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The Milk of Human Unkindness - 06/01/2006
 
Vega reacts to a letter in the Times.
“Negativity towards this most natural and most inexpensive of foods” confuses Professor Peter Elwood, urging that “everything possible should be done to encourage the drinking of milk – and particularly by our children and young people.”

He errs on several counts. Lifelong cross-suckling of one species by another mammal is extraordinary in the natural order, even though mutation in the genes spreading recently (in evolutionary terms) through European and African human mammals is reducing the warning signal of lactose intolerance; and allergies persist and doubts linger over proteinaceous components such as alien growth promoters. Liquid cow milk is natural and suited to young, fast-growing calves, but not even for grown-up cattle. Artefacts such as artificial insemination and the technology of controlled fermentations overcome some of the problems of unnatural humans exploiting the other animal’s maternal instincts.

“Most inexpensive”, never! Lucrative subsidies and grants and indemnifications, price wars between dairy/beef/veal farmers and retailers, and the cost to family farmers and the livestock in terms of production and zoonotic disease (which would include bovine tuberculosis and now MAP – mycobacterium avian paratuberculosis, which has entailed reinforced measures of pasteurization and sterilization), as well as BSE (which originated and has been maintained in the dairy-herd) tell of reckless husbandry at enormous cost. Emergence of BSE was attributed by scientists to the totally unnatural practice in falsely cheap food policies that turned archetypal herbivores into carnivorous freaks or even cannibals.

Any number of proteinaceous foods, natural or not, could be advanced as cheap beneficial fortifications of nutritional deficiencies and anorexic or otherwise extreme diets. The National Diets and Nutritional Survey and other studies have revealed British populations low, for instance, in B-vitamins, iron, iodine, selenium, and vitamin D (which has functions as an anti-carcinogen, beyond its interaction with calcium in bone health). Moreover, British cow-milk – unlike practices in other countries, including the USA – is not fortified with vitamin D, notwithstanding our high latitudes and inclement wintry weather.

Fewer animal-derived products are needed to trick out British diets and bring them up to scratch nutritionally.

Offering its “dietary advice” this year the Economist opened that “a healthy diet is built on a base of grains, vegetables, and fruits, followed by ever-decreasing amounts of dairy-products, meat, sweets, and oils…”. Dairy-frees and meat-reducers in modern Britain are recognizing the worth of alternatives obtained directly from plants and eligible for health claims on labels: far better to feed soya beans into gleaming stainless steel vats than stuffing them and other imported concentrates into mechanically-sucked, miserable, mucky, mastitic and limping cows – many increasingly zero-grazed, partly because of environmental threats outside – whose plight shame British agronomy and standards.
 
 
 

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