You've probably heard the arguments against dairy products by now: Milk wasn't intended and is unfit for human consumption. Milk causes all kinds of diseases and contains scary growth hormones. You are poisoning your children!
Advocates for milky things, including reputable nutritionists, say the anti-milk thing is strange, that children need at least three servings per day for healthy bones and teeth, and that dairy provides us with much-needed calcium and protein.
Not to mention the question of where we're supposed to get that ever so important vitamin D.
Still, there is the very sound and totally undebatable vegetarian argument that the milk industry is not very nice. You just can't argue with that one. But, damn, cheese is so yummy. As an aside, you know of course that most cheese contains rennet, right? And that rennet comes out of the stomachs of calves?
Nothing drives me more insane than an "ethical" vegetarian who eats regular cheese. You might as well eat veal. Beyond basic kindness, is there any truth to all the scariness? Will milk really kill us?
What the experts say
"Nothing is ever wholly good or bad. Foods are complex, and people respond differently to the same foods. Pasteurization does change proteins, but we seem to tolerate this quite well. In Canada we have different laws than the U.S., and we can't give our cattle bovine growth hormones. The fat in milk, like all fat, is a potential carrier for xenotoxins from the environment, human-made chemicals like herbicides, pesticides, PCBs, dioxins, etc. So I do recommend organic dairy products . That doesn't mean they'll be entirely residue-free, but you will be reducing your exposure. Dairy is a useful source of protein and calcium."
AILEEN BURFORD MASON , dietitian, immunologist, Toronto
"Milk contains very powerful growth hormones naturally, in particular IGF1. This hormone is identical in cows and humans and has been identified as the key factor in the growth of every human cancer. The nations with the greatest dairy consumption have the highest rates of cancer. If you expose yourself to sunlight once every three days for five minutes, you can get your vitamin D . Your food is loaded with calcium. Potatoes have 40 mg of calcium per 100-gram portion. Beans have 50, chickpeas 150. Countries with high dairy consumption also have higher rates of osteoporosis."
ROBERT COHEN , author, Milk: The Deadly Poison, New Jersey
"Vitamin D doesn't occur in foods commonly. It is added to dairy products -- this was legislated in the 1960s as a rickets-preventing measure. Milk is required to be fortified at 400 units per quart. For osteoporosis prevention, the goal is to keep the level of D higher than 70 nanomoles per litre. Other foods, like margarine, are also fortified, though a far smaller amount is added. One probable reasonable source is ocean fish . You can also find fortified soy beverages . If you don't consume dairy, you probably have a little bit lower level of vitamin D."
REINHOLD VEITH , professor, departments of nutritional sciences, laboratory medicine and pathobiology, University of Toronto
"Approximately 75 per cent of the world's population is lactose intolerant, which may be Mother Nature's way of telling us we shouldn't be consuming this product. The [Washington-based] Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has linked milk consumption to osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, iron deficiency and obesity. The Harvard Nurses Health Study showed that a higher consumption of dairy products increased bone fractures in women. You can find calcium in a lot of plant foods, like kale , bok choy , broccoli , almonds , figs and tofu . In order to produce milk profitably, a cow has to be artificially inseminated every year. So dairy farming is also a cruel industry."
KERA PESALL , nutritionist, Toronto Vegetarian Association