Animal Activists' 'Got Beer?' Campaign Got it Wrong
Irresponsible Anti-Milk Message Put Lives At Risk By Encouraging Drinking And Discouraging A Healthful Diet
March 17, 2000
by Dennis T. Avery
THE BridgeNews FORUM: Viewpoints on farming, farm policy and related agricultural issues.
CHURCHVILLE, Va.--I was horrified when animal rights activists released thousands of fur-farm mink to die from fighting or starvation. I was appalled when they burned laboratories developing new medicines, to protest the necessary animal testing.
In mid-March, an organization called People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals even launched a campaign telling young people to drink beer instead of milk -- supposedly to spare dairy cows pain and death.
The organization's Web site headline read, ''Got Beer? PETA Urges Students to Dump Dairy. The largest animal rights group in the world is releasing the results of research showing that beer is actually better for you than milk.''
PETA's College Action Campaign coordinator Morgan Leyh counseled, ''Colleges have been busy banning kegs from campus. But we say, 'Ditch the dairy, not the beer!' ''
The PETA campaign stirred a storm of protest among people who care about kids. Mothers Against Drunk Driving immediately noted that drunk driving causes hundreds of thousands of fatal accidents per year in America, many involving young drivers who have had too much beer. A new Harvard study confirms that binge drinking is a growing problem on college campuses.
Other animal rights groups said PETA was simply trying to get people to think about milk.
''Milk is not a health food, and it is the reason for tremendous animal suffering,'' said Mary Zoeterm of the Action for Animals Network in Alexandria, Virginia. PETA, based in Norfolk, Virginia, contends milk is unhealthful because it contains fat and cholesterol.
Those are incredible misstatements of nutritional reality. The American Council on Science and Health warns that more than 20 million Americans suffer from osteoporosis. Most are women who didn't get enough calcium during their childhood and early adult years.
One cup of milk provides about 300 milligrams of calcium, or one-fourth of the recommended daily intake for young women. The calcium from milk is also readily available to the body, which is not always true of calcium from pills and other sources. ACSH says young people who do not consume milk or other dairy products will have difficulty getting adequate calcium from the other foods they eat.
Twenty percent of women in the United States suffer at least one broken bone before age 65, and as many as 40 percent of women over 65 will suffer such fractures.
What a clever campaign. PETA encourages college boys to risk their lives and others' lives in drunken binges. They encourage young women to ignore the urgent risks of fragile bones. All this to protect dairy cows from the cruelty of being milked?
I've got news for PETA. I grew up milking cows. The cows looked forward to being milked. They get many of the same pleasurable sensations from the milking machine that human mothers get from breast-feeding. Our cows cheerfully wended their way into the barn. If I got up late (which happened too often to suit my father) you could hear them bawling in the barnyard, because their udders were uncomfortably full.
PETA is protesting the way dairy cows on modern factory farms are ''warehoused like so many inanimate objects,'' says Bruce Friedrich, PETA's vegetarian campaign coordinator.
More news for PETA: Our family's cows were especially happy after we became a ''factory farm.'' For centuries, family farmers kept their milk cows tied in their stalls throughout the cold and muddy winter months. When our old stanchion barn burned in 1950, we replaced it with a loose housing barn -- just like most big, modern dairies use today. Under that big roof, the cows could wander around the feed bunks and visit with their friends all day long. They came into the milking parlor only long enough to be milked, and get some grain as a high-productivity treat.
PETA is apparently upset that the cows are generally sent to slaughter before the age of 10. But what if nobody drank milk? Who would buy pastureland, spend $25,000 per mile of fencing, and bale the hay for these cows?
In PETA's vegan world, a billion cattle would be sentenced to death immediately. That's a strange way to achieve animal rights.
Meat and milk are important sources of key amino acids, vitamins and minerals. In primitive times, anthropologists say we may have gotten three-fourths of our calories from game animals, stolen birds' eggs, and fish. Human brains are too large and stomachs too small to make us a good vegetarian species.
Fortunately, PETA's beer-instead-of-milk campaign stirred such an uproar that less than a week later, the organization said it would take another tack. However, they had probably already grabbed as much attention for their issue as they were likely to get --and given out to students all their free key-chain bottle openers reading, ''Drink responsibly. Don't drink milk.''
It would be nice if the animal rights groups spent more of their time ensuring that our farm animals and pets are well treated, and less time endangering our young people with dietary misinformation.
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Dennis T. Avery is based in Churchville, VA, and is director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues.