Just Say No to Drugs ... at Lunch

Just Say No to Drugs ... at Lunch

by Karen Brown

Recently, a group of us at the Center were reviewing photographs of school lunches from around the country. A milk carton on one lunch tray really caught our eyes. I’ve recreated a version of it here: 

carton of milk

Now, we can all agree that harmful drugs have no place in the lives of young people, but what about the drugs inside this milk carton? Industrially produced milk can contain up to half a dozen or more different drugs, principally hormones and antibiotics, some genetically engineered, and many banned outside the United States for reasons related to human and animal health. And because cows on factory farms are milked up to 300 days per year, including while they are pregnant, even "natural" hormones in milk can run exceptionally high, to levels that many experts believe pose unacceptable health risks.

 What would Socrates do?

Inquiry for the classroom using Socratic dialogues

• The federal government requires that many packaged foods be labeled with information about their nutritional content. Do you think nutritional content is all the information consumers really need about the food they eat? Do you think consumers need to know facts about how a food item was produced? For example, do you want to know what kind of food an animal may have eaten or what drugs it may have received? Are there more things or different things that you would like to know about the food you buy and eat?

• Who should be responsible for the information the packaging conveys? The government? The farmer? The food company? The package designer?




8 comments posted

I think the nutritional

Submitted by Abby Jones (not verified) on Mon, 2012-03-12 21:27.

I think the nutritional information at the back of food packagings still lack plenty of information. It is like information is deliberately withheld from consumers. I have never seen packagings include what kinds of hormones and antibiotics that are inside, and I am sure there are people like me, who want to know. However, I doubt the food industry will bow down to this request, as I know such information will hurt their profits.

One of the best food made toxic

Submitted by Vince G. (not verified) on Sun, 2011-05-08 16:28.

Anything that alters too much the natural way of living of the cows will result in very bad quality milk. And even if the milk is excellent, the pastourization will still make it a bad food. Nature has never meant the milk to be heated to 71.7 °C (161 °F) for 15–20 seconds or more or to 135 °C (275 °F) for a minimum of one second. Moreover we are the only animal who eats milk in adulthood.

It's enough to study a bit of biochemistry of nutrition to know that :
1. When heated to (relatively) high temperature the chemistry of the proteins and fats change (not to mention the content of vitamins or the bioavailability of minerals) and our liver is not enough evolved to account for such a change (bad news: for most of us there are no evidence of this in short-terms and the health problems will arise in long-terms).
2. most of us (NOT all of us) lose the ability to digest milk properly in adulthood as it happens in almost any other mammal (drop in the amount of enzymes needed to digest milk sugars)

The many "hidden" drugs

Submitted by Nate (not verified) on Mon, 2011-03-28 03:47.

Drugs hidden in our foods are not the only ones to look out for. There are a number of drugs such as prescription anti-depressants and mood-stabilizers that are given to our kids by so called professionals. Please be aware of the negative substances that can sneak into the lives of you and your children.

What's in that milk

Submitted by Brad (not verified) on Mon, 2010-03-15 12:36.

For the purpose of a classroom discussion, don't you think that the following statement should be referenced:

"Industrially produced milk can contain up to half a dozen or more different drugs, principally hormones and antibiotics, some genetically engineered, and many banned outside the United States for reasons related to human and animal health."

Without evidence for this assumption, the classroom discussion could easily breakdown.

What's in that milk

Submitted by karen on Mon, 2010-03-15 15:35.

Brad -- Good point.

Here are some references on dairy practices from around the country that might serve as a starting point for classroom research.

- A list of common dairy drugs and their recommended withdrawal times from the Mississippi State University Extension:

- A document from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture on reasons why drugs -- in this case antibiotics -- enter the food supply when they shouldn't:

- The Daily Green, on rbST, which is legal in the U.S. and banned in a number of other countries:

Harvard Magazine, on seasonal vs industrial milking practices:


There are many issues

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 2010-03-14 14:17.

There are many issues with the dairy industry as it relates to both human healthy and animal welfare.

As a vet student with a particular fondness for cattle, I have always found it somewhat amusing that people are so quick to vilify the meat industry as the worst perpetrator of animal cruelty, when it is widely recognized within the vet community that there is far more cruelty involved in the production of a a pint of milk than a pound of beef.

That said, choosing to focus on the issue of milking pregnant cattle is a bit beside the point. Cattle have a gestation period of roughly 9month and 10days, and must produce a calf per year in order for the farmers to break even on cost of food/etc to support the animal.

Cows return to heat 2-3 months after calving, where calves don't wean until ~7 months. It is not uncommon for an animal to nurse her young while pregnant with next year's offspring. Some human mothers get pregnant again while still nursing their first child. It's not a problem for mother or child.

The only milk not safe to drink would be the initial colostrum-filled milk produced in the first few weeks post-parturition (which is discarded in the parlour).

If your concern is for the cows, focus instead on preventing lameness, mastitis, dependence on antibiotics, the use of corn as feed and other husbandry issues that more direly effect the welfare of America's cattle. If your concern is for public health, focus on voicing your disproval at the reliance the dairy industry has on artificial hormones and antibiotics.


Submitted by karen on Mon, 2010-03-15 15:43.

Thanks for your comment. You have a good point, and I might have been more specific about contrasting industrial milking practices with what is sometimes called "seasonal" or "nomadic" milking. Here is a study from Harvard that makes the point more completely than I can in a short blog:

Thanks again for your comments. Your concern for animals is touching and impressive.

What's in that milk?

Submitted by Michael G. (not verified) on Sun, 2010-02-28 11:22.

Information is power, and here the consumer is currently powerless... Thank you for summarizing this matter with a clever and accurate image: the milk carton graphics are thought provoking and funny!

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