Background Dairy Consumption

Dairy products have been considered a staple in diets around the world for decades. Especially in America, dairy products are a very common part of many daily diets, for individuals young and old. Dairy consumption increased by 32% from 1990 to 2005 and is expected to grow by an additional 50% by 2050 according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.[i]

Environmental Concerns of Dairy Consumption

Globally, dairy production accounted for 2.8% of all man-made greenhouse gases in 2005, the most recent year for which this breakdown of data was available.[ii] Dairy production relies on a number of processes and methods that are major environmental concerns, including:

  • Waste Management: The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that over 335 million tons of “dry matter” waste (i.e., the remaining waste after water is removed) is produced annually by U.S. Farms. This amount of waste is equivalent to almost one-third of the total municipal and industrial waste produced in the U.S. each year. [iii] Since animals are crowded into small areas, their manure and urine are funneled into massive waste lagoons. These cesspools often break, leak or overflow, sending dangerous microbes, nitrate pollution, and drug-resistant bacteria into water supplies.  Factory-farm lagoons also emit toxic gases such as ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and methane.
  • Hormones: Growth-promoting and milk-increasing hormones for cows are fairly commonplace in the U.S. dairy production industry. A government study from 2007 estimated that roughly 17% of all cows in the U.S. were given the growth hormone rBGH to increase milk production. Hormones like this are becoming a cause of concern for their potential risks to animal health and the environment.

Health Concerns of Dairy Consumption

Some of the most common health and digestive problems from dairy consumption include bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and long-term irritable bowel syndrome. Many individuals find that their digestive systems simply operate better without dairy. [iv] Additional concerns include:

  • Bone Health: The full amount of calcium needed by your body, roughly 600 milligrams a day, is easily achieved without dairy or calcium supplements.[v]
  • Cardiovascular Disease: Dairy products (e.g., cheese, ice cream, milk, and yogurt) are major sources of cholesterol and fat. Diets high in fat (especially saturated fat) can increase the risk of several chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease.[vi]
  • Antibiotic and Growth Hormone Use For decades, bovine growth hormone (rbGH) has been utilized by dairy farmers to increase production.  Since these products are not labeled most consumers have no idea that a growth hormone is in much of their milk, cheese, and yogurt.  After approving the use of rbGH in 1993, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) turned a deaf ear to the appeals of consumers, food safety organizations, and scientists to reverse its approval of the hormone.

In cows treated with rbGH, significant health problems often develop, including a 25% increase in the frequency of udder infections (mastitis). Because rbGH use results in more cases of mastitis, dairy farmers use more antibiotics to combat the infections. Approximately 80% of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used on animals.  According to an October 2014 report from the Food and Drug Administration, antibiotic use in livestock increased 16% between 2009 and 2012.  These antibiotics are entering the environment and the food chain, contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and making it continuously more difficult to treat human diseases.  More than 90% of the 500 doctors polled by the Consumer Reports National Research Center are troubled by animal agriculture’s practice of using antibiotics on healthy animals for growth promotion and disease prevention.

Recent research has also shown that the levels of a hormone called “insulin-like growth factor-1″ (IFG-1) are elevated in dairy products produced from cows treated with rbGH. Canadian and European regulators have found that the FDA completely failed to consider a study that showed how the increased IGF-1 in rBGH milk could survive digestion and make its way into the intestines and bloodstream of consumers. These findings are significant because numerous studies now demonstrate that IGF-1 is an important factor in the growth of cancers of the breast, prostate, and colon.

What You Can Do

Whether it is the environmental or health concerns of dairy that give you pause, there are several steps that you can take to limit the potentially harmful effects of dairy production and consumption. Consider the following options:

  • Different Sources of Calcium: Reduce or stop your intake of dairy products.  Increasing the intake of fruits, leafy green vegetables, and beans can provide adequate amounts of calcium. Calcium-fortified breakfast cereals, juices, and soy milk also can be good alternatives.
  • Vitamin D Alternatives: Sunlight, grains, orange juice, and soy or rice milk are options for obtaining Vitamin D through your diet, which allows your body to effectively absorb calcium.
  • Exercise: Exercise is one of the most effective ways to increase bone density and decrease the risk of osteoporosis in both children and adults.[vii]
  • Shop Smart: Many independent ranchers and farmers don’t use artificial hormones. Look for milk from local, sustainable farms that you know to ensure the health and welfare of their animals and the environment. Foods with a “USDA-certified organic” label do not use artificial hormones. [viii]



Additional Resources



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