Milk: a government’s lie

Bridget Ury, Photography Editor

Humans are a little odd. We are the only species in the world that drinks the milk of other animals. However, almost 75% of the world is lactose intolerant in some form. This means that 5.7 billion people across the world lack the ability to create the enzyme lactase, which breaks down the milk-sugar lactose. With the prevalence of milk in the US, it begs the question: why are Americans so obsessed with milk and associated dairy products?
One reason many Americans drink milk is for bone health. We are taught that milk has lots of calcium, and it does. One cup of milk contains 305 mg of calcium which is equivalent to 11 glasses of orange juice. However, this calcium doesn’t even do what is is supposed to. The Journal of Bone and Mineral Research’s analysis of milk consumption and bone fractures revealed that in over 200,000 cases of middle-age and older adults, drinking milk had no effect on bone health based on the rate of bone fractures.

If milk has little to no impact on our bones, why are we still drinking it? Obviously it tastes good with cereal, and ice cream is heaven on earth, but this does not translate to our obsession. The “Got Milk?” campaign and struggling dairy farmers in the 1970s may be the answer. In 1976, Jimmy Carter was running for president. When talking to potential voters, he received complaints of a struggling industry where Americans were no longer drinking milk at the rate they used to be. Carter decided to campaign on helping the dairy industry by raising the price of milk.
His successor, Ronald Reagan, encouraged Congress to pass the Dairy Stabilization Act of 1983. This law allows the United States Department of Agriculture to finance and “[carry] out a coordinated program of promotion designed to strengthen the dairy industry’s position in the marketplace.” Prior to this, the US government simply bought milk and cheese to strengthen the price of milk to help the dairy farmers. However, it quickly came to everyone’s attention that people were not buying the milk at the rate they had predicted. To deal with the inequality, the government began to store the dried milk in caves in Missouri. When the Dairy Stabilization Act passed in 1983, its value was well over $4 billion.

Instead of buying milk, with the Dairy Stabilization Act the government decided on a new strategy—marketing milk directly to the consumer. Dairy Management Incorporated, a nonprofit created by the government in 1994, stepped up to the plate. It is the creator of the famous “Got Milk?” campaign that used celebrity endorsements to encourage the American public to drink more milk. The USDA also added increased amount of dairy on the food pyramid to revitalize the idea that milk is a necessary part of the American diet. On the updated MyPlate, it suggests grown adults and teens have 3 servings of dairy everyday. It’s a pretty effective solution to grow the milk industry—encouraging unsuspecting people to drink more milk.
However, milk contains more calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, and protein per calorie than any other food in a normal diet. Eating dairy products and drinking milk can also help in type 2 diabetes prevention and promotes heart health. Vitamin D, found in fortified milk, helps the body maintain needed calcium and phosphorus. However, these benefits can be gained from sources such as almonds, oranges, broccoli, and other non-dairy options, which have less negative repercussions.
While milk certainly has many benefits, the American people should know what they are drinking and why.