Tipping Points 6: The Untold Story of Milk

(You may want to read my essays in order.)

April 26, 2010

Tipping Points 6

The Untold Story of Milk

 Ron Schmid, in his recently updated book THE UNTOLD STORY OF MILK (2009), explores the history of the commercial milk industry.  The pattern Schmid describes is the same pattern described by Will Allen in THE WAR ON BUGS (2008), discussed in Tipping Points 4.  Both men show that industry demonizes competitive practices (organic farming, raw milk), creates and uses junk science, purchases massive amounts of advertising, and acquires government support to legalize industry practices and to police industry domination of the desired market. 

Schmid shows how little freedom of choice we actually have with regard to milk.  Most Americans have lost the ability to purchase nutrient dense raw milk, and too many dairy farmers have been driven from their farms due to relentless industry pressures to produce large quantities of milk cheaply. 

Schmid demonstrates that all commercial dairy cows, including organic cows, are production units in an industrial system.  The cowness of these cows is being violated.  Commercial cows are neither grazed on pasture nor milked for a reasonable amount of milk.  Thus, the commercial milk system is a garbage in/garbage out system. The milk from these factory cows is not the same as the nutrient dense milk from a pasture-fed cow.  And, industry-processed milk is highly processed.   

Today’s commercial milk industry, as Schmid’s research shows, has not changed philosophically and, in many ways, physically since the early 1800s at the dawn of this industry.  Then, cows were located next to and fed with the swill from whiskey distilleries.  In the late 1830s, Schmid relates, Robert Hartley wrote graphically about the conditions in these dairies.  These cows stood constantly in filth and foul air (55).  They produced cheap slop milk that was so thin and blue that dealers added “starch, sugar, flour, plaster of Paris, and chalk” to give it substance and color (36).  Hartley believed slop milk to be dangerous because when he drank it unknowingly while traveling, it made him sick (33-38).  Unbelievably, the last distillery dairy did not close until 1930. 

Today, Schmid writes, many industrial cows are fed such things as pellets made from the chemically tainted sludge from ethanol plants; chicken manure, which is a known source of salmonella; grain, which increases milk production but causes acidosis and which permits the cow’s stomach to harbor acid-resistant E. coli pathogens; soybeans; bakery waste (bread, cakes, pastries, and candy bars); and “citrus peel cake loaded with pesticides” (39, 223, 358, 298, 324).  Today, most commercial cows are kept in environmentally controlled dairy barns where they stand constantly on concrete floors, which causes painful, laming infections of their feet (210-211).  Normally, cows spend about 50 percent of their time lying down (212). 

Schmid shows that commercial cows are either sickening or sick.  The average life span of a commercial dairy cow is only 3½ years, rather than the normal 12 to 15 years (206).  The national Mastitis Council estimates that some 40 percent of “all dairy cows have some form of mastitis,” an infection of the udder—which means that a lot of commercial milk is coming from sick cows who are being given antibiotics and other drugs.  Medicating sick cows, in turn, “kills off beneficial bacteria in the cows’ intestinal tracts and allows pathogens to proliferate.” 

Thus, Schmidt concludes, both the industry and our industry-corrupted government accept “a substantial amount of disease in confinement cows as part and parcel of the operation” (215).  And, Schmidt adds that “for over fifty years, the federal government has done everything in its power to encourage the production of large quantities of cheap milk and cheap food in general—at the expense of quality and at the price of driving millions of small, quality-conscious farmers off the land” (164).

Cooking milk, or pasteurization, supposedly kills pathogens (210-214).  But commercial milk contains pathogens that even ultrapasteurization cannot kill:  Johne’s disease bacteria, known as Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis and thought to cause Crohn’s disease; Listeria monocytogenes; and E. coli O157:H7, a deadly strain of this particular E. coli strain (437, 358-359, 238-239).  [Schmid cautions, however, that many forms of E.coli do not cause human illness and, in fact, “play a beneficial role in the digestive track.”  Even with E. coli O157:H7, “Schmid writes, “only a few…strains are pathogenic” (311).]  Additionally, cows eating moldy grain can excrete into their milk aflatoxins, which are liver carcinogens and which pasteurization does not kill.  And, commercial pasteurized milk has harbored antimicrobial-resistant Salmonella strains that have caused widespread illness and, even, death (231).

Many pathogens today have recently emerged.  The industrialized, centralized food system is producing these new pathogens.  They are the blowback from the breakdown of holistic farming practices that respect the cowness of cows and the levels of use the soil can support.  Using technological solutions, such as moving from pasteurization to ultrapasteurization to irradiation, is only creating further problems for humans as these solutions are altering food components. 

Schmid writes that Robert Tauxe, from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), reported in 2002 that 13 recently emerged pathogens annually cause the 76 million individual cases of food-borne illnesses, 300,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths.  Tauxe estimated that one in four Americans experience a food-borne illness every year.  Additionally, Schmid argues, it is becoming clearer that much human illness is being caused by the “reduced human immunity due to poor nutrition” caused by consuming products from the centralized food system (274-277). 

Nevertheless, Schmid writes, “milk in general—both pasteurized and raw—is a particularly safe food” when compared to the amount of food-borne illnesses created by the food industry.  In 1997, “milk and milk products accounted for only two tenths of one percent of all reported cases of food-borne illness.”  But, when an outbreak occurs, Schmid cautions, it “usually involves many individuals” (274). 

The more important question—and the subject of Tipping Points 8—is not whether commercial milk is safe, but whether, as processed as it is, it supports human health.  Schmid argues that commercial milk is, from the beginning, a compromised product that can and does produce allergic reactions and chronic illness.  In my terms, commercial milk is a fake food since the cows are not fed what cows eat, which is grass; are not treated properly, which means they are diseased and pumped full of drugs; and as the milk is heavily processed and adulterated with additives—some of which, like the addition of dried nonfat milk to skim milk, are not listed on the label as they are deemed to be industry standard practices.  

We can help our remaining dairy farmers to survive by helping them to escape the commercial system.  Unless you’ve been on chemotherapy, you can help develop a regional milk market by buying local real milk, cream, and value-added milk products, like butter, cheese, kefir, and yogurt.  The web site, Real Milk is one place that lists where to find local milk:  www.realmilk.com.  And, The Weston A. Price Foundation web site is another place where the benefits of real milk are discussed:  www.westonapricefoundation.org.  Real milk may cost a bit more, but as it is a whole, nutrient dense food, you’ll benefit more.  And, likely, you’ll spend less on treating illness.