The True Cost of Milk!

In this article I want to look at the price we pay for dairy products. Not just the amount of money we hand over or charge to a card whilst shopping, but the cost to our health, the animals and the planet. I hope if you are new to this area you will find some of this shocking, I certainly did! I make no apology for this!

References and Clarification

Firstly. I am talking dairy here, so am talking about milk and items made from it such as cheese, yogurts and butter. I will predominantly talk about cows, but most of the same applies to the milk from goats and sheep. It is just that cow’s milk is more popular and for easy reference I will just refer to “milk”. The majority of the comments apply to yogurts, butter and cheese too. Though when thinking of cheese remember to factor in the extra salt and cholesterol. Most cheeses contain more sodium than sea water! Butter is of course, another name for fat.

When I comment on plant-based milk, this simply means alternatives made from, yes, plants. This might be soy, oat, almond, rice, coconut and several others, and they seem to be growing. These used to be referred to by some as vegan milk substitute, but now plant-based milk has taken over. They all taste slightly different. In my humble opinion almond milk is best, though I used different milk for different things. Almond milk is great on cereals, especially museli and granola. I apologise if I sound a bit detached from reality, but I really can’t understand why people would want to use cows milk anymore. The only reason I can see is habit? If you can think of another reason please let me know. With oats I often use oat milk and in hot drinks I prefer soy milk though I do find it rich and mix it with water. Coconut milk is great for curries and I also like to use it in rice puddings, it gives the creamy texture and flavour without any animal fats.

Now lets clear up a couple of terms and answer some questions that non-vegans might like answering, and I appreciate not every reader of this website will be vegan, though many will aspire to that. You are most welcome here. Please can I encourage all readers to feel free to ask questions and to make comment, on this or any other article on this website. I would be most grateful.

So do vegetarians eat/drink dairy. Yes, though many are trying to cut down for the same reason they became vegetarian. Do vegans eat/drink dairy, no. Put very simply this is what separates the two. Vegetarians abstain from meat and fish, but can eat animal products like milk, cheese and eggs, where vegans eat neither animals or animal products. I remember a quote from one vegetarian on a website somewhere, sorry I cannot remember who or where, that said something like “I do eat butter as no animal died to provide that for me.” Perhaps at the end of this article you will have a view on that?

Vegans and dairy products do not mix. What is a vegan diet good for, our health, the animals, particularly welfare and conservation of the planet, keep reading and I hope to show you why.

I also want to clear up a couple of myths.

Calcium. If you don’t get calcium from milk where is it? The answer is plants, some contain more than others, look for leafy green vegetables. A bag of kale has more calcium than a bottle of milk. After all that’s where the cow gets the calcium, if they don’t have supplements, which nearly all now do.

Protein. We have all heard it said “I need animal products like meat and cheese for protein?” I cover this more on a different article on this website, but basically animals cannot produce protein, only eat it and convert it from plants, very inefficiently into animal products. Though there are high protein foods for vegans, it is actually very difficult to eat a vegan diet without getting enough protein! That is unless you are living on salad leaves, which I really would not recommend. Just mix up your meals and include whole grains, peas and beans!

Introduction

Cow’s milk has long been a staple in many diets, but it’s true cost extends far beyond the economic value. This article delves into the multifaceted impact of cow’s milk production and consumption, examining its effects on individual health, animal welfare and environmental conservation, put another way, making sure the planet is worth leaving to our grandchildren and theirs. By exploring these dimensions we hopefully gain a comprehensive understanding of the real cost associated with these widely consumed dairy products.

Impact on Individual Health

Cow’s milk is often lauded for its calcium content and potential bones strengthening benefits. And as an aside, I was taught this as a child- we probably all were- and believed it until I started to consider veganism, and I thought I was a reasonably intelligent person! It was only when I started to study the subject that I learnt the truth.

We find in studies that the societies which contain the highest levels of osteoporosis (brittle bones) are also those with the highest levels of milk consumption! We also see (this time a Harvard study-I will not put full references in this essay but please message me if you would like more details,) that people (in this study women) who consume more milk are more likely to break bones than those who consume less!

How so? Numerous studies have shown that when animal proteins are broken down in our system, it leaves an acid (sometimes referred to as ash) in our bodies. The body, of course, needs to regulate it’s acid/alcaline level. Calcium is very efficient at doing this. Therefore our bodies use the calcium in the milk, together with leeching calcium from our bones to balance this PH level. Flushing it out in our waste. There is some evidence that with practice our bodies become better at leaching this calcium from our bones! So the more animal proteins consumed, including milk, the less calcium in our bones! So advertising milk for strong bones is/was just a clever advertising ploy.

I do want to keep references to a minimum here, though a lot of these points are touched on in the PETA websites, amongst many others, but I would like to quote Professor T Colin Campbell, Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University here. “The association between the intake of animal protein and fracture rates appears to be as strong as that between cigarette smoking and lung cancer.” Further reference details available on request.

Can I officially apologise to my wife here. I had been encouraging her to drink milk for most of our 40 year married life, especially during menopause, to keep her bones strong, and she needed two new hips at a relatively young age! Sorry I was wrong!

High levels of saturated fats and cholesterol in cow’s milk have been linked to amongst other things, acne, an increased risk of heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Lactose intolerance, prevalent amongst many populations, but is particularly high in some sub groups, can lead to severe digestive discomfort, further highlighting the potential downsides to milk consumption. Many of these conditions are very serious. Others are less serious and often undiagnosed, but can still cause misery, and often be put down to other factors like IBS and aging.

A recent UK study showed that many people suffering from headaches, asthma, and numerous digestive problems showed a “marked improvement” just by cutting out cow’s milk.

Indeed milk and milk products upset many more people than is commonly known. You could be having a bad reaction but not put it down to milk and dairy as you have consumed it for your whole life, but it can affect you more at certain ages.

Furthermore the presence of the huge amount of female and growth hormones, fats and antibiotics in milk, raises concerns about their impact on human health, particularly contributing to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria (a little more detail later) and in many studies also linking it to breast and prostate cancer, and I see a recent study to ovarian cancer amongst others. There have also been links to milk and particularly the female hormones in it, to causing men to develop “man boobs” or gynecomastia.

On the subject of the prostrate, there are conditions other than cancer that affect men in this area, including but not restricted to general health, the ability to urinate at a regular but not too frequent a period and those involving sexual performance. There are products on the market that can help with these conditions. One such product is here, please click here for details. I should say here that if you go on to purchase this item I will receive a small commission.

Just how many of us need the huge amounts of growth hormones that a new-born calf needs? Of course you are getting more than nature intended for the calf as the cow is fed and often injected with much more too!

Plant based milk alternatives can mitigate these health risks while providing essential nutrients, even if you have consumed cows’ milk your whole life. Please do not get me wrong, it will not undo the harm we have done to our bodies completely, but it will give you a chance to stop making it worse.

Animal welfare

The dairy industry’s impact on animal welfare is a complex and often distressing aspect of cow’s milk production. Cows are subject to repetitive cycles of pregnancy and milk production resulting in physical and emotional stress, Cows are normally artificially inseminated by human hand or machines at about the one year mark. After they give birth to a calf they are again inseminated when their milk starts to dry up, giving them no time to recover.

Calves are separated from their mothers shortly after birth causing great distress for both the calf and the mother. Most calves are prevented from drinking their mother’s milk, as this is reserved for we humans.

Male calves deemed unprofitable in the milk industry, often face a grim fate. They may be raised for veal and confined to restrictive conditions fed on a liquid diet devoid of iron to keep the meat light in colour. These calves are often crippled by their diet and the confined space and need assistance to be put into trucks at about 18 weeks of age to be slaughtered. The journey to slaughter will be the longest they have tried to walk in their life!

Only so many are required for veal and so the rest are killed immediately so that we humans can drink their milk.

This is in the stark contrast to the image of idyllic green dairy farms and the harsh reality of the modern and most profitable intensive industry. Many of the female calves are raised to replace their mothers who cannot survive long given the draining existence put upon them. The other female calves that are deemed unnecessary and are killed immediately. Cows could naturally live to 15 or even 20 years, but dairy cows production generally slows after 4 to 6 years due to the conditions they are kept in and the constant draining of their body’s resources which often cripples them by this time. When this happens they are sent for slaughter and put into the food chain, mostly in heavily processed meats.

The pursuit of increased milk production has led to selective breeding and genetic manipulation which can further compromise animal well-being.

Adopting a vegan lifestyle aligns with ethical considerations by reducing demand for these practices. Perhaps some non-vegans can see now what a vegan diet is good for and why many decide that vegetarian is not enough?

Environmental considerations

The dairy industry’s impact on the environment is a critical concern for the conservation of our planet.

The extensive land use required for grazing and growing animal feed contributes to deforestation, habitat loss and soil degradation. Indeed around 75% of all farmed land is either used for animal production or to feed those animals!

Water use is also a significant concern, it takes up to 1000 litres of water to produce just one litre of cow’s milk. The equazion remains the same 1000-1 of course if we are talking in gallons. This strain on water resources exacerbates water scarcity issues in regions already grappling with shortages, and all of us with climate change.

Additionally the greenhouse gas emissions associated with cows milk production including methane from enteric fermentation (the method cows use to breakdown otherwise indigestible food) and Co2 and often a complete lack of manure management, contribute to climate change. There are some farms that treat the sewage from cows but many that do not. Cow waste is one of the main reasons for polluting and killing off streams rivers and even polluting drinking water and running off to the seas.

Again, transitioning away from dairy consumption to plant based alternatives can reduce one’s carbon footprint and promote the sustainable land and water use.

Antibiotic Resistance and Public Health

The use of antibiotics in dairy farming has raised concerns about antibiotic resistance, a growing threat to human public health. These animals are fed antibiotics to treat infections and to combat the effects of keeping so many animals in a small space as is deemed cost effective in modern intensive farming.

Due to the over-milking many cows develop infections in the udder. There are about 1000 different bacteria that can cause this, one being Ecoli. Due to the unnaturally high milk output, animal pus or white blood cells gets into the milk. (The same thing we get when we have a bad burn or infection.) The law specifies how much there can be in sold milk. Sufficient to say it is not 0!

The law also states that the measure is the amount of pus in the total milk from a farm, so up-to 2/3 of a herd can be infected and the milk still deemed fit for human consumption! At the same time of course, the herd are given extra antibiotics. Studies have shown that keeping cows in clean conditions with extra space reduces these infections. However, that of course costs farmers more money. Instead there is a lot of investment into antibiotics and genetically modifying cows to be more resistant to these infections whilst living in the same conditions.

But whilst these antibiotics increases farmers’ profits, the widespread use of the drugs can lead to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria. These bacteria can spread to humans through consumption of milk and dairy products, undermining the effectiveness of antibiotics in treating human illnesses.

Resource intensity and efficiency

The resource intensity of cow’s milk production highlights the inefficiencies of relying on animal agriculture for sustenance. The conversion of plant based feeds into dairy products is a very inefficient process as energy is lost at each feeding and converting feed to milk level. This inefficiency contributes to the high land, water and energy requirements associated with dairy farming. By opting for plant based foods individuals can bypass these inefficiencies and allocate resources more efficiently to meet global food demand.

Transitioning to a plant based lifestyle

Embracing a plant based lifestyle offers the solution that addresses the various dimensions of the true cost of cow’s milk. Plant-based milk alternatives such as almond, soy and oat milk, offer comparable nutritional values without the negative health and real welfare and environmental implications, associated with cow’s milk. 

Transitioning to a vegan diet can empower individuals to make conscious choices that align with their values promoting better health, ethical treatment of animals and a more sustainable planet.

Conclusion

The real cost of cows milk extends far beyond its price tag, encompassing health risks, animal welfare concerns and environmental impacts. The dairy industry’s contribution to health issues, animal suffering and environmental degradation underscores the need for a shift towards plant based alternatives. Only by understanding these multifaceted dimensions can make informed choices.

Before signing off I would like to make two final points.

Firstly, please let me have some feedback on this article and my website in general, whether you agree with my comments or not. Please drop me a line or a much longer list into the comments box or email address below.

Finally, I would just like you to pause what you know and how you have been brought up for a moment.

Many of us, myself included, drank milk, ate cheese and even meat because it is what we did and were expected to do.

Now, whether you believe in god, evolution or a combination of both, how did it become a good idea to feed our children not on human milk but from the huge beast that is a cow, an animal let’s remember that has four stomachs or compartments, yet alone for adults to consume it? Surely if that is what we needed we would produce it ourselves just as cows produce rich milk to turn a calf into a huge cow as quickly as possible. These cows need such a good head-start in life as they are being developed to live on the low nutritional source of food; grass. Cows can weigh 1000 pounds at two years of age. Other mammals from rats to horses to monkeys and elephants produce the right milk for their offspring. Has god and/or evolution got it so wrong for us?

Is it really any wonder that drinking milk from a much bigger, and very different animal to ourselves causes us health problems? As I have heard quoted a few times, but I cannot recall where, “God doesn’t make mistakes, and when evolution does, the species pays the price.”

Thank you for taking the time to read this very long article. As always I would greatly appreciate comments.

Peter Pont

w. veganpeter.com

e. peter@veganpeter.com

2 thoughts on “The True Cost of Milk!”

  1. Interesting article Pete. I was aware of most points covered, but there are a couple of items there that we’re new to me.

    1. Thanks for the comment Andy. When researching it I must say I found a lot of it new. I really don’t know how I could be so ignorant in the past, and willingly inflict so much damage to my and my family’s bodies. Though looking back it does explain a lot.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top