Milk doesn’t come from cows grazing peacefully in fields of buttercups with calves by their sides. In most cases, this could not be further from the truth.

From a young age, our parents always encouraged us to drink milk so we’d get strong bones. As we grew older, there was no shortage of adverts of kids happily drinking milk sporting white mustaches. For decades the dairy industry has pushed the agenda of drinking milk and the necessity of milk in a healthy diet. But is it really healthy and does it really build strong bones? When we think of milk, we think of happy cows roaming around in green fields because that is what we are taught to think. However, is there a reason why nobody ever talks about how milk is produced?

glass and a half
Famous Cadbury’s slogan that has been used in adverts for years

Adverts have played a huge role in shaping our view about milk. The above example shows a Cadbury’s advert that is used to normalize milk as most people only have positive connotations when thinking of chocolate. However, the advert does not show the bigger picture behind the production of milk, the industry and media are brilliant in covering up the truth by distracting and convincing consumers to think milk is healthy.

Is milk really healthy?

Recently, there’s been many studies on milk and how it impacts human health. In 2001, a Harvard study found that men having 2 1/2 servings of dairy products daily had a 34% increased risk of prostate cancer and another study found that men having more than 3 or more servings of milk a day had a 76% increased risk of total mortality. Studies since have found that there is a clear link between milk and prostate, colon and breast cancer. Does milk actually strengthen bones? Studies have found that milk causes osteoporosis, a condition in which bones become fragile. A report found that children who consumed the most amount of milk actually had more bone fractures than children who consumed less. Maybe the fact that 65% of the world population has a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy should be a reason itself to not consume cow’s milk. The dairy industry also fails to inform the consumers that the cows are pumped full of hormones and antibiotics. Most cows in the dairy industry are given growth hormones, causing their udders to become unnaturally big and heavy, resulting in frequent infections. Of course, telling us this wouldn’t exactly increase their sales.

Is drinking milk ethical?

When comparing the meat and dairy industry together, some would say that the dairy industry is more ethical as it doesn’t directly kill any animals. Is drinking milk really more ethical than eating meat? Consumers are increasingly becoming aware of what they are eating and ethical concerns surrounding the dairy industry is being expressed more, especially with veganism on the rise.

Farmers have been selectively breeding cows around 200 years, this is when certain cows with desirable characteristics are chosen to produce offspring with the same genetic characteristics. This has led dairy cows to produce 10 times more milk than what they would naturally. Dairy cows can only produce milk when pregnant and therefore they are continuously artificially inseminated by farmers. Even after giving birth they are made pregnant again just two to three months after delivery. In order for humans to drink milk, calves are taken away from their mothers so they don’t drink the milk. Calves are instead fed a commercial milk replacer rather than being fed the milk from their mother which is meant for them. As it is the female cows that produce milk, male calves are seen as useless in the dairy industry and so they are placed in crates and raised as veal, only to be slaughtered a week after it was born.

We get the knackerman out to do it. I could never do it. – Dairy farmer

If even a farmer can’t face the slaughter of a one-week-old calf, what does this say about the ethics of dairy farming? While it doesn’t directly kill an animal, it indirectly kills the offspring and it begs the question of whether milk is ethical when considering the process and production of milk. If adverts conveyed the truth about the dairy industry, people would be more hesitant when buying milk products. The vegan community on social media came up with their own version of Cadbury’s “glass and a half” advert to bring awareness to the lies that the dairy industry feeds its customers.

class and a calf
A vegan version of the Cadbury’s advert

So what are the alternatives to milk?

There’s a whole variety of plant-based milks including soy, almond, coconut, hazelnut, oat, cashew, rice, and even hemp and quinoa. Plant-based milk contains preventative compounds that have a protective effect against various diseases that are caused by cows milk, including various cancers and osteoporosis. It’s been proven that oat milk and soy milk can decrease cholesterol levels and in general plant-based milks are thought to have a better nutritional value than cows milk. In reality, the nutritional value varies greatly and is dependent on the raw material, processing, fortification, and the presence of other ingredients such as sweeteners and oil. Regardless, there is a need for the dairy industry to be transparent and present the facts surrounding milk both in terms of how healthy milk really is and how ethical it is, only then can consumers make an informed choice. In addition, plant-based milks are better for the environment as it uses up less natural resources than cows milk. Choosing plant-based milk is a win-win as it’s better for your health, environment and your conscience!

vegan milk
Graph showing the environmental impact of different types of milk

 

Next time you fancy a glass of milk, why not try oat milk instead?