That the word “milk” connotes “good for your bones” is a testament to the success of the dairy industry’s decades-old deceptive marketing strategy. As it turns out, dairy is not, in fact, good for our bones, nor the rest of our health.
According to a new study published in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, the benefits of calcium in dairy products have been grossly overstated. For seven years, researchers tracked the dietary and exercise habits of adolescent girls and found that those who took in the most calcium in their diets, predominantly from dairy sources, had more than twice the risk of stress fracture than those taking in less. This study reinforces the 2005 Pediatrics article which showed that getting calcium from dairy products does not actually contribute to bone health.
Interestingly, vitamin D (easily obtained from moderate sun exposure) and weight-bearing exercise do increase bone density. In addition, calcium in animal-free foods such as fortified plant milks and leafy greens can easily meet daily requirements (plus offer advantages) without the risk of high cholesterol, respiratory problems, diabetes, and the cancers associated with dairy.
So why have we been led to believe all these years that milk is a vital part of our nutrition? Author Joseph Keon tackles this issue head on, calling out the dairy industry’s potent propoganda machine and complete dismissal of crucial health research, in Whitewash: The Disturbing Truth About Cow’s Milk and Your Health. But it’s more than just marketing. There’s also been price fixing.
Last fall several dairy consumers, including members of Compassion Over Killing, filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of consumers alleging that various dairy companies and trade groups representing 70% of American milk—including the National Milk Producers Federation, Dairy Farmers of America, and Land O’Lakes—combined to form Cooperatives Working Together (CWT) in order to engage in an elaborate price fixing scheme in an alleged antitrust violation.
The lawsuit asserts that between 2003 and 2010, more than 500,000 cows were prematurely slaughtered under CWT’s “dairy herd retirement program” in a concerted effort to reduce the supply of milk and inflate its price nationally—resulting in over $9.5 billion in illegally obtained profits. The complaint further alleges that the program, which paid smaller farm owners to kill their entire herds, unfairly increased the profits of agribusiness giants by putting small farms out of business.
The dairy industry clearly has no problem playing with children’s health by spreading misinformation, violating consumers’ rights with economic subterfuge, abusing animals (this story remniscent of Sophie’s Choice will break your heart), and degrading the environment (and drinking water).
Fortunately, we can take a stand every time we sit down to eat simply by ignoring false ads like “Got Milk?” and instead, choosing dairy-free foods. At last mustaches—at least the milk kind—are out of style.