8 of the Biggest Lies the Dairy Industry Has Told You

Editor’s note: This Care2 favorite was originally posted on March 5, 2016. Enjoy!

Rumors are powerful. They can destroy careers, spread like wildfire and, in the dairy industry’s case, make for a very profitable business model. From dairy’s supposed benefits to outright lies about the way its products are made, let’s just say if you had a dime for every false claim about dairy, you would have enough money for a lifetime supply of soy milk.

Here are some of the most notable rumors and misinformation that Big Dairy wants you to believe:

1. You need milk for healthy and strong bones

Who doesn’t remember the “Got Milk?” ads with just about every celebrity touting the wonders of milk for healthy bones? Citing its calcium content as essential for good bone health, the campaign proved highly effective. Today the number one source of calcium in the American diet is dairy. But there’s only one little problem: it’s not exactly right.

True, milk and dairy can be rich in calcium, but according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, bone health has more to do with how much calcium you retain, than how much you ingest. When you eat or drink dairy, your body only absorbs about 32 percent of that calcium. Meanwhile, 52.6 percent of the calcium in broccoli, 58.8 percent in kale and a whopping 63.8 percent in brussels sprouts is absorbed.

It’s no wonder then that a study published in Osteoporosis International concluded that vegans had the same bone mineral density as omnivores.

2. If you don’t milk cows, they will be in pain

Again, one of those not-quite-true statements.

Yes, if a cow is lactating and doesn’t get milked, she will be in pain, but that doesn’t apply to how milk is produced today.

Unlike popular belief, cows don’t naturally produce milk year-round. Just like humans, they only lactate when they’re nursing, so they can feed their calves.

Back when agriculture operated on a smaller scale, it was alright for the farmer to take a little cow’s milk for himself, while the calf consumed most of it to grow. Today, however, that’s not how the process goes.

Milk is produced on a large, industrialized scale. Cows are impregnated and have their calves taken away after just one day — they won’t need their mother’s milk, since they’ll become veal — and the milk is reserved for human consumption. The process repeats itself, so that a cow produces milk 305 days of the year.

3. Milk is essential for healthy development

“Consumption of milk and dairy products is associated with numerous health benefits,” touts the Dairy Council. Mothers have long been feeding milk to their children, hoping that this magical elixir will allow them to grow healthy and strong. But new research suggests that protein, calcium and vitamin D can be found in other foods without the negative side effects of dairy.

“Do kids really need milk? No, of course they don’t,” nutrition professor Amy Lanou told LiveScience Magazine. “Most people in the world do not drink milk after they are weaned from breast milk, and yet still get adequate nutrition. If you actually feed a child three servings of cow’s milk, how are they going to have room for other healthful foods like those vegetables, legumes and lean proteins?”

Since getting kids to drink milk usually involves throwing a good amount of sugar into the drink to make chocolate or strawberry flavors, milk consumption can also lead to childhood obesity.

4. Chocolate milk is good for concussions

Before you rush to the grocery store to stock up on chocolate milk for your high school or college football superstar, you should know that this isn’t quite true either.

In 2015, a University of Maryland study claimed that chocolate milk — specifically a beverage called Fifth Quarter Fresh — could help athletes who had suffered concussions to recover faster.

There’s a small detail that the press release promoting the research forgot to mention, though: Fifth Quarter Fresh helped fund the study “through a program based at U-Md. that connects businesses with universities for product-development research,” the Washington Post reported.

When the newspaper asked a pediatrics professor and concussion expert at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York to examine the data, he found that there was not enough data to draw conclusions.

5. Cows enjoy being milked

Footage of factory farms, which produce 86 percent of milk in the U.S., according to Modern Farmer, show cows hooked to milking machines. These electronic devices pull at the cows’ udders to milk them quickly and cost-effectively.

The conditions at the dairy farms are so unsanitary that there’s a 50/50 chance of the cow getting an udder infection – and, yes, the pus from that infection goes into the milk. To prevent those infections, many farmers have up to two-thirds of the cows’ tails surgically removed without painkillers, although the effectiveness of the practice has been disproven. The cows’ horns may also be burned or cut off. Does that sound like a pleasurable experience?

6. Dairy cows aren’t slaughtered

Remember how cows are repeatedly impregnated to produce milk? Normally a cow would live up to 20 years, but due to the stress and fatigue of continual impregnation and milking, dairy cows can only last for three to five years. After that, their bodies stop producing as much milk, and they are retired —  to the meat industry where they become hamburgers.

7. Milk is a superfood

We already established that other foods have the same or more nutrients than milk and dairy, but it’s not just the lack of vitamins that makes dairy unhealthy.

In order for cows to produce more milk, many farmers give them growth hormones, which leads to today’s cows producing about 10 times more milk per day than they did a few decades ago.

Milk and dairy are also full of saturated fats, which often means higher cholesterol, clogged arteries and heart disease. According to Harvard’s School of Public Health’s “Top Food Sources of Saturated Fat in the U.S.” list, regular cheese, pizza and dairy desserts are in the top five.

8. Nothing compares to the taste and texture of real dairy

Once upon a time, soy was the only commercialized alternative to real milk, but today there’s no shortage of options: almond, hazelnut, hemp, rice and coconut are just a few of the options. Some are thicker, others are sweeter, creamier and nuttier — it’s really a personal choice on which one tastes best. And with major brands like Ben & Jerry’s jumping on the non-dairy bandwagon, it’s easier than ever to eat well without real dairy.

Photo Credit: ThinkStock


Marie W
Marie Wabout a month ago

thanks for sharing

Maria R
Maria P4 months ago


Amanda M
Amanda McConnell5 months ago

thanks for sharing

Amanda M
Amanda McConnell5 months ago

thanks for sharing

John W
John W5 months ago

I don't like milk anyway

David Anderson
David Anderson5 months ago

The amount of calcium you absorb and constructively use is dependent on the amount of magnesium you consume along with it. You do not magically get different results from different sources of calcium, but rather benefit from the greater amounts of magnesium found along with it. As for the cow enjoying or not enjoying being milked, my experience has been that the cow at least didn't mind, but then again, the only tools I used were a bucket and a three-legged stool. Factory farming is likely an entirely different matter.

Kimberly Wallace
Kimberly Wallace5 months ago

Thanks for the info.

Kathryn I
Kathryn I6 months ago

Most of these, by far, I found very surprising! Thank you for sharing!

Jaime J
Jaime J6 months ago

Thank you!!

Glennis W
Glennis W6 months ago

Great information and advice.. Thank you for caring and sharing