Dairy Industry Scaremongering

There is a new campaign from The California Milk Processor Board designed to scare consumers aware from plant-based milks by letting them know that “Real Milk Comes From Cows” and that inferior “imitations” are filled with supposedly scary ingredients such as guar gum, carrageenan, xanthan gum, carob bean gum, and zinc gluconate. Vegans were outraged by the campaign and alternative health promoters chimed in as well. Andy Bellatti¹ for his part wrote a decent response posted on Grist labeling the campaign a “smear tactic”. The irony is that such scaremongering over ingredients with unfamiliar names is nothing new to vegans or eco and alternative health blogs including Grist. Many seem happy enough to use the same scare tactics when it fits their own purposes.

As part of the campaign the Got Milk homepage features a game of find-the-“real”-milk in which visitors are presented with five unlabeled bottles of milky liquids and asked to find the single bottle of cows milk among them. The non-dairy milks include coconut milk, which is criticized as being “spooky” for looking too real, and almond milk which conversely is criticized for its “funky color”. When it comes to looks I guess there is just no winning. To be fair the bottle of hazelnut milk does look a bit odd, though it should be noted that hazelnut milk isn’t a particularly widespread plant milk anyways and separation is a natural occurrence for a number of food products, hardly a reason to say “yikes”. If visitors skip over the bottle of real cow’s milk and click on the last bottle, which is soy milk,  they are presented with the message “This came from a cow? Please.” Well I’m not sure anyone thought it did to begin with but whatever. Most vegans have heard the “soybeans don’t have nipples” quip many times and this latest iteration of this pathetic argument from the dairy industry may be flashier but is still certainly not all that clever. The very premise of the campaign is false in that not only do other mammals give “real milk” but the term “milk” can also correctly refer to various liquids with a milky appearance. Terms like “flesh” and “meat” are other examples of words hijacked and monopolized by our carnist culture as well.

As visitors click on each bottle they flip around to reveal an ingredient list with a number of items highlighted in red including guar gum, carrageenan, xanthan gum, carob bean gum, and zinc gluconate. This look to be little more than a mild case of chemophobia. While there may be some legitimate concerns about carrageenan at high doses, the general safety of both carrageenan and guar gum have been fairly well established despite fears expressed by some vegan bloggers and alternative health promoters. Fears and misconceptions regarding xanthan gum have also been expressed and quickly shot down in the vegan blogosphere. As for zinc gluconate, aside from it being sold as a dietary supplement, I can’t find any legitimate health concerns associated with it,  not even on the fringe. Why The California Milk Processor Board felt the need to highlight “zinc gluconate” in red is beyond me. It should probably also be noted that the bottle of real cow’s milk pictured was not milk fresh from the cow, rather it was homogenized, pasteurized, fortified, skim milk. Wait till the raw milk advocates chime in with their ideas of what “real milk” is.

Once they have completed this game, visitors are treated to three commercials. The first one titled “History” features three cavemen sipping (apparently homogenized) cow’s milk from stone cups while chatting in perfect English sentences while a fourth caveman inquires in a more stereotypical broken manner as to what they are drinking and his attention is directed to a nearby modern domestic cow (don’t get me started). Obviously still not understanding, the least articulate caveman identified as Gary asks, “I get milk from rock?…How about nut-thing?” I guess Gary is just too stupid to know that “real milk comes from cows” and “just cows”, never nuts. The next commercial titled “Board” mockingly presents the ridiculous idea that non-dairy milks are a wasteful corporate conspiracy with no real purpose, never mind the deep cultural history that various plant milks have. While often presented as another modern examples of the degradation of “real food”, various plant-based milks have long histories of human use and have been cultural staples. Soy milk as many will recognize has a logn history of use in East Asia. Almond milk has deep roots as well and was in common use in medieval Europe and the Middle East. Rice-based horchata may also be familiar to many having a long cultural history in Latin America being imported from Spain, though many may be surprised that its roots go all the way back to the ancient Middle East and North Africa where it was originally made with Tiger “Nut” (Chufa). Making milk from plants is really nothing new.

The third commercial goes on to make the point that having to shake plant-based milks is inconvenient (and apparently frightening), telling us that “real milk needs no shaking”. What they seem to miss is that cow’s milk, were it not for the process of homogenization, separates and also requires mixing. In fact I can go to the store right now and find bottles of milk with creme and small chunks floating on tops, it ain’t always pretty either, but its hardly a good point against cow’s milk. In fact many modern brands of plant-based milks have a quite uniform consistency, I personally find that my almond milk requires very little shaking and I’ve even been known to pour the occasional glass without shaking first² and not notice a difference. Are we really supposed to believe that separation is a reason to avoid a product? I wonder if the folks over at The California Milk Processor Board only drink “no pulp” orange juice. In the end the campaign comes off as misleading, inane, and at points even a bit offensive.

1. yes that Andy Bellatti

2. Calcium tends to settles to the carton of soy milk (though some brands separate less that others), so while not shaking is fine for the occasional midnight glass of milk it is still recommended to give it a little shake most of the time. I find a simple 1-2 shake is all most brands usually need.

Further Reading:
Don’t Call it Milk if it’s Soy? by the Vegan Scientist
70 Ingredients By Dave D
Look Who’s Afraid! Dairy Industry Launches Ad Campaign Dissing Plant-based Milks
Guide: Plant-based Milks
Dairy-Free Diets Are Packed with Nutrients by Ginny Messina
Wear Your Soy Milk Mustache for Vitamin D Day!  by Ginny Messina
Got apology? Milk board cans ‘sexist’ campaign
Carrageenan – Facts Report

11 Responses to “Dairy Industry Scaremongering”

  1. Steve Savage Says:

    There is a tragically ironic aspect of this discussion. This
    campaign by the milk industry is using some of the same tactics that have been used against the main-line food industry for a long time. It comes straight from the “food movement” play book. Single out specific additives or components that people don’t understand and make it look scary. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to play off of Americans (and others) ignorance of chemistry, nutrition, microbiology, agriculture… to demonize something in the food supply. This is all sort of sad, but lots of milk substitutes have been marketing against animal milks for decades. Now there is a counter response. Honestly I’m not sure that consumers have been well served by either side.

  2. Adam Merberg (@AdamMerberg) Says:

    Thanks for this post. There’s plenty of stuff out there that’s not good for you, but I wish everybody would just stop the superficial scaremongering.

  3. T. Says:

    Oh, noes! You have to shake it?! That is two or three seconds of your time!

    Does that mean we should also not be using any sauces, dressings, or even orange juice? I shake those before using, too.

    The scaremonger is annoying,and rather useless, whether it comes from the alternative health nuts or the dairy/ meat industry.

  4. Martin Matěj Says:

    That is really patethic….

  5. UnitedVegan Says:

    Well, why does the milk bottle not say “pus, blood, and antibiotics”?

    • Gopiballava Says:

      The bottle says “cow’s milk”. Those are just the expected and normal components.

      I guess the various non-dairy milk companies turned down some secret offer to form a new larger consortium for all types of milk? 🙂

  6. Jimmy DaVegan Says:

    What I want to know is, who actually goes to the got milk? website? Honestly.

  7. dairycarrie Says:

    Believe it or not, as a dairy farmer… I agree with this post. I don’t think playing off the fear consumers have of the unknown to them is the right thing to do for either side. Does it bug me that soy milk is called milk and not soy juice? Not really. On the other hand folks that claim milk has “blood, pus and antibiotics” … that bugs me.

  8. Kylie Says:

    The only real milk for humans is human breast milk, IMO. All the rest is a luxury. Now, I love my soy milk, but it isn’t any more natural than drinking milk from a cow that was meant for her baby. I’ll take the soy bean milk over cow’s milk any day.

  9. Assaf Mevorach Says:

    the link to Carrageenan – Facts Report is leading to a page that say:

    New information is reaching us about Carrageenan that we must address. We will be updating this page at the earliest.

    Michael Potter, President

  10. Charles Says:

    Eating animals (and their byproducts) necessitates animal cruelty. Animal cruelty is the work of sickies.

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