Controversial film portrays milk as nutritional villain

A controversial documentary—that came out on DVD this week—has taken on the milk industry’s “got milk” campaign with its cadre of celebs sporting milk mustaches. Clearly, the independent filmaker, Shira Lane, has an agenda though she claims she has no anti-dairy position and is just trying “to get the truth on the unchallenged perceptions of milk.”

The film, called “Got the Facts on Milk?” is just as sleek and spunky as the milk ads that portray milk as a wonder food that will help you lose weight, build muscle, and avoid every health ill from menstrual cramps to osteoporosis—but completely flips it, making milk into the nutritional villain.

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Some of the film’s assertions are valid: milk causes diarrhea and bloating in those with lactose intolerance, and some people have full-blown milk allergies and shouldn’t have any dairy to avoid allergic reactions like rashes, hives, and breathing problems. But the same case can be made for other allergenic foods like nuts, strawberries, and mangoes, all plant foods embraced by the experts who were interviewed by Lane.

And the film oversteps by blaming dairy foods for the raging obesity epidemic and rise in heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. No question high-fat, calorie-dense cheese and milk shakes can makes us fat, but are they really worse than steak and fries?

We have no idea since the film doesn’t back up any claims with solid research studies.

Dr. John McDougall, an avowed vegetarian who runs a health spa in Santa Rosa, Ca. for well-heeled patients trying to improve their diet, said in the film that “dairy is basically liquid meat” with the same amount of fat, cholesterol, protein, and lack of fiber. In fact, he added, people can improve their health more by giving up dairy instead of meat—again, no evidence to back that up.

McDougall makes no distinction between fried butter on a stick and skim milk. And how about all the studies demonstrating the health benefits of yogurt? The film ignores those.

Cornell University nutrition researcher T. Colin Campbell did make some compelling points, however, about the US Department of Agriculture’s conflict of interest in both helping to support the dairy industry and setting the dietary guidelines for Americans to follow.

The film points out that some members of the expert panel convened to revise the guidelines had financial relationships with the dairy industry, and not surprisingly the new dietary guidelines issued in January tell us to eat more low-fat dairy products. What’s more, that new food plate also produced by the USDA this year to replace the food pyramid has a glass of milk next to the plate to encourage us to get a serving of dairy at every meal.

Throughout the film, Lane promises to score an interview with USDA folks to get them to explain their policies and the latest milk research, yet she drives all the way from California to the USDA’s offices in Beltsville, Md. over several weeks only to realize when she gets there that perhaps she should have called ahead to schedule an interview.

She never does get her questions answered—I wonder how hard she tried—and that’s frustrating to viewers who are led to believe throughout that she’s going to finally get to the bottom of the milk controversy. Instead, she just raises more questions than she answers.