Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Dairy Is Bad for Humans and the Planet: So Why Are Public Schools Required to Offer Milk With Every Meal?

Insights + Opinion
Dairy Is Bad for Humans and the Planet: So Why Are Public Schools Required to Offer Milk With Every Meal?
Cows rotate in the milking parlor at Fair Oaks Farms, a large-scale dairy and tourist attraction, near Rensselaer, Ind. Dan Charles / NPR

By Susan Levin

When students returned to Los Angeles public schools this fall, for the first time in five years, chocolate milk was back on the menu.

No one would argue that a carton of chocolate milk—full of cholesterol, saturated fat and more sugar than two Krispy Kreme doughnuts combined—is healthy. So why has it made its way back onto the lunch line, and what can you do about it?


School board members argued that without the sugary chocolate and strawberry flavors enticing them, students were "at risk" of drinking less milk. By returning chocolate milk to the menu, LAUSD calculated that milk consumption could increase by 4,332 gallons a week.

That's a big win for the dairy industry—and a big loss for students.

Pushing milk, flavored or not, on children is wrong. Milk and other dairy products are the No. 1 source of artery-clogging saturated fat in the American diet, contributing to heart disease, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease. Studies have also linked dairy products to an increased risk of breast, ovarian and prostate cancers.

Some might assume that milk's calcium content is essential for children to grow strong bones. Not according to the science. A 2012 study published by the American Medical Association showed that children who consume the largest quantities of dairy products have at least as many bones break as those who consume less milk. Among the most active girls, those who consumed more dairy and calcium actually experienced more stress fractures compared with those who consumed less. Similarly, another study found that the more milk teenagers consumed, the more bone fractures they later experienced as adults.

Calcium is important, but it's readily available in more healthful foods like green leafy vegetables, beans and whole grains.

Dairy also devastates the environment. In drought-ravaged California, we should support students who choose to ditch the dairy. Producing just a single gallon of milk requires 880 gallons of water. That's nearly 55 gallons per cup. On top of that, animal agriculture is a leading cause of climate change, emitting more greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation combined.

Industrial dairy cows suffer a life filled with illness, with one out of every 10 cows in a herd prematurely dying every year. Given natural conditions like healthy food and outdoor exercise, cows have an average lifespan of 20 years. But shot full of antibiotics and hormones to overproduce milk, and committed to a life of 24-hour confinement, they are spent before they reach the age of six, killed and processed for their meat.

So if it's not healthy for us, the animals or the environment, why does the government continue to require that public schools offer milk with every meal, even when student demand is down? Follow the milk money.

Schools account for about seven to eight percent of all milk sales. Knowing it's a must-win market, the dairy industry uses its money and lobbying power to convince us that milk is an essential part of children's diets. And it works. During the 2013-2014 school year, the USDA spent more than $20 million taxpayer dollars on dairy product subsidies that went into school lunches and other child nutrition programs.

It's not the first time the government has propped up the milk industry at the expense of Americans' health. Take MyPlate, the USDA's plate-shaped guide to healthy eating, consists of vegetables, fruits, protein, and grains accompanied by a smaller circle representing dairy.

When the plate was first introduced in 2011, the National Milk Producers Federation CEO celebrated it as a win for Big Dairy, saying: "USDA's new MyPlate, the simple visual metaphor of a serving of dairy products alongside a plate, says it's vital to consume three servings of low-fat and fat-free dairy foods every day."

The National Institutes of Health estimates that 30 to 50 million American adults are lactose intolerant, including 95 percent of Asian Americans and 60 to 80 percent of African Americans. In spite of that, the government actively subsidizes milk production, keeping prices low so that Americans will continue to consume it. Between 1995 and 2009, the dairy industry received nearly $5 billion in government subsidies. The government also protects dairy producers from natural price declines when demand is down by purchasing surplus milk and cheese. Just last year, with dairy industry sales sagging and billions of pounds of unwanted cheese piling up, the USDA stepped in and purchased 11 million pounds of the excess cheese at a cost of $20 million.

The USDA also manages a dairy "checkoff" program, which collects funds from milk producers and then funnels them into campaigns to promote dairy products—like the ubiquitous "Got Milk?" ads from the 1990s. And though the federal government urges Americans to limit their fast-food consumption, dairy checkoffs work with these same fast-food restaurants to develop new products that maximize the milk. The checkoff program helped develop and promote products like Wendy's Cheddar-Lover's Bacon Cheeseburger, Taco Bell's Cantina Double Steak Quesadillas and Pizza Hut's Ultimate Cheese Pizza.

Dairy checkoff funds are also used for nutrition education. That mostly means targeting elementary and middle school in an effort to turn them into customers for life. In fact, a checkoff-funded program called "Raise Your Hand for Chocolate Milk" initially used its half-million to a million dollar budget to raise alarm about children drinking less milk to convince schools to keep chocolate milk on the menu.

It's time to stop lining the pockets of the dairy industry at the expense of our children's health. For all the government's work to ensure that children are drinking more milk, where is the focus on ensuring that they eat enough fruits and vegetables—which actually do have protective effects against heart disease, diabetes and other chronic conditions? Most American children get only about a serving of vegetables and a serving of fruit per day, which are squeezed into their lunches by counting pizza and French fries as vegetables.

With demand for dairy down by about 40 percent since 1970, the government should stop supporting a dying industry that's making Americans sick. Until that changes, part of the solution lies with us and the choices we make with our own money. Fortunately, more and more consumers are demanding healthful, non-dairy options, with soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, and even pea milk starting to crowd out dairy milk on grocery store shelves. The non-dairy milk market is booming, with sales expected to grow by 16.6 percent—or $35 billion—by 2024. And half of Americans now report that they regularly opt for non-dairy milk.

After 92 years in business, one of New York City's oldest dairies welcomed the trend. With profits falling, Elmhurst Dairy closed its doors. But it soon reopened, selling only dairy-free plant milks. According to CEO Henry Schwartz, "After 92 years in business, it was time to embrace a new model and look toward the future."

Join us in urging the U.S. government to improve Americans' health by signing this petition asking USDA to remove the dairy group from MyPlate.

Susan Levin is a registered dietitian and director of nutrition education for the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.

Eating too much black licorice can be toxic. Nat Aggiato / Pixabay

By Bill Sullivan

Black licorice may look and taste like an innocent treat, but this candy has a dark side. On Sept. 23, 2020, it was reported that black licorice was the culprit in the death of a 54-year-old man in Massachusetts. How could this be? Overdosing on licorice sounds more like a twisted tale than a plausible fact.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sustainable t-shirts by Allbirds are made from a new, low-carbon material that uses a mineral extract from discarded snow crab shells. Jerry Buttles / Allbirds

In the age of consumption, sustainability innovations can help shift cultural habits and protect dwindling natural resources. Improvements in source materials, product durability and end-of-life disposal procedures can create consumer products that are better for the Earth throughout their lifecycles. Three recent advancements hope to make a difference.

Read More Show Less

Trending

There are many different CBD oil brands in today's market. But, figuring out which brand is the best and which brand has the strongest oil might feel challenging and confusing. Our simple guide to the strongest CBD oils will point you in the right direction.

Read More Show Less
A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

Financial institutions in New York state will now have to consider the climate-related risks of their planning strategies. Ramy Majouji / WikiMedia Commons

By Brett Wilkins

Regulators in New York state announced Thursday that banks and other financial services companies are expected to plan and prepare for risks posed by the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch