Is it ethical to advertise dairy for cancer prevention?

I am concerned about the ads going around in the City of Calgary, promoting dairy and dairy products. These ads are endorsed by the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada (CCAC), The Heart and Stroke Foundation, and Osteoporosis Canada. First, you should know that I am not a dairy activist. I have nothing against dairy or people who love dairy and dairy products. This is a free country and everybody has the right to choose what they want to eat. But if these ads have an influence on you and you start having dairy or increase your dairy intake in order to prevent cancer, please keep reading before you decide to act on these ads.

The CCAC is promoting these ads based on recent research that suggests dairy may prevent colorectal cancer and they give credit to calcium and vitamin D in dairy for these beneficial effects[1][ 2]. On the other hand there is a staggering amount of research and science demonstrating the negative effects of dairy on human health, especially prostate cancer[3]. The World Health Organization has also left this information open for interpretation in their 2014 World Cancer Report on page 174. The report clearly states on page 174 that “Higher consumption of milk or dairy products has been associated with lower risk of colorectal cancer. In contrast, higher consumption of dairy products has been associated with increased risks of total or fatal prostate cancer in many studies; the fat component of milk does not appear to account for these associations”[4]. So why promote a product that may prevent colorectal cancer but may cause prostate or other cancers? Dairy is also advertised for preventing osteoporosis, which is an unsettled debate as well and I have discussed it at length in another post: Vegans have brittle bones. True or False?

Books such as ‘How not to Die’ by Dr. Michael Greger and ‘The China Study’ by Dr. T. Colin Campbell are just a couple that put up a very strong case against the dairy and meat industry. These books quote research and studies that have demonstrated the cancer promoting effects of casein and naturally occurring hormones in milk. Dr. T. Colin Campbell is an expert in this field and has appeared in controversial documentary films such as Forks over Knives, Milk? and Vegucated. If you don’t have the time to read these books just go on Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s website here. He lists the negative effects of milk from various research studies with references. 

Dairy may or may not be good for us. It is hard to find consensus on this in the scientific community. Even the WHO is not sure. These scientists making claims about negative effects of milk may be wrong. But they may also be right. Only time and more research will tell. But regardless of what science says, we have another tool to understand this problem, commonsense. Commonsense has been used by great thinkers such as Socrates and Plato to solve problems in times before the advances in science.  

So what does commonsense tell us? Milk is produced in the breasts of a bovine mammal that just gave birth to a calf. The purpose of milk is to help the calf grow four times in size in about a year into a full grown cow. And then the calf, now a full grown cow, starts weaning off of milk and the mother cow stops producing milk. That is how nature intended it. Same applies to humans and every other mammal on this planet. Why don’t we drink any other mammal’s milk? Why cows? Would you be ok drinking elephant’s milk if the dairy industry all of sudden decided that producing milk from elephants was more profitable?

Another commonsense question for you. Why is a respectable association like CCAC risking their reputation by advertising a controversial product such as dairy? Dairy Farmers of Canada is a Gold and Bronze sponsor[5]. Smell conflict of interest, anyone? I am not suggesting that CCAC is getting paid by the Dairy Farmers of Canada to promote these ads but that is the first thought that would come to mind witnessing a conflict like this. I believe it is a conflict for an independent and reputable association like CCAC to advertise a sponsor’s product regardless if the product is deemed good or bad for human health. Would you be okay sending your kids to a private course on nutrition sponsored by McDonalds and Burger King?

So regardless of what the science says, my commonsense tells me that dairy was not intended for human consumption. You might think I am biased but the truth is that none of the essential nutrients present in dairy are exclusive to dairy. You can survive without dairy but you can’t survive for very long without eating plants. There are multiple other dairy free sources of calcium such as bokchoy, kale, all kinds of beans especially black eyed peas and white beans, almonds, figs, oranges etc. There is also a dairy free source of Vitamin D, sunlight. Milk doesn’t have sufficient Vitamin D levels anyway. It has to come from sunlight or supplementation if you live far north of the equator.

I understand that this is a controversial subject and the effects of dairy on human health have been a part of this controversy for some time now. On one side we have scientists conducting animal and human studies like The China Study that are trying to protect the interests of the general public by making the public aware of the negative impacts of dairy on human health and facing them is the dairy industry trying to protect their business and financial interests. I can understand where both sides are coming from and can sympathize with both. What options do we have since we are not absolutely sure that dairy is good for us?

1. Keep consuming the same amount of dairy

2. Consume dairy in moderation

3. Or, stop consuming any dairy whatsoever

Well, the dairy industry is not going to like any of these options since they are all detrimental to the dairy business or any business for that matter. The only solution that works for the dairy industry is that dairy consumption keeps increasing just like any other corporation selling a product. And there is nothing wrong with this concept; this is what corporations were designed to do in a capitalist economy. This is how corporations were designed to help the economy and the consumer by improving their product, increasing efficiency, increasing sales and creating healthy competition in the free market. On the other hand the scientists against dairy don’t care about either of these options. As an independent and conflict free scientist or a doctor they are just trying to work on good science and make the best and most accurate information available for the general public. What the public chooses to do with that information doesn’t affect the scientists and frankly is none of their business anyway.

The public has the right to accurate and true information. I firmly believe in Mahatma Gandhi’s principle of Satyagraha (insistence on truth) and his belief that there is no being or god higher than truth. If there is no consensus available on the validity of the information it should be stated as such and the people should be given the option to make a decision for themselves. All research and government regulations need to be independent of the dairy industry or any industry for that matter and conflict free. Sadly, we live in a society where money holds priority over human and animal health as well as the environment. The impact of raising livestock on the environment and the climate specifically is worse than the impact of burning fossil fuels for transportation worldwide. The amount of land, water and food resources required to raise livestock is enormous on our planet, more than you would think and is an inefficient way of feeding humans. Raising livestock to feed the current human population is highly unsustainable[6]. There are thousands of pages published on this subject but I won’t talk about that here. I call this ‘Capitalism Gone Wild’. But we as consumers can affect a change by increasing or reducing the demand of a product. Let me rephrase that, ONLY we as consumers can affect a change by increasing or reducing the demand of a product. But we will fight this battle another day.

Today I just want to urge the general public to give it some thought before acting on the ads promoting dairy to prevent colorectal cancer. Please look at the other side of the coin and make an informed decision. A decision you won’t regret in the future. I understand that it is hard to know the truth at this time since we do not have sufficient evidence on the long term impacts of dairy on human health. It is hard because science is always evolving but we and our future generations should continue to seek the truth. In the meanwhile look at both sides of the coin and do whatever makes you happy.

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