Published on 03/20/00

UGA Experts Say Milk Healthy, Nutritious

A nationwide attack on milk distorts the nutritional value and health of dairy products and the cows that produce them, say University of Georgia experts.

Within a week in mid-March, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animal-rights group, launched, pulled and replaced a controversial "Got Beer?" campaign with a "Milk Sucks" drive. The ads call milk and milk products unhealthy and say dairies are cruel to cows.

But the PETA ads ignore milk's important nutritional values, said Connie Crawley, an Extension Service nutritionist with the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

No Reason to Avoid Milk

"For the population as a whole, there's no reason to avoid milk and milk products," Crawley said.

"In our society, milk is our primary source of calcium and vitamin D," she said. "We really don't have a well-accepted alternative source in our general diet."

Adults need 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily. The need varies with gender and age. "Young women, from 12 to 24, typically don't get nearly enough calcium," she said. "And generally, people need more nutrients as they get older."

Crawley said some people's bodies can't tolerate lactose. "Those people need low-lactose milk or another source of calcium and vitamin D," she said.

Choose Low-fat Products

Milk does contain saturated fats, Crawley said. And people need to make wise choices when choosing milk products. A key is to compare the nutrient density with the calories.

"I can drink a glass of skim milk with chocolate that has 150 calories," she said. "A chocolate milk shake has about the same nutrients but has 300 to 400 calories."

Fortunately, she said, "the dairy producers give us different levels of milk fat in their products." The fat content of whole milk is about 3.5 percent. But 2-percent, 1-percent, 1/2-percent and nonfat (skim) milk is also available.

"Adults really don't need as many fats as we eat in our society," Crawley said. "But where most people get too many fats is generally not in their milk and milk consumption. French fries, for instance, are our No. 1 vegetable."

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Photo: CAES Dairy Science

Milk Products Not Contaminated

The PETA ads call dairy products a "health hazard," claiming they are "contaminated with cows' blood and pus and frequently with pesticides, hormones and antibiotics."

All of that "just isn't true," said John Bernard, an animal and dairy scientist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

"Milk is heavily inspected," Bernard said. "By law, before any truckload of milk can be unloaded at the processing plant, it has to be tested for residues of any type. If there's any suspicion at all, it has to be set aside and the milk further tested. If it has any contaminant, it can't be used."

No Antibiotic, Pesticide Residues

Dairies don't use antibiotics in the cows' feed, he said, "because of the potential residue problem."

At times, farmers have to use antibiotics to treat a cow for a disease. "But that cow's milk is withheld until any disease and potential residue is past," he said.

About the only pesticides dairies use are for fly control, Bernard said, and they're limited to only those that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration and don't pose any kind of residue potential.

'Cruelty' Doesn't Make Sense

As for dairies' cruelty to cows, Bernard said common sense dictates that farmers treat their animals well.

"If they mistreat a cow, that cow's not going to give as much milk," he said. "A frightened, abused animal won't be productive. It wouldn't be expected to perform like a world-class athlete."

Bernard said the comparison of dairy cows to professional athletes is a good one.

"They're expected to perform at levels beyond what they normally would," he said. "Dairymen do everything they can to keep their cows well-fed, healthy and comfortable."

Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.