Many of us can remember that we were told as kids that milk was good for us. We had to drink it to get our daily intake of calcium so we would have strong and healthy bones. But several studies have shown that consuming more dairy doesn't result in less osteoporosis. On the contrary, a study conducted in Sweden in 2014 has shown that too much milk (three or more glasses a day) was associated with increased mortality and a higher risk of fracture. After adjusting for other variables, they found that women who reported drinking three or more glasses of milk each day nearly doubled their risk of death in relation to women who drank less than one glass each day (men were also affected but no so much as women). How is this possible? While dairy products are one of the most calcium-rich foods there are, there are other substances in milk that are not so good for the human body. The researchers note that D-galactose, found in milk, has been shown to induce oxidative stress damage and chronic inflammation in animals. These have been associated with cardiovascular disease, cancer, bone loss, and muscle loss in humans. So it would be better to get calcium into our bodies via other, plant-based sources, like broccoli, soy beans, figs, oranges and greens.
Another reason to reduce/avoid your milk, and dairy, intake is the horrific life dairy cows have. Everyday practices on most dairy farms are extremely distressing. From around the age of 15 months, female cows are artificially inseminated. Farmers mechanically draw semen from a bull, and then push the female cow into a narrow trap, known as a “cattle crush” by some farm workers and a “rape rack” by others, and artificially impregnate her. When she gives birth nine months later her calf will be removed within 36 hours so dairy farmers can steal the milk that is meant for her baby. Cows are social animals and form close and long-lasting relationships with members of their herd. Semi-wild cattle will groom and graze together, share food and coordinate activities. Cows experience many of the same emotions as humans do and experts testify that the separation is traumatizing for both mother and calf, and cries of anguish, which often go on for days, are a clear sign of this. If the calf is male, he is no use to the dairy industry, so he will either be killed immediately, or sold for veal, in which case his throat is slit within months. If the calf is female, she will have the same miserable life as her mother: starting at 15 months, a cycle of forced impregnation and theft of her baby, until her body is too exhausted to continue, at which point she will be sent for slaughter. This is usually when the cow is around five years old (when not on a factory farm, cows can live to be 20 years old). All calves, whether male or female, are dehorned. This is carried out by burning the horn bud with a hot iron or by applying a chemical to erode it. The caustic chemical can burn the skin if application is not done carefully or if the calves are exposed to rain shortly afterwards but even so, anesthetic does not have to be given. Dairy cows are bred to produce large quantities of milk: around ten times more than necessary to feed a calf. The weight of this excess milk makes their udders swell, causing teat infections (mastitis) and also contributes to lameness. These two conditions, along with infertility, are the main reasons why thousands of dairy cows are sent to slaughter each year at an even younger age than they otherwise would be. Mastitis, a bacterial infection of the udder that causes painful swelling or hardening, causes the milk to have a much higher count of somatic cell count. Because it is so widespread, it is virtually impossible to avoid high somatic cell count in milk (lower counts are associated with better quality milk).
The dairy industry also has a huge impact on the environment. There are approximately 270 million dairy cows worldwide and they use a lot of water. Water is needed to hydrate cows ( a cow can drink 23 gallons of water a day), clean parlor floors, walls, and milking equipment, and water to produce the food for all these cows. A study found that 98% of milk’s footprint can be traced back to a cows food. It takes around six pounds of alfalfa to produce one gallon of milk. It takes 683 gallons of water to produce just six pounds of alfalfa. A dairy cow can produce up to seven gallons of milk a day, meaning that 4,781 gallons of water are used per cow every day for their food needs.
All these cows produce a tremendous amount of manure and greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change. According to the FAO’s report (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) “Greenhouse Gas Emissions From the Dairy Sector: a Life Cycle Assessment,” estimates that the global dairy sector contributes 4% of total global anthropogenic GHG emissions. This figure includes emissions allotted to milk production, processing and transportation, and the emissions from fattening and slaughtering dairy cows. It is estimated that a single cow can produce between 250 and 500 liters of methane a day (66 to 132 gallons), so you can imagine what that means on a global scale. Limiting or eliminating our dairy intake, and meat of course, is one of the most impactful ways to help reduce our footprint. So, next time you are about to eat that ice cream, please go for the dairy-free, cruelty-free option!