Dairy products are not essential to the human diet

When it comes to diet, it is easy to dutifully follow recommendations by the government, media, and scientific research. But a closer look reveals the misinformation, ignorance and even corruption which drives these publications.

We need to face facts: animal products are not an essential part of the human diet, and their production is both cruel and destructive to the planet.

For decades we have been led to believe that dairy is a vital for the intake of calcium. From government healthy eating guidelines to Petit Filous adverts, our heads have been filled with the idea that consuming dairy is vital for strong and healthy bones.

Yet sufficient calcium can easily be obtained from sources other than dairy. In fact, the World Health Organisation states that the countries with the lowest intake of dairy also have the lowest rates of osteoporosis and fractures. Clearly there is a paradox; perhaps even a negative correlation between dairy consumption and bone health. The government seems unwilling or unable to accept this as truth.

The latest claim, in a study from the University of Surrey and upheld by the Guardian, states that eliminating dairy from our diets leads to iodine deficiency.

Once again, it is perfectly possible to get this necessary nutrient without consuming animal products: one potato contains more iodine than a glass of milk. Interestingly, iodine does not actually occur naturally in cow’s milk, but is present in the feed given to them by farmers – confirming the fact that iodine can be successfully obtained from the most basic of plant-based diets.

Even NHS dietary guidelines do not suggest milk for iodine intake, citing sea vegetables and grains as key sources. It is infuriating and bizarre that research and media focus should be on something which is not the best source, let alone a primary source, of iodine.

There is more behind this than simple ignorance: the disclaimer to the study admits that it was in fact funded by The Dairy Council. The apparent concern about iodine deficiency masks the desperate, scare-mongering tactics of an industry which has dominated for decades, and is now being stalled by increasing awareness of its harmfulness.

Both the study and supportive articles thoroughly shame milk alternatives, and almost entirely ignore plant-based sources of iodine. Worst, they fail to mention the extensive ethical and environmental factors which motivate people to follow dairy-free and vegan diets. This is just one example of a widespread anti-plant-based rhetoric in government, media and science which attempts to undermine this principled lifestyle choice by portraying it as restrictive, unintuitive and even vain.

There must be explanation for why much of the guidance given by the government and the media is biased, selective and propagandised. A sympathetic account would be denial on an individual level – it is hard for us to accept that practices which have been the norm for centuries are not, in fact, healthy, environmentally friendly or ethical.

But the main driving force behind such misinformation seems to be money, whether it is from government investors, readers of newspapers or consumers of dairy. Since the dairy industry thrives on cruelty, thoughtless economising and disregard for the environment, this can hardly come as a surprise. Regrettably, much of the government and popular media settle for supporting this industry and the non-truths they sponsor.

So perhaps it is down to individuals. The truth is that every day we make decisions about what we do and don’t eat, and in doing so, make statements about the industries, practices and morals that we do and don’t support.

Image: Stethoscope via Flickr

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