Making Sense of the Milk Moo-stery

Jaime Netzer
October/November 2007
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Despite its neutral (some would say delicious) flavor and docile, decidedly uncontroversial original source, milk has, in recent years, become a divisive subject. Doctors, organic farmers and industry officials engage in heated debates about whether Americans really need to drink milk at all, and, if so, how much and what kind of milk is healthiest.

Many of today's dairy cows are injected with a genetically engineered growth hormone known as rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone). Organic farmers and other skeptics assert that this milk poses health risks to humans. Among the purported possible side effects: an increased chance of colon, prostate and breast cancer.

The developers of the hormone disagree, stating that milk from cows injected with artificial hormones is no different than milk from untreated animals. The FDA approved rBGH in 1993, though it is banned in both Canada and the European Union.

The hormone is used to make cows more productive; rBGH increases production unnaturally by as much as 10-15%. This strain on the cows often leads to udder infection.

If you're nervous about purchasing milk from hormone-injected cows, here are other options:

Buy local or regional milk
The easiest way to know the content of your milk is to get it from a nearby farm where you can ask the producers how they raise their cows. A simple way to do this is through an independent grocer or cooperative ? find organic farms, restaurants, and stores near you at and As an added bonus, local milk usually tastes better because it hasn't been ultra-pasteurized. Ultra-pasteurization heats milk to a much higher temperature than pasteurization alone, and as a result can be stored for weeks longer. The consequence, however, is a product that is notably less tasty.

Of course, for a really fun time, you could raise your own dairy cow.

Stick to organic milk
Choose organic milk and you'll avoid added hormones and antibiotics. In addition, you can relax knowing that the cows have been given a diet entirely free from animal byproducts. Be sure to look for the green and white certified USDA organic label. One great option is the brand Organic Valley, a farmer owned co-op of over 1,100 family-owned farms.

Give the cows a break
Sheep and goats make milk, too, and they are often easier for lactose-intolerant individuals to digest. At the very least, try goat cheese before you shun the milk of non-mooing animals.

Try plant-based milks
Soy, almond and rice milks are lactose-free alternatives perfect for people avoiding milk. They are available in a number of varieties and flavors, but, as always, you should remain aware of the energy cost and practice behind the product you choose. Make sure to buy organic plant-based milk to avoid drinking genetically engineered milk. The organic standards prohibit the use of GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

Have you found your perfect milk source? Do you think soy is the solution? Share your comments in the field below.

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