The Industrial Milk Factory There is an Alternative
The modern milk factory is the picture of tranquility with happy cows lazing the day away. Just look at the California "happy cow" ads or check out all the milk posters now adorning every school cafeteria in the country. Best of all, ask the American Dairy Association. Right, they will tell you how wonderful it is.
Dairy cows have it a lot rougher than beef cattle. They truly are production machinery and have a much longer, more miserable life than beef cattle. Being a dairy cow is no escape from the slaughter house, it just forestalls it until the milk stops flowing.
Come on, these are Milk Cows! How bad can it be?
Just how bad is it for a dairy cow; say a Holstein-Friesian? Consider that dairy cows used to live somewhere between 17 and 20 years. Now they might live to the ripe old age of 5 if they are lucky then it's off to burgerville.
Why would a perfectly good cow be sent off to slaughter in just five years when they are supposed to live another 15 years? Of course the answer is overwork. Live expectancy in the Siberian gulags wasn't very long either.
Rising demand for milk at the end of the 19th century and into the 1900's caused dairy farmers to start looking for ways to squeeze more milk out of their cows. This was the advent of scientific milk production and the seed of the modern milk factory.
In the mid-1800s, the early Jersey cows weighed about 600 pounds, maybe 700, and produced around 28 quarts of milk a day. That is about 56 pounds. Around 1975 through the magic of selective breeding and computerized feeding schedules that kept the cows slightly below their normal caloric intake, the Holstein-Friesian weighed in at 1,750 pounds and was putting out over 76 quarts a day.
Anne Mendelson, a free lance writer focusing on food and culinary history, in her article "The Milk of Human Unkindness", wrote that between 1960 and 2008 total U.S. milk production rose from 120 billion pounds to 190 billion pounds while the number of dairy cows shrank from 18 million animals to 8.5 million. So milk factory yield is up 2.5 times what it was 50 years ago.
Sick Cows: Milk Factory Diseases
The predictable result of this unnatural stress and less than optimal feeding was sickness. Ruminal acidosis, mastitis and laminitis are three such diseases inflected on cows by the milk factory.
Ruminal acidosis is ulceration of the rumen or first stomach chamber. As the ulcers penetrate the ruminal walls and infectious bacteria travels to the liver where deadly abscesses form. By-products travel to the interior of the hooves causing a painful inflammation called laminitis.
The huge forced output of milk also causes inflammation of the udders, a condition known as mastitis. In the absence of visible signs, cows must be continually tested for rising white blood cells in the milk.
The only fix is to keep them pumped full of antibiotics until the condition abates. By law, milk contaminated by white somatic cells must be dumped until all signs of the infection are gone.
If that weren't torture enough, beginning around 1950, farmers began injecting their cows with bovine somatotropin (BST), a bovine growth hormone. Already over-stressed high milk producers were pushed even harder to produce even more. "Milk factory" is too kind a name to describe the modern way milk is brought to our store shelves.
At any rate, now we know why the lifespan of modern factory dairy cows is only five years. Got milk?
Death by Technology
Besides the cows, the milk factory has taken its toll on our nation's dairy farmers. Around 1970 there was an estimated 648,000 dairy farmers. Today maybe they would number about 75,000.
Dairy farming used to be the most labor intensive type of agriculture. Now it is probably the most capital intensive with huge capital investments required to mechanize every step of the process. Upkeep and maintenance is a collateral expense of all that mechanized, computerized technology.
Higher milk production meant lower profit margins so naturally, the farmers thought that larger and larger herds was the answer. Originally small family farms had 8 or 10 milk cows then it went to 50 or 60 and by 1900 it was up to 100 cows per farm.
Technology and the quest for profits pushed the milk factory into the realm of the confined feeding operation or CAFO. Now we see 15,000 to 20,000 cows being milked on a typical California or Colorado dairy factory.
What about the animals? Who cares, they are expendable throwaways; just a cog in the great milk factory. So higher milk production still means higher costs which means lower profit margins, not to mention an unhealthy product. Without the pasteurization, we would all get sick from drinking the white stuff that sort of resembles milk.
Is this a sustainable system? What do you think?
An Inside Look
The embedded video, courtesy of Farm Sanctuary, shows one side of life in an industrial milk machine. Watch it and then continue reading.
Moving on, if you want to find the Farm Sancturary video on milk factory farms online, it can be found at their website at:
In this section, we will present another look at a modern milk factory as presented in one of the Teaching Company course lectures.
Lobbyists, the Dairy Associations and the USDA
Without a strong, well funded industry association, the lobbyists they hire to influence laws and regulations and a compliant government agency, the whole modern diary industry would have collapsed under its own weight years ago.
The National School Lunch Program
The National School Lunch Program is a great case study in how
dairy industry lobbyists work to shape well-intentioned government programs to provide a perpetual market for their client's product. It is also a study in how they subvert the mission of the USDA and FDA and very effectively shut down small family dairy farms and criminalize the more healthy alternative to the milk factory output.
For starters, the school lunch program has no business being under the jurisdiction of the USDA. This agency with regulatory powers does not work for us or the kiddies in the classrooms. It exists to protect industry, increase exports and make sure that nothing interferes with the interests of the National Dairy Council, National Milk Producers Federation or the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
Jonathan Safran Foer, in his book "Eating Animals", suggests that the lunch program should be run by the National Institutes of Health since health is their business.
The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) was born in 1946 under Harry Truman as the National School Lunch Act. It is a federal program to provide meals to qualifying children in both public and private non-profit schools on a cash reimbursement basis to the schools based on the number of meals served.
Ann Cooper Got it Right
There are minimum nutritional requirements to meet but specific food choices are left to the local school food authorities. The video below shows what one very influential school food administrator thinks about the National School Lunch Program.
Ann Cooper has a lot to say and if our national leaders pay attention to her concluding comments, we could probably balance the budget is short order. Watch the video.
Regarding the milk and dairy products in the school lunch program, the USDA has largely turned its policy making responsibilities over to the National Dairy Council and similar industry lobby and marketing organizations. Most nutritional information disseminated by the USDA comes directly from the industries that run the factory farms and mega-dairies.
According to Erik Marcus in his 2005 book, "Meat Market" (Brio Press, Boston), in 2001 the NSLP paid $518 million for cheese, beef, eggs and poultry while spending only $161 million on fruit and vegetables.
Furthermore, he points out that the NSLP is nothing more than a dumping ground for "animal agriculture's excess capacity". Maybe yes, maybe no, but the appearance is certainly one of influence peddling and the shaping of nutritional policy in the schools based on sales of products rather than true health concerns.
It would seem to be a step in the right direction to move the NSLP to an agency whose charter is the health of the nation and one which could not be swayed by lobbying pressures.
For a look at how big agribiz uses its lawyers, money and threats against the media that might be inclined to show what is happening to our diary industry and its products, watch the embedded video below.
It reveals how FOX News was coerced into killing an investigative report into dairy industry that would have portrayed Monsanto in an unfavorable light.
Care to see what the Life of a Cow is like? It doesn't matter if it's a milk cow, beef steer or veal calf; it's not a pretty picture. PETA did a brief infographic about the life of a cow in factory farms and factory dairies. Take a look and see if you still want to support this industry. Click on the link below the graphic to see the original at the PETA website.
The Raw Milk Alternative Feel Like Taking on the FDA, USDA and ADA?
If we conclude that we absolutely, positively have to drink cow's milk, then why not consider raw, unpasteurized milk instead of the the stuff from the milk factory?
The short answer is that unless you happen to live in one of the states that allow the sale of raw milk, the FDA has made it a criminal offense for small dairy owners to sell raw, unpasteurized milk. Right! Drinking healthy raw milk from healthy cows makes us criminals. Wonder how much that cost the dairy industry?
Dr. Mercola in his July 20th, 2010 newsletter has a lot to say about raw milk. His lead in is "Only Healthy Milk, from Healthy Cows, Can be Consumed Raw".
To paraphrase the raw milk article, the quality and safety of milk between grass fed pastured cows and milk factory corn (grain) fed dairy cows is day and night. Milk from the natural, organically raised dairy cows wins hands down.
Industrial dairies are not typically set up to produce healthy milk. The mass production of huge quantities of milk from thousands of cows confined to one area is "contrary to the very nature of healthy milk".
"Cows that are fed grain and raised under substandard conditions will likely produce milk that is unhealthy to drink raw because grains, antibiotics, growth hormones, and filthy living conditions change the pH balance and the natural bacteria present in a cow's gut, which in turn affects the natural bacteria and pathogens present in their milk".
It is doubtful that any industrial milk factory would ever voluntarily downsize their operation to safely produce raw milk. It would simply cost too much money and cut into their profits plus if anyone of them actually did it, the whole milk factory industry would come down on them hard.
They would have to clean up their production methods, cut the herd size in order to raise healthier cows, and give them access to pasture. Considering the scale of production that the factory dairy's are geared for, delivering the same volume of milk from a sustainable dairy farm is just not possible.
Thus when considering buying raw milk, it's very important, vital even, "to make sure you're buying milk that has been produced with the intention of being consumed raw, and not just raw milk from conventionally-raised cows that hasn't gone through the pasteurization process". Of course that assumes you can find a dairy owner brave enough to sell it to you.
The book, The Raw Milk Revolution, shown above, provides an unsettling view of the future, in which nutritionally dense foods may be available largely through underground channels. Click the books image above and buy it, it is an eye-opener.
Here is a You Tube video courtesy of the McAfee family at Organic Pastures Dairy Company in the San Joaquin Valley of California. It shows how a small family run raw milk dairy does it.
This is what sustainability looks like. It's easy on the cows, healthy for the consumer and, at least in California it's legal. Let's hope that the McAfee's live long and prosper. You can pay them a virtual visit at:
It is simply unbelievable that as of 2009 there were 22 states where producing or consuming raw milk would make you a criminal.
Dr. Mercola wraps up the article with a probing question, "if the milk produced by most dairy farms has to be pasteurized to remove the filth and bacteria it ordinarily contains … is it really something you want to drink?"
Here's another article on raw milk titled "Raw Milk Gets a Raw Deal" from the Alliance For Natural Health - USA, dated July 6, 2010. Be sure to read this and then subscribe to their newsletter.