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Posts Tagged ‘milk’

In the April 2008 issue of Harper’s there’s a really interesting article on “the raw-milk underground” – farmers who produce and sell unpasteurized milk to people who prefer its taste, nutritional content, and beneficial bacteria. Selling raw milk is illegal in Canada and in half of U.S. states.

Raw milk advocates say that we are weakening our bodies’ defenses against disease by eating only “sterilized,” bacteria-free foods. And, they argue, food companies contribute to chronic disease – making far more people sick than unpasteurized milk does – by promoting unhealthy diets. Yet legal and regulatory action is primarily taken against sources of acute, not chronic, illness. So raw milk dairies get shut down, while the major food conglomerates flourish.

I thought this quote from a dairy farmer nicely summarized the contradictions: “If my milk gets someone sick, I deserve some blame, but not all of it. People have to take responsibility for maintaining their own immune systems. And we have to look at an environmental level, too. Where did these germs come from? E. coli O157:H7 evolved on grain-fed cattle. It’s amazing to me that we’ve sat by as factory farmers feed more than half the antibiotics in the country to animals and breed these antibiotic-resistant bacteria at the same time the food corporations are destroying our immune systems.”

The irony, of course, is that Group Danone (maker of Dannon yogurt and Perrier water) is making a fortune selling yogurt advertised as containing probiotics (beneficial bacteria). Danone’s claims about the benefits of Activia and DanActive yogurt have been contested in a class action lawsuit filed earlier this year, but a Time Magazine article last week says that probiotic-fortified foods are the next big thing for the food industry. I guess the idea is to get all of the “good” bacteria with none of the risk. But would “bad” bacteria even pose a risk if we farmed and ate another way?

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Makers of recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) have long opposed the use of labels identifying dairy products that were produced without the hormone. Now there is a new advocacy group, “closely tied to Monsanto,” that aims to defend the right of dairy farmers to use rBGH.

The thing that struck me in this article about the advocacy group is the following statement: “Afact [the pro-rBGH group] says it believes that such ‘absence’ labels can be misleading and imply that milk from cows treated with hormones is inferior.”

Of course, it is a given that they also oppose “presence” labels for the same reason. The argument is that there is no difference between milk from cows treated with rBGH and those that are not.

But for many of us who want to avoid rBGH milk, that is hardly the point. For one, there are some pretty significant animal welfare issues at stake. And many people just don’t support the type of dairy farming that benefits the most from the use of rBGH. Therefore, rBGH labels should really be understood to be more like “fair trade” labels than nutrition labels.

There was actually a time when rBGH was openly debated in such terms in the United States. In the 1980s and early 90s, rBGH was treated like a farm policy issue, and Congress discussed the potential economic and social impacts of deregulating the drug (it was during a period of “dairy crisis”). But then it was determined that the final decision would be made by the FDA, not Congress, and people started seeing rBGH as a food safety issue.

But maybe now, with the growth in popularity of “fair trade” and “local” labels, there might be a way to redefine the reason for “absence” labels on milk. We should be prepared, because Monsanto is already working hard to keep us uninformed.

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Genius inspired by milk

Putting aside for the moment my shock and amazement to find that you can order a gallon of milk from Amazon.com, I just wanted to share this amazing internet phenomenon. [Many thanks to Jeremy at Scatterplot.]

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