10 Facts About Dairy That Aren't On The Label

Not so long ago, in the grand scheme of things, I wrote a post bigging up the consumption of whole milk, albeit comparing blue lids to semi-skimmed and skimmed varieties. I have no intention of taking that post down, and if you want to read it, you'll find it here; but let me be clear, I no longer stand by the previously held belief that cow's milk should make up any part of a balanced, healthy diet.

I recently gave up dairy as a bit of an experiment to see if it would have any effect on my adult acne. I've suffered with bad spots since puberty, and recently they only seemed to be getting worse. A couple of people suggested that they'd seen positive results in terms of a reduced number of blemishes when giving up dairy, so I thought that it was worth a go. 

I tend not to make drastic changes to my diet without doing some research first. I don't really mind what strand of nutritional health you're following, whether you're paleo, 5:2, gluten-free or vegan, as long as you've done some research and your decision is informed rather than irrational, so I always make an effort to read up on as many positive and negative arguments surrounding a way of eating before taking it up. 

What I learned, unintentionally, about dairy, completely turned my previous attitudes towards one of the most significant food groups in my every day diet, on it's head. Since then I've attempted to eat a bowl of cereal with cows milk and found myself physically heaving over the kitchen sink.
The good news is, dairy is definitely a trigger for my acne. Hormones also play an obvious part and at certain times during the month I can still expect flare ups, but typically, my skin is a thousand times clearer and healthier looking without dairy products. I don't consider this to be me discovering that I'm milk-intolerant, I'm obviously just slightly sensitive to it. 

The last thing I want to be is one of these crazy PETA types trying to ram horrific images down anybody's throat. If I talk about animal welfare on my blog it will never be accompanied by images of animal cruelty, but I have decided to share the following ten facts about dairy products on my blog, because I wish I'd read this a lot sooner. 
  1. All milk sold in the UK (and the USA) is authorised to contain "an acceptable amount of pus". This is because it's common for our dairy cows to spend a majority of their time suffering from mastitis, an infection in the glands in their udders, which means that pus comes out of the infected udder with the milk. This pus is not removed. Any human female who's suffered from mastitis will know that it is not only horribly painful, but can also cause flu like symptoms and make you feel thoroughly miserable. Dairy cattle are prone to mastitis because they're encouraged to produce a lot more milk than they would naturally to feed a calf (about ten times more in fact) and as a result of being milked using machinery, as opposed to the soft mouth of their baby.
  2. Dairy cattle are stuck in a cycle of pregnancy and birth. A dairy cow who doesn't have a young calf to feed will not produce milk. It is a fallacy that if you keep on milking her she'll keep on producing milk, she needs to keep having a new calf regularly to keep the supply and quality of her milk up. Mating with bulls is an unreliable, time consuming, and dangerous method within the farming environment and so female cows are artificially inseminated, often just days after giving birth. A dairy cow is almost never, ever, not pregnant. It goes without saying that this cycle takes a huge toll on the cows mental and physical health. A cow can live to about twenty five, very easily, but a dairy cow is usually dead within seven. The death of a dairy cow comes about as her entire body fails as a result of constant pregnancy and child birth, she doesn't live a happy life only to be swiftly killed in her prime, she is gradually, painfully, worked in to the ground, worse off than many dogs used for breeding on the puppy farms that we're so quick to condemn. The machinery used to restrain a cow during artificial insemination, by the way, is called a rape rack, that's not a colloquial term, that is it's actual name. It's inventor is also famous for developing a torture device to bring about clinical depression in monkies - called the "Pit Of Despair". Enough said. 
  3. Despite always being pregnant, a dairy cow barely meets her baby. A suckling calf is no good for the milk industry, and so babies are taken from their Mum, often when they're only hours old. Cows, like many animals, are dependent, not just physically, on their Mother's for some time. Just as penguins can recognise their babies call above the cacophony of their penguinery, and Mother sheep are always able to recognise the call of their own lamb, not to mention us human Mother's being able to recognise our own child's cry from the other side of a soft play centre - so cows and their calves share a bond from birth. A Mother cow will search for, and call for, her abducted baby long after he or she has been removed. However, it will always be in vain, as she is hooked up to a machine that will take the precious milk intended for her newborn, and bottle it to feed the same people who took away her child. 
  4. Those babies suffer. Fed on artificial formula milk in the absence of their own Mother, the calves of dairy cattle face a bleak fate. The female calves will be kept, to replace their Mothers, who'll die young. They'll often be kept in sheds with other female calves, and fed from a hole in the wall, rather than by a human hand. They'll be sustained, they'll have nutritional needs met, but they'll spend many weeks calling for their Mother, who would provide more than just food, but she'll never come. Eventually those calves will grow in to adult cows, psychologically damaged somewhat by their unconventional upbringing, but it matters not, because they only have a life of constant pregnancy, birth, and artificial milking to look forward to anyway. Male calves have either a better or worse time of it depending on your outlook. Of no use to the dairy industry, they fetch a pretty price as veal (calf meat). At just hours old, a male calf is transferred to a pen, only a few feet high. The pen is designed to stop him from standing up - it isn't tall enough. He'll try a few times but realising that the roof is only inches above his head, he'll soon give up and lay down. He'll spend the rest of his life (a few months) laying down. A male calf will often never, ever, stand up on the four legs he was born with. This is to keep his meat pale in colour (apparently more appealing to us omnivores) and tender, as he'll never develop much in the way of muscle. If this isn't torture I've no idea what is, but the male calf will be fed through the bars of his cell, laying down on the hard ground for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in his own filth, until he is old enough for slaughter, where, already insane with fear and confusion, he'll be shot in the head - at least ending his unimaginable suffering. Veal's a delicacy though you see. If you're a vegetarian, but you consume dairy products, it's worth thinking that the veal trade exists almost entirely as a result of the dairy trade.
  5. On the subject of vegetarians, very little cheese is veggie-friendly. Most vegetarians will be all too familiar with the cheese based menu options presented to them, the Margharita pizza, the blue cheese and pear tart, the grilled vegetables topped with feta. What many don't realise is that most cheese contains rennet, a substance taken from the stomach of cows. Rennet plays a key role in the cheese production process, but renders almost every cheese a meat product. This is very unlikely to bother meat eaters, but worth bearing in mind if you're a strict veggie, as the rennet in your cheese is taken from slaughtered animals. Yes, they'd have been slaughtered anyway, but if that's your attitude, you may as well just have the burger. Vegetarian rennet substitutes do exist, but it is very difficult to identify which cheeses are made using what product unless you're buying directly from producers.
  6. Most dairy-cattle aren't eating grass. A cow, with it's complex double-stomach digestive system, is designed to eat grass. Just as it's obscene to expect your cat to eat anything but meat (unless it's my cat, in which case it's partial to anything) it's also unfair to feed a cow anything but the grazing materials that it's put on this planet to consume. However, very few dairy cattle are grass fed, most rely on a diet of cereals and soya, a sort of grainy food that's poured in to troughs for them to gauge themselves on. This isn't the best diet for a cow but it doesn't do them any enormous harm, in comparison to the other ways in which they're treated. However, the growing of crops (cereal and soya) to produce cattle feed uses up more than enough of the land and water required to eliminate world hunger and thirst. If we redirected the water used to irrigate these crop fields, and used the land to grow food for humans, not food for animals who will in turn be food for humans, then we'd effectively save the human race from starvation. But no. It's the least sustainable, or economic, or humane way of raising livestock. Add to this the fact that the crops require large amounts of artificial fertiliser and pesticides, much of which runs in to natural water systems such as streams and rivers, killing off wildlife in massive numbers, and also fails to nurture any land dwelling wildlife at the same time. The production of these chemicals is crap for our planet,  the use of them on our fields is even worse, and when the crops are ready for harvest, we use enormous machines to gather it in, pumping Co2 in to our rural atmosphere, and killing tens of thousands of rodents and reptiles in the process. This is not even to feed ourselves, but to feed the animals that we abuse for milk. This is still the case for Organic milk and even if you manage to find "grass fed" milk (or beef for that matter) it's likely that grass makes up only a small percentage of their feed and most is bulked out with cereal and soya.
  7. You're drinking antibiotics. You shouldn't stay on antibiotics for long. You know this. If anything, suspicious bunch that we are, we'd rather avoid antibiotics if we can, and we worry about our children if they have too many courses of antibiotics in a row. I mean... what must all of those drugs be doing to our insides - it can't be good. Except, most of us have been taking daily antibiotics for most of our lives, as our dairy cattle are pumped full of them, seeing as their lives are so poor and they're therefore prone to illness (and death). An ill, or dead, cow is of no value to the dairy farmer and it works out cheaper to supply them with constant drugs than to risk them falling poorly. As breastfeeding Mothers will be aware, antibiotics are passed in one's milk. It's easy to say "well, I'm OK, it's obviously not doing any harm", but are you? OK, I mean. Oddly, since this became common practice within Western farming, we're suddenly more allergic to everything, more of us have hayfever, more of us have food intolerances, cancer is on the up, we suffer from diabetes, alzeheimers, dementia, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Now don't worry, I'm not about to go full on conspiracy theorist, and there are many many explanations for why, as a global community, we are less healthy now than we were a hundred years ago (we just have the medicine to keep ourselves alive through it!) - but could it be, in part, down to the fact that we're never not taking antibiotics? Maybe. 
  8. It'll ruin your milk too. OK this only applies to breastfeeding Mothers, but it's a scary fact in itself, and I'd rather draw attention to the fact that this is not publicised, and is not information made readily available to new Mums. Breastmilk, as we know, contains a lot of what we put in to our bodies in the first place; this is why a breastfeeding Mother should never feed her child after drinking alcohol, as her breast milk is, in theory, alcoholic. So, our poor Mother cow is passing on a lot of what she's consuming, and excreting, to us humans, the consumers of her milk. Just to clarify, we're talking about antibiotics, pesticides, chemical fertilisers, and, of course, pus. The problem here is that when we humans consume the milk, and therefore consume the antibiotics, pesticides, chemical fertilisers and pus, we pass this on in our own milk - if we happen to be producing any. Now, you may think that by the time these compounds have been passed from cow to human Mother to human baby, they're diluted enough to have no effect, you might be interested to learn that studies have shown this could be one sound explanation for colic and reflux in young breastfed babies, as well as the cause of any number of infant stomach complaints.
  9. There's little to no waste in the dairy industry. I don't say this as a positive point. Once a dairy cow is "spent" (i.e she has been subject to so much rape, pregnancy and child birth that she is simply unable to go on), often at less than half her natural life expectancy, she is used for meat. Her body is absolutely f***ed, and as such, the quality of her flesh, in terms of eating her, isn't grea;, you certainly won't get a good looking steak out of her, so once slaughtered, she is ground up and used in the cheapest products, from dog food to fast food burgers - often served, somewhat ironically, with a slab of melting cheese on top - you know when McDonalds make a big deal about their use of British beef? Yum Yum.
  10. We don't need it. Over 95% of the human population are lactose intolerant. There is no other species of animal on this planet that drinks milk beyond infancy, and we're no different. The thought of an adult human still suckling his Mother is grotesque, and yet we, bizarrely, make it socially acceptable to go on drinking breast milk in to adulthood, as long as it comes from a different species to our own. Now, as humans we are an exception to many a rule, and there are a lot of things that we do that no other animal does, but we simply do not have the nutritional need to consume breast milk (of our own kind or that of a cow, whale, goat or sheep) as adults. Most of us respond negatively to dairy, and perhaps don't even realise. It may be days before you notice a subtle response, either slight constipation, cramps and discomfort, lethargy, or, in my case, acne. It's unlikely, if you opt for the cheese board after dinner, and then feel some discomfort going to the toilet two days later, that you'll put the two together, but unless you're part of the less than 5% of the population who're able to digest lactose as an adult, then they're almost certainly linked. Why we continue to consume a product which doesn't sustain us, most of us can't digest, and which is horrific for our planet and directly for the animals that we use to produce it, and their offspring, makes no sense, at all. Ever. 

I know that lots of us like dairy. I know you've been told that you need the calcium* from your dairy and have had those pie charts waved in your face that show dairy as taking up a specific percentage of your daily food intake. I know you get cheese cravings (it's been proven that most cheeses contain addictive ingredients and cheese addiction is a real thing). I like cheese. I really, properly, think cheese is yum. I used to drink milk by the pint glass. Now, though, I think about the pus, about the tortured babies, and about the rape racks - and this isn't sensationalism, this isn't PETA trying to freak you out in to supporting their cause, this is just the honest truth about dairy production for the UK consumer, and it's terrifying. 

*N.B A dairy free diet need not be calcium deficient, there are a LOT of foods which are higher in calcium than dairy.


  1. Were in the world did you get your information?
    Me and my family own and operate a dairy. This information is extremely hurtful to me and other hard working farmers. I would love for you and anyone else to come out to our farm to see how we take pride in raising happy health cattle so then they are able to provide wholsome safe milk.

    1. Hi Melinda,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to get in touch, I really appreciate it. I have absolutely NO doubt that there are a number of small operations that provide a much higher level of care for their dairy cattle than large factory farms - the types of establishment generally working on the sort of scale to supply International supermarket chains. If your dairy is one of these smaller and more ethical establishments then whilst I still, overall, object to the rearing of cattle to produce an unnecessary human dietary product, I of course am far less likely to lump you in with those whose practices are far removed from your own. I would love to come and visit your farm, if you're down here in Kent. I'm sure you've seen some of the other local producers who've been featured on my blog, I have brilliant relationships with a huge number of farmers and producers in the East Kent area (relationships that I place huge value upon) and if there's an option to come and see your dairy farm on a typical working day then I'd jump in with both feet. Alternatively, if you aren't local, perhaps we'd be able to arrange an interview which I could feature here on the blog - no doubt you've already read the interview that I published recently with Simon Whyatt of Green Pasture Farms (whose ideas and business ethos are probably very much like your own) - and this would of course give you the opportunity to put across your views, to me and to my readers? Let me know if this is something you'd be interested in doing and I can prepare some questions to email over!

      Thank you again for taking the time to comment.

      Ashleigh Lawrence-Rye