IT ’S REALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO JUMP INTO A discussion of dairy without first talking about cows.
Once upon a time, cows grazed on grass and lived on sprawling pastures, and their owners treated them humanely. Chickens ran around pecking at worms, cows grazed peacefully on pasture, eggs were plucked from the hens’ nests at dawn, roosters would crow, and the owner’s son would dutifully milk the cows every morning.
Today? Not so much. In the modern factory farm, cows are milk-and-beef production machines that exist to turn corn and grain—all of it genetically
modified, by the way—into milk and meat as quickly as possible. The natural food of cows is grass, not genetically modified grain. A concentrated diet of corn and grain gives cows acidosis, which can lead to a general weakening of the immune system that leaves the animal vulnerable to a host of horrible feedlot diseases. Cattle rarely manage to live on these diets for more than 150 days.
With intensive production schedules (they don’t call them “factory” farms for nothing), modern dairy cows commonly produce many times the number of pounds of milk they would produce in nature. Growth hormones and unnatu- ral milking schedules cause dairy cows’ udders to become painful, heavy, and infected. To prevent this, factory-farmed cows are routinely given large doses of antibiotics, the residue of which—along with that of the steroids and growth hormones they’re given—invariably wind up in the milk and meat they produce. The antibiotics serve a double purpose—they also fatten the cattle up.
If you think all those hormones and antibiotics don’t have any impact on your health, think again. One study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology demonstrated a significant association between milk drinking and teenage acne. Researchers suggested that the most likely explanation was the presence of hormones and “bioactive molecules” in the milk.
Maybe you’ve guessed by now that I’m not a huge fan of milk. At least not the homogenized, pasteurized kind you get in supermarkets. What I am a fan of is raw, organic, unpasteurized, nonhomogenized milk from grass-fed cows. (Full disclosure: I drink a quart of cold, raw, whole-fat milk every week, and they’ll pry it from my cold dead hands!) The dairy industry has long promoted the notion that “milk builds strong bones.” But a research review, published in Te American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed that osteoporotic bone fracture rates are highest in countries that consume the most dairy. Could there be other factors at work here? Sure. But the firm connection between more milk drinking and stronger bones is far from established, much as dairy-industry-supported scientists would like you to believe.