It all started about a month ago when my brothers came to visit me in Denver. I tried to stock up on all their favorite goodies that I normally wouldn’t keep in the house- cereal, pop-tarts, chips, popcorn, etc. The one thing that is a staple in our household is milk but not just any milk. I prefer Almond/Coconut 50-50 blend or , while my fiancée prefers vanilla coconut milk. Sometimes I’ll randomly try a new milk, just to see if I like it any better. This week’s menu was Cashew milk and the Almond/Coconut blend and let me tell you, my brothers would NOT SHUT UP about how we didn’t have “regular milk”.
Honestly, I forgot people were still drinking milk. I thought all the reasons why I stopped drinking it were common knowledge. I don’t recall the moment I stopped drinking milk, maybe it was after one too many Netflix documentaries or maybe too many articles posted on Facebook by my vegan aunt and uncle. Regardless of why I stopped, I really wanted to dig into some of the research that had been done on milk.
The biggest reason I switched to non-dairy milk was pus. I’ve seen articles say there is and articles say there isn’t pus in milk so I wanted to go on a journey to find out from a non-biased source. And here’s what I determined:
The quality of milk is determined by the amount of somatic cells present in the milk with the baseline for USDA being 750,000 cells per mL (that’s how many somatic cells we allow in our milk). The US has the highest allowable amount of somatic cell counts of all the developed, dairy producing countries. To give you some perspective Australia, Switzerland, New Zealand and several other countries only accept 400,000 cells per mL. Oh, and just for fun I want to throw in this number as well: The cell count for “normal” milk is nearly always less than 200,000 cells/mL (NMC Online.org). Another article I found from Veterinary Record Open states that a normal cows somatic cell count should be less than 100,000 cells/mL but for the sake of arguement, I’ll keep with 200,000 mL (Inpractice.bmj.com).
Now to clarify, somatic cells are NOT pus, feces and/or blood. They are mostly white blood cells. White blood cells help protect against illness and disease, so when there are a significant amount of white blood cells present it let’s us know there is something present in the body that the cells are trying to fight off. It could be bacteria, viruses, etc. Somatic cells are not a risk, but the measure does reflect health and quality issues.
A lot of the somatic cells present in cows are from the most costly dairy cattle disease: Mastitis (NMC Online.org). Mastitis is in the most basic form, an inflammation of the breast or udder and can also happen to breastfeeding moms. Milk coming from a cow (or mom) with mastitis can occasionally contain mucus, pus or blood depending on the severity of the mastitis. Now, I’m confident that if the dairy farm is aware they have a sick cow they will simply toss the milk. However I’m sure in a lot of cases, they might not even notice the cow is sick until it’s too late. So, while technically somatic cells don’t directly mean pus they do imply illness and when the most common illness is mastitis, then I’m lead to believe there is very likely some pus that makes it into our milk. If a normal cow has less than a 200,000mL count of somatic cells and we allow 750,000mL in our milk, how healthy are the cows we are milking?
How is it that we pump cows FULL of antibiotics yet they are sick enough still for us to allow a higher amount of somatic cells than other countries? Some of the tips for reducing the amount of somatic cells are: keeping the cattle clean (duh), providing clean bedding each day and clean the stalls weekly (duh), provide cows with adequate space and ventilation (duh), keep the cows cool and comfortable, reduce stress levels… basically a bunch of things I’d hope are already happening for the sake of these cows.
This research has not only raised concerns in regards to our quality of milk, but it also raises significant animal welfare concerns. I’m not going to dig into all the animal welfare concerns because I don’t want this to turn into a 30 page essay . Not only that, but the dairy alternatives are significantly less processed and you can even make them yourself pretty easy. So, if I can find an easily accessible alternative to dairy milk, why wouldn’t I? And why haven’t you?