“You need to drink milk to have strong bones”, says just about every person on the planet—but do we ever question where this information came from..? Despite what the dairy industry would like us to believe, we don’t actually need dairy milk to live nutritionally balanced, healthy lives. While many people enjoy the vast variety of dairy-based products that exist in the supermarkets, most people do not have any true understanding of dairy industry history within the last century and how it was conceived to be the manipulating and dominating force that it is today.
If you don’t like being lied to, then the dairy industry is about to become your new focus point for concern.
How the Dairy Industry Fooled Us
Dairy marketing has proven quite the global facade with much vital information left out of the equation. As a result, the dairy industry has spent billions of dollars to be able to lobby their way into schools, touting milk as a nutritional powerhouse, and convincing consumers globally that dairy milk is the only source for calcium and strong bones, despite the fact that consumers can get the daily recommendation of calcium, potassium, and protein from fruits and vegetables.
The USDA recommends 3 cups of dairy per day, when a 12-year Harvard study of more than 78,000 women concluded that women who drank milk three times a day experienced more bone breaks and fractures. Another study in Sydney, Australia as far back as 1994 showed that higher dairy consumption was associated with increased fracture risk: those with the highest dairy consumption had double the risk of hip fracture compared to those with the lowest consumption.
So why are we drinking this much milk?
During World War 1, the US Government send huge amounts of canned and powdered milk overseas to help fight malnutrition in amongst some of the most horrible battle field conditions we can imagine in a time when the economy and resources were stretched incredibly thin. Farmers were required to make huge changes in response to this requirement as the allies battled against their enemies and many got rid of their other crops and animals to focus exclusively on dairy. Demand of course, dried up when the war ended and the US was left with basically an entire industry of milk that it didn’t need anymore.
Fighting malnutrition overseas essentially created the dairy market in the US and farmers were not about to let what they had invested in disappear. Quite simply, instead of stopping production, milk education campaigns hit media and schools encouraging people to drink 4 glasses per day. The National School Lunch Program was launched by the USDA in 1946 and those meals were required to have a glass of whole milk.
Despite all of this, there were still large milk surpluses. The US Government stepped in and started to buy it all up sending some of it schools, military and to other countries. By the 1980s, the US Government was spending $2 billion a year buying up surplus milk and the Reagan administration put a stop to this, which angered the dairy industry enormously.
Enter the Checkoff Program
Enter the Dairy Checkoff program. Dairy farmers would pay into the Checkoff with a mandatory fee, which went towards advertising campaigns to drive people to buy more milk. And then the USDA would then approve all of those campaigns (Got Milk? is probably the most famous one). The same fees would also pay for partnerships with restaurants and other food businesses to develop dairy heavy menu items, like nachos and pizza.
The very same Checkoff program exists in the meat industry as well.
The USDA, the same federal agency that writes the dietary guidelines, is also in charge of a multi-million dollar marketing campaign to manipulate people into eating food like cheese pizza, where 1 piece has 2/3 of the days maximum recommended amount of saturated fat.
But instead of changing the recommendations, the political forces ensure that demand for dairy (and meat) doesn’t go down by lobbying. Lobbying is perfectly legal, of course, and involves arranging campaign contributions, encouraging lawsuits, and organising public-relations campaigns—all to influence government policy. The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that during the 2013 election cycle, the animal products industry contributed $17.5 million to federal candidates. And such contributions appear to work. One study confirmed that changes in contributions do change voting behaviour and that you can basically “‘buy’ legislators’ votes” without breaking the law.
We saw last year that the Obama Administration buckled under pressure from meat-loving Republicans and backed down from allowing the inclusion of the DGAC’s environmentally sustainable diets recommendation (i.e. eat less red meat) in the 8th edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Dairy is not essential to our health or survival, but consider who has the power (money) to convince you to love their foods and to eat more and more of them? Not the chickpea industry, that’s for sure. For one, the “vegetable and fruit industry” is not an expression that’s ever used and they are not a united entity. While there’s about 5 different types of animal meat that count in terms of sales, there’s a multitude of vegetables and fruits out there. Lima bean producers absolutely want you to eat more lima beans, but they not only have to compete with garbanzo bean producers but also with other bean, pea, lentil, and vegetable growers.
Even if the fruit and vegetable producers did unite, their sales would still be much smaller than those of the dairy or meat industry. All vegetables, fruits, and nuts combined made just over $45 billion in farm cash receipts during 2011—that’s almost four times less than the animal-based products earned. Beans, peas, and lentils—which are considered proper meat substitutes—fare even worse making a staggering 140 times less.
Certainly, the dairy and meat industry has all the money in the world to convince you to eat their products. If you are feeling a little duped right now, you damn well should be. We’ve all been lied to.