learn more about this connection, and about the lives and deaths of calves raised for veal, at our Veal page.

Dairy cows themselves are also slaughtered at a fraction of their natural life span. The constant cycle of pregnancy and intensive milk production takes a heavy toll on their bodies. When their milk production begins to decline, usually between 3 to 4 years of age, dairy cows are slaughtered for ground beef. (3)

What About Humane Dairy Farms?

The cruel separation of mother and calf is an unavoidable fact of all dairy production, on all farms. Humans do not need to drink cows’ milk. There is nothing humane about exploiting the reproductive systems of other animals, or cruelly separating mothers and their offspring, or needlessly slaughtering baby cows. And all adult dairy cows — on factory farms or small farms, organic or free-range–are mercilessly slaughtered after a brief life of involuntary servitude. Please read more about dairy cows here, and read more about humane farming practices here.

Isn’t Milk Important to Good Health?

Human beings are the only animals to routinely consume the mammary gland secretions of another species. We have no biological or nutritional need for any breast milk past infancy–much less the breast milk of another species. Though the facts on milk tend to get whitewashed, the truth is that cow’s milk is only nature’s perfect food if you’re a baby cow. Mother’s milk is species specific. (4) The composition of each animal’s milk has evolved over millions of years to perfectly meet the unique nutritional needs of the young of that species. Since a calf doubles its birth weight nearly four times faster than a human infant does, the concentrations of protein and calcium in cows’ milk are nearly four times higher than those found in human breast milk. If humans didn’t need the amount of calcium found in cows’ milk during our greatest time of bone growth – human babies double in weight in six months – then why would we need it as adults, after our bones have stopped growing? (5)

Osteoporosis

In fact, there is significant and consistent scientific evidence demonstrating that the animal protein in milk and other dairy products actually leaches calcium from bones. The 12 year long Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, based on 77,761 women, found that those who consumed the most calcium from dairy foods broke more bones than those who rarely drank milk. (6) Worldwide, the incidence of osteoporosis correlates strongly with animal protein intake. The countries with the highest consumption of dairy products (United States, Sweden, Israel, Finland, and the United Kingdom) also have the highest rates of osteoporosis-related hip fractures. (7)  

Here’s how milk causes calcium loss in bones: like all animal protein, milk protein acidifies the body’s pH, which in turn triggers a biological correction. The body’s natural response to over-acidification is to release stores of calcium, an excellent acid neutralizer. And the largest and most accessible repositories of calcium in the body are – our bones. Once calcium is pulled out of the bones, it is excreted in urine, so rather than increasing the body’s net supply of calcium, milk in fact decreases it. (8) Thankfully, there are many other (and much more healthy) ways to get calcium into your diet.

That’s Calcium.  Not Cowcium.

Despite what the dairy industry would have you believe, cows’ milk is not the only source of calcium; and it certainly isn’t the best source. In fact, the calcium in cows’ milk? Plants. Cows get calcium from plants. And so can you!  Here are a just a few great sources:


visual adapted from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

Cancer

In the most comprehensive study to date on the relationship between diet and human health–The China Project— Dr. T. Colin Campbell found that casein, a protein found only in milk from mammals, is “the most significant carcinogen we consume.”  “What protein consistently and strongly promoted cancer? Casein, which makes up 87% of cow’s milk protein, promoted all stages of the cancer process. What type of protein did not promote cancer, even at high levels of intake? The safe proteins were from plants, including wheat and soy. As this picture came into view, it began to challenge and then to shatter some of my most cherished assumptions.” — Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study

In addition to the casein hazard, most commercial milking cows receive antibiotics and are injected with a genetically engineered form of bovine growth hormone (rBGH). A synthetic hormone used to artificially increase milk production, rBGH also substantially raises blood levels of the insulin-growth factor 1 (IGF-1) in those who drink it. Higher levels of IGF-1 are linked to several cancers. (9)

Diabetes

There is increasingly strong evidence that type 1 Diabetes, the incurable form of childhood-onset diabetes that has baffled doctors for decades, is triggered by feeding cows’ milk to infants. (10)  Watch the brief clip below for a clear explanation of the relationship between milk consumption and diabetes. 

Cardiovascular Disease

Dairy products—including cheese, ice cream, milk, butter, and yogurt—contribute excessive amounts of cholesterol and saturated fat to the diet. Diets high in fat and saturated fat increase the risk of heart disease, among other serious health hazards. In two studies, hypertension—a known risk factor for heart disease—was greatly decreased among patients who avoided consumption of any animal products. Research consistently demonstrates that, in combination with exercise and smoking cessation, a low-fat vegan diet can not only prevent heart disease, but may also reverse it. 

For more on the health risks of dairy, please visit:

http://pcrm.org/health/diets/vegdiets/health-concerns-about-dairy-products
http://www.nealhendrickson.com/mcdougall/030400pudairyproductsfalsepromises.htm
http://milkmyths.org.uk/
http://pcrm.org/health/health-topics/cheese-facts-and-alternatives

And read for free Chapter 3 of Whitewash: The Disturbing Truth About Cow’s Milk and Your Health, a groundbreaking new book on the history of dairy consumption. In Whitewash, leading doctor and nutritionist Dr. Joseph Keon reveals how North Americans unwittingly sabotage their health by drinking milk. Citing extensive scientific literature, Whitewash builds an unassailable case that not only is milk unnecessary for human health, but its inclusion in the diet increases the risk of, or directly causes, many serious diseases, including prostate, breast and ovarian cancers, osteoporosis, diabetes, vascular disease, and Crohn’s disease.

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(1) Global Action Network, Cows
(2) USDA, Food Safety & Inspection Service Factsheets, Meat Preparation, Veal From Farm To Table
(3) Vegan Peace, Animal Cruelty, Dairy
(4, 5) McDougall, John, M.D. “Dairy Products and 10 False Promises”
(6) Goldschmidt, Vivian, “Debunking the Milk Myth: Why Milk Is Bad For You and Your Bones”
(7) McDougall, John, M.D. “Dairy Products and 10 False Promises”
(8) Goldschmidt, Vivian, “Debunking the Milk Myth: Why Milk Is Bad For You and Your Bones”
(9) Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine, Milk and Cancer Risk: PCRM’s IGF-1 Study
(10) Goldfarb, Marcia, “Relation of Time of Introduction of Cow Milk Protein to an Infant and Risk of Type-1 Diabetes Mellitus
(11) Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine, “Health Concerns About Dairy Products