Sunday, December 27, 2009

The high cost of cheap food - milk

I have spent a good bit of time digging out information on the cost of food as a percentage of income in as many countries as I could find, and then for health care costs.  If I could find both data for a given country, I put it on the chart.  It is not a perfect curve, but in general, the more money people spend on their food, the less they spend on health care. We spend 17% more per capita on health care than the next nearest country.  And we have the cheapest food in the world, being the only country whose inhabitants spend a single digit percentage on food - only 9.3%.  Next nearest is just under 12%.

So you might be asking, "Couldn't one explanation for that be that their higher cost of food deprives them of being able to pay for health care?"  Well, no, because in many instances, their life expectancy is longer than ours here in the US.  Our life expectancy is 38th in the world (that means 37 countries that spend less on health care - because they ALL do - live longer), not exactly a stellar figure, and to my way of thinking a pretty good indicator of how well our health care system is working. I think we are pretty good at fixing things, if you are one of the lucky ones who can afford the fix.  However, we do not do nearly enough to prevent the need for health care. 

And that's where that cheap food comes in.  In our quest for cheap food (sometimes out of sheer necessity, but all too often so that we can use more of our income for bigger cars, cable TV and Nike shoes), we will eat anything - and I mean anything!  And it's a push-pull thing:  on the one hand, we are managing our budget so that we can buy more stuff, and on the other hand we have advertising agencies doing everything in their power to make us buy whatever their corporate bosses tell them to promote.  Sadly, our health is not entering the equation on either side.

One of the things the corporations and their ad agencies promote is really bad food!  When was the last time you saw an ad for a fresh radish --  not in a salad at a chain restaurant, just a plain old fresh radish, straight from the produce section of your local grocery store?  No organization that can afford the suits at the ad agency makes money on that fresh radish, and so it gets no press.  We are all hypnotized by ads at one time or another, and so we may find ourselves whipping into McDonald's, or we buy the name brand convenience food in the freezer section, or we look for "Heart Healthy" products after getting the crap scared out of us by the ads for Lipitor!

Repeat after me . . .
  • One half of the people who have heart attacks have "normal" cholesterol levels.
  • Triglycerides are the best predictor of heart health, and they increase as we eat more carbohydrates, not saturated fat.  Oh, and high fructose corn syrup is the worst for increasing triglycerides.
  • For women, as cholesterol levels fall below 220, overall mortality INCREASES.
  • For men, as cholesterol levels fall below 200, overall mortality INCREASES.
  • In women over 60, the higher the LDL, the LOWER the mortality rates.
  • If one examines the reduced deaths from heart attacks (not overall mortality) due to lowering cholesterol using comparative figures (misleading), yes, it is around 30%, but is really only about one half of one percent if using reduction in deaths over the whole population.  If one uses the same misleading statistical method to look at suicides as cholesterol levels are reduced, then the INCREASE in suicides is about 170%.  Disraeli was right when he said "There are lies, damned lies and statistics."
  • This is the biggest one.  There is no group of women, based on age, ethnicity, general health or any other factor, that benefits from statins.  In EVERY group of women, mortality rates increase or stay the same with statin use.
 Okay, back to cheap food and milk.  Milk is the cheapest of the cheap, and it is so pervasive in our diets!  Here is what we have done to one of nature's most perfect foods.  Instead of cleaning up filthy urban dairies, we started pasteurizing the milk - killing all of the bad bacteria (along with the good) rather than preventing them.  Pasteurization wasn't enough; we started homogenizing it as well.  Homogenization incorporates the cream into the milk so that the cream doesn't rise to the top.  What, it was too tough to shake the jar? Homogenization changes the molecular structure of the fat, and it has been hypothesized that homogenization may lead to increased susceptibility to atherosclerosis.

But we weren't done.  So what more could we do?  We could start putting it in plastic.  You may have heard that plastic has estrogen-like properties.  It is far worse than you know.

Bisphenol A (BPA) was developed as a hormone replacer, but was shelved until polymer chemists discovered that it could be polymerized to form polycarbonate plastic. Since we began the wholesale use of plastic in packaging, we have seen the incidence of breast cancer in women rise from one in 40 to one in 7.  That is far too short a period for evolution to be blamed.  The sperm count of men is about half of what it was in 1940.  The range for "normal" has been revised, lest you get distracted by that term.  Also, men's penises are getting smaller, and at some point I should think that that one would get the attention of our august lawmakers, but to date it hasn't.  We still wrap our lives in the pernicious stuff - plastic water bottles, plastic wrap on our food, plastic baby bottles - the list goes on and on!

Are there other things we need to look at besides plastic?  Yes.  About the time we started using plastic, we also started hailing "grain fed" as something good in our diets.  Grain means the cows give more milk, the steers fatten up for market faster, and the bottom line gets fatter faster.  Since so much of what we do in this country is measured by its effect on that bottom line, pretty soon the amount of free range meat and animal products fell.  The products of grain fed animals, whether meat or dairy, have only a small percentage of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) - the reduction being as much as 80%.  CLA boosts our immune system to help prevent cancer, diabetes and heart disease, and the cost to treat those three is astronomical! 

As if grain feeding wasn't enough (read about that in detail here:  Why you shouldn't feed grain to a cow), Monsanto gave us recombinant bovine growth hormones (rBGH), a hormone that would increase milk production.  So your daughter is getting female hormones in her milk?  Small detail.  Just change the  "normal" age of onset of menses; problem solved.  Yes, Disraeli, you were absolutely right!

About the time they started using rBGH, we also got "ultra" pasteurization.  This assures that your milk is absolutely dead - every last living thing is gone.  100% of the good bacteria, and 100% of the natural enzymes - natural enzymes that help us to digest milk.  Mother Nature knew what she was doing, contrary to the milk processors!  There are people who have trouble drinking milk that CAN drink it just by finding a brand that is not ultra pasteurized, although it is getting harder and harder to find, because if milk is not ultra pasteurized, the enzymes are still alive and help them to digest it.

What does all this have to do with cheap food?  Well, the dairies can ship milk with very high bacteria counts and it can sit longer in the coolers at the farm between pickups - and longer in the tanks at the processor.  That saves money.  The amount of milk a single cow can give is more than doubled by using rBGH, feeding grain and picking Holsteins over heritage breed cows.

Enter factory farms where the cows are milked three times a day.  More milk, uses less land because they are jammed inside small buildings 24/7, and all that filth from being crowded?  Just put antibiotics in their grain as a preventive practice.  So your kids are getting minute amounts of antibiotics in their milk - not to worry, the scientists will come up with better and stronger (and more expensive) antibiotics when your kids develop resistance to the ones they get on their breakfast cereal and with their school lunches.  While public outrage finally put a stop to the wholesale use of antibiotics in feed in many states, it is still legal in some, and it is virtually impossible to find calf milk replacer that is not laced with antibiotics.

And of course plastic - how much does that cut down on cost?  Cheaper to buy, cheaper to ship, no need to sterilize returned glass jars.  So your kids are getting a little added female hormone, in case the rBGH wasn't enough.  Just shift those "normal" numbers and all will be well.

As if all of this wasn't enough, the government subsidizes the grain farmers, and the gas that hauls the milk to the producers.  So now we have REALLY cheap milk - and really cheap fast "food," since corn and beans are the building blocks of all that manufactured fast food and convenience food.  And remember, if tax subsidies are helping to underwrite manufactured food, then it is you who are paying the bill, whether you whip into the McDonald's drive-through or not!

You can buy milk at the corner gas station on special for $2.75 a gallon, maybe less.  At the other end of the spectrum, you can buy lightly pasteurized non-homogenized certified organic milk in glass jars from grass fed cows for $3.95 a quart, or just under $16 per gallon, sold by Trader's Point Creamery near Indianapolis, IN.  Quite a difference.  The latter example is good milk except for one thing - it is pasteurized, which kills off all the good bacteria along with the bad, but it's the best you can do unless you can find a cow share program and get raw milk.  You might be asking why it is pasteurized.  Well, that is to save you from the perils of raw milk.  LOL!  You should be laughing with me on that one if you read this blog very often.

Let's look at the cost of our milk association's raw milk.  We don't pay for the milk, but we do divvy up the operating costs among the shareholders.  To calculate the cost of milk per gallon, the shareholder would have to keep track of the gallons they got and divide them into the amount they paid in assessments over a year's time.  One of our shareholders did this last year, and it ran about $9.00 per gallon, considerably less than $16 per gallon, but also considerably more than the gas station milk.  In addition, I'll give you another price point for raw milk.  You can get it in a lot of places around here, this being farm country, by paying the dairy farmer a boarding fee for your share of a cow.  The boarding fee is in line with how many gallons of milk you got, and many farmers offer this for $5 or $6 per gallon.

That is quite a range!  And is the cost indicative of the quality?  Sort of.  The range in raw milk will be due to things like plastic containers, breed of cows and grain feeding.  But you can be pretty sure that you won't be getting antibiotics or hormones in your raw milk (if you are smart, you will confirm that with the farmer).  The gas station milk will be in a plastic jug, it will be from factory farm cows, the cows will be Holsteins, the milk will be ultra-pasteurized, it will be homogenized , the cows will have been fed grain, almost assuredly genetically modified grain, and their feed will have a hefty dose of prophylactic antibiotics in it, just to make sure the cows don't get sick from living in confined spaces.  Oh, and they will probably have been injected with rBGH. 

What does this have to do with your health?  Many people would say nothing.  They shop price, and that's all she wrote.  But this is what is wrong with our food!  GMO grain passes into the cells of the cows, and on to your milk, and through your gut.  There is now definitive proof that we do in fact experience cellular changes in our bodies when we eat genetically modified food.  The industry says not to worry, that to date they haven't found that those cellular changes will damage our health.  Do you buy that - are you okay with being a guinea pig in their mad experiment?  Are you okay with disabled Vitamin C in pasteurized milk?  Do you just take a vitamin tablet to replace it?  Will your bones and teeth mind that the D3 has been destroyed and the milk companies "fortified" your milk with D2, a poorer form of D that is less readily absorbed by our bodies?  Just get some Fosamax, right? Does your tummy mind that you can't digest the milk properly because the digestive enzymes were all killed by ultra pasteurization?  Take a Tums.  Do your arteries care that the milk was homogenized?  Just get some Lipitor, hey?  Do you see what is happening here?  Because we drink cheap milk, we end up spending a lot on our health, maybe just a Tums after eating, or maybe by-pass surgery on our plaque-laden arteries. Or that low sperm count leads to in vitro fertilization at $15,000 a pop!

Maybe you think milk isn't all that great a food.  Well, at one time, Mayo clinic used milk as a cancer cure.  Cancer patients were fed nothing but milk (and it was all raw at that time) for six weeks, with many cures.  Milk is not bad for us - it is what we have done to the milk, and to the cows, and to the containers, that is bad for us.  Milk is still a perfect food.  If I were diagnosed with cancer, I would put off any treatment until I drank a diet of pure raw cows milk for six weeks.  Then let them test me again, and I will go from there.

Do you want the best milk?  Then get raw milk, get milk that is in glass jars, get it from heritage breed cows that are fed a diet of grass and organic hay.  You just simply can't do better than that.  It won't be the cheapest, but it won't be the most expensive either.  And any compromises you make, you make at the expense of your body.  It is your choice.  There will be no advertising firm telling you this in the magazines you read, or the TV programs you watch.  This is one decision you have to make for yourself.

Go to Google and check out the facts I have put forward in this blog.  Argue with me, tell me where I am wrong.  I welcome your comments and I will get back to you.  I may learn something from you.  I sincerely hope you have learned something from me today.

Happy and HEALTHY eating!


  1. What? Smaller Penises?! Holy smokes! We need to DO something about this!!

    Yeah, you'd THINK that would get the attention of our lawmakers since so many are men. But I guess they are all so bought-off by the large lobbies (Ag, Pharma, Medical Professions etc.) they can even ignore THIS.

    Thanks so much for all your research and work Susan.

  2. And of course it isn't shrinking the ones that are out there, so why should they care? But their sons and grandsons are gonna know it!

  3. Nice piece. I have a few gripes, though.

    Milk doesn't generally come in polycarbonate containers (#7), rather in high density polyethylene (#2).

    The only ultra pasteurized products products I've noticed are those labeled "organic". Typical milk for sale in grocery stores has a freshness range of 7-10 days, organic - well over a month. I'm guessing that nasty milk sold unrefrigerated in cartons must be ultra pasteurized as well.

    One of my insurance clients in the 1980s was a dairy farmer. He told me that it was illegal to sell milk from a cow on any sort of medication. (This came up because I asked him about his cool magnetic chart which accounted for all the members of the herd). My recollection (and I'm less sure of this) is that he fed hay in the winter.

    Also, since it's clear that you've looked into this deeply, a few links supporting your more contentious points would be helpful to the reader.

    All that said (and for what it's worth) I think your major points give us all great "food for thought".

    Oh...and if you have any interest in re-posting, I'd be pleased to run it on P,SB.


  4. Hi, Don -

    Okay, sorry for not posting links.

    Polycarbonates are not the only plastics to pass on estrogen-like compounds. Polyethylene is guilty too.

    Milk may be sold from cows on antibiotics, but it varies from state to state. Here is one link, and you will see why there isn't a straightforward answer when you read this. There are virtually no inspection criteria. Given that the herd size on a factory farm may be several thousand cows, there is no way to find the needle in the haystack. Some states have prohibited putting it in their grain (would be fairly easy to trace) or water, but it may be administered orally or injected directly into an affected area, such as an injured teat. Factory farms, given the close quarters and lack of fresh air, make the spread of illness a virtual certainty. The use of prophylactic antibiotics in non-organic herds is pretty common. Again, this varies from state to state, but some drugs are deemed okay in most. Organic cows lose their organic status forever if they get any antibiotics for any reason, and that is a federal rule. No state may make a variance.

    Non-organic calves are routinely given antibiotics, usually in their feed.

    The only milk I have found around here that isn't ultra pasteurized is Meijer's house brand. I will have to look again. I have a tendency to ignore anything that isn't organic, and so it may be easier to find than I thought. I almost never buy milk, but our cows are dry, so sometimes I buy a half gallon and kefir it. But I do buy cream, and it is virtually impossible to find any cream that is not ultra pasteurize save one. Again, Meijer's house brand was the only one I found.

    I will get the source of the statistics for the heart health / cholesterol claims. That is going to have to wait. Time for supper, and I'm hungry!!

  5. I've noticed myself what you say about cream is true. But the only refrigerated milk I've seen at Martins that's ultra pasteurized are the organic offerings. (I also just checked the milk in our fridge).

    I don't shop at Meijer's or WalMart. Both have loathsome practices re: their employees and vendors. Also, couple of years ago Meijer was caught funneling illegal campaign contributions to Township Supervisor candidates (in Michigan) in an effort to get a favorable ruling about building a store there. Surprisingly,they admitted it - I guess to get a lower fine.

    Thanks for the additional info.

  6. PS - The anecdote I passed on about the Minnesota dairy farmer I knew wasn't meant as a rebuttal - just to provoke more conversation. I think he milked a couple hundred cows tops - certainly not a factory type outfit.

  7. Oh, no! I won't shop WalMart, but I thought Meijer's was okay. Can you give me some links on these practices?

  8. I am in Western MT--formerly Dairy country and still there are surviving Dairies here--and yet, I can't find ANY milk products that are NOT "Ultra-Pasteurized". I've checked EVERY grocery store AND the two purported "Health Food" stores we have...

  9. I'm shopping Saturday and will make it a point to look at the milk cartons.

  10. Okay, now even Meijer's has ultra-pasteurized cream. It is listed as "new" as in "new and better." Only it's not. I can still get Meijer's house brand, not ultra pasteurized. I have checked all of the cream labels at Martin's and they are 100% ultra pasteurized.