Great milk comes from happy cows. Are they really?
That happy cow staring back at you from the milk carton must be doing well. After all, the label says she wasn’t treated with rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone), rBST (recombinant bovine somatotropin), or antibiotics.
But how was she treated?
Cows have a natural lifespan of about 20 years and can produce milk for 8 or 9 years. Like all mammals, they produce their milk for their calves and they lactate for about four months.
However, life in a farm is not as sweet.
Female cows are artificially inseminated shortly after their first birthdays. After giving birth, they lactate for 10 months and are then inseminated again, continuing the cycle. Some spend their entire lives standing on concrete floors; others are confined to massive, crowded lots, where they are forced to live amid their own feces.
The stress caused by the conditions on factory farms leads to disease, infections and mastitis (a painful inflammation of the mammary glands) that are cured with antibiotics then found in the milk of the treated cows. Lameness, and reproductive problems render cows worthless to the dairy industry by the time that they are 4 or 5 years old, at which time they are sent to be slaughtered.
LESS COWS, MORE MILK. WHAT??
On any given day, there are more than 9 million cows on U.S. dairy farms—about 13 million fewer than there were in 1950. Yet milk production has continued to increase, from 116 billion pounds of milk per year in 1950 to 185 billion pounds in 2007. Fifty years ago an average cow produced 2,000 pounds of milk per year. Today the top producers give 50,000 pounds. Normally, these animals would produce only enough milk to meet the needs of their calves (around 16 pounds per day, 5,000 pounds per year), but genetic manipulation—and, in some cases, antibiotics and hormones—is used to cause each cow to produce more than 20,000 pounds of milk each year. In order to produce such a massive amount of milk cows (naturally vegetarian) are also fed unnatural, high-protein diets, which include dead chickens, pigs, and other animals, because their natural grass diet would not provide the nutrients that they need to produce for the mass market.
A CULTURAL HERITAGE
The entire subject of food and especially that of milk is surrounded with emotional and cultural importance. Milk is our very first food. Our path to survival. First is mother's milk (if we are lucky), then it is cow's, in some cases and some countries: goat’s, camel’s or water buffalo’s milk.
Our mothers used to give us a warm cup at night to help us sleep better, or to soothe our throat during a cold. Very early on we establish an emotional connection with milk. For years nutritionists told us that dairy products make up an "essential food group." Industry spokesmen made sure that colorful charts proclaiming the necessity of milk and other essential nutrients were made available at no cost for schools. This is how cow's milk became "normal”. Today school lunches always include milk and nearly every hospital meal will have milk added.
A CUP A DAY KEEPS THE DOCTOR AWAY…OR WAS THAT THE APPLE?
Milk is not just milk. The milk of every species of mammal is unique and specifically tailored to the requirements of that animal. For example, cows' milk is very much richer in protein than human milk. Three to four times as much. It has five to seven times the mineral content. However, it is markedly deficient in essential fatty acids when compared to human mothers' milk. Mothers' milk has six to ten times as much of the essential fatty acids, especially linoleic acid. It simply is not designed for humans. It gets worse. A recent study showed that human breast milk in over 14,000 women had contamination by pesticides. The sources of the pesticides were identified as meat and dairy products. (Of interest, a subgroup of lactating vegetarian mothers had only half the levels of contamination).
ALTERNATIVES TO COW MILK
There are many alternatives to dairy milk, considered by many healthier and greener (think green gas emissions and antibiotics) including coconut, almond, cashew, banana and peas.
Coconut milk may be the closest milk alternative with the texture of whole milk. Those who subscribe to the low-carb lifestyle often prize coconut milk for it’s minimal starch content. A vegan drink, it is also soy-free, gluten-free, cholesterol-free and nut-free while its fat content is considered to a ‘good fat’, easily metabolized by the body and quickly turned into energy rather than being stored as fat. Coconut milk is also rich in lauric acid, a substance also found in human milk, and researchers have shown it to have anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. Unlike other nut or plant milks, the saturated fat content of coconut milk is significant at five grams per serving, so drink it in moderation.
Almond milk is good source of magnesium, which helps to break down food and can help with the function of the parathyroid glands, thus helping improve the health of our bones. It’s also loaded with manganese, selenium and Vitamin E. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects the cell membranes. Selenium is good for our immune system; it helps in reproduction, and in the metabolism of thyroid. It also prevents cell damage and tissue damage. Almond milk is also a good source of unsaturated fat, protein, flavonoids and potassium, and has less sugar than soy milk.
Banana milk is packed with protein and fibre, cancer-fighting isoflavones, minimal saturated fat and the absence of galactose, which means that it can replace breast milk for galactosaemic children. It’s also safe for the lactose intolerant and anyone with a milk allergy. There are some downsides though, chiefly that its sugar content can be high, particularly in the flavored versions. Other issues include the increasing amount of land being used to farm it, which is leading to deforestation in some countries. However, its overall impact is still much less than that of cow’s milk, particularly when you choose an organic version