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   Vesanto Melina, Brenda Davis and Victoria Harrison | Becoming Vegetarian

The authors’ Rebuttal the Dairy Farmers of Canada Response
to Becoming Vegetarian

Parts: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8
(Part 2)

Page 2

1. "While we are certainly not against vegetarianism, we do object to the notion that to be healthy one has to be a vegetarian. And we strongly object to the recruitment of people to the cause of vegetarianism, when nutrition facts are taken out of context to promote that cause. It's particularly discouraging when "vegetarianism" is used as a guise for "veganism"-- the complete rejection of all foods of animal origin."

To set the record straight we do not believe, nor have we ever stated, that one must be vegetarian or vegan to be healthy -- in our book or otherwise. We are well aware of the fact that there are millions of very healthy omnivores in this world and we believe that it is not only possible to select a healthy omnivorous diet, but that it is relatively easy to do so. By the same token, we believe that it is entirely possible to select a healthy vegetarian or vegan diet. The American Dietetic Association fully supports this point of view in their position paper on vegetarian nutrition.1 Because vegetarian and vegan diets are not the norm in our culture, people need to be educated to ensure that their plant-based diet provides all of the nutrients necessary for excellent health. That is why we wrote Becoming Vegetarian.


The Dairy Response implies that we have a specific vegan agenda. If this were the case it would make little sense for us to include a "Milk and Milk Alternates" group as a part of our food guide. Indeed, if we were pushing a vegan agenda, we most likely would be vegan ourselves -- the truth is that only one of the three authors is vegan. We are not against the use of dairy products; we are well aware that dairy foods are excellent sources of calcium, and their use certainly makes it easier to meet calcium needs. Rather, we are providing practical guidelines to help people who choose not to consume dairy foods, or who consume less than the recommended amounts, to ensure that their needs for calcium, vitamin D and riboflavin are met. It is of little practical value to a vegan or near-vegan to tell them dairy foods are a great way to obtain calcium when it is against their basic ethical and moral values to consume such products. If we, as health professionals, are to be of any real assistance to these individuals, we must begin by respecting their right to decide which foods are or are not acceptable.

1. American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian diets. J.Am.Diet.Assoc. 93:1317-1319, 1993.

Pages 3, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 16 - all criticizing materials written on page 71.

Our critics at the Dairy Bureau of Canada went to a great deal of effort to criticize materials that they took completely out of context. By doing so, they made it appear as though we made statements which were never made. Individuals who did not have Becoming Vegetarian to refer to could not have known that this is what was done. This tactic is not only unprofessional, but also highly unethical.

In the opening page of the chapter we discussed the mixed messages people receive about dairy foods and the extreme perceptions, both positive and negative of these foods. Then we try to put some perspective into the issue by making two important points.

i/ Milk and milk products are major sources of calcium, vitamin D and riboflavin. It can be a challenge for those eating a North American style diet to get sufficient of these nutrients without using dairy products.

ii/ Dairy foods are not essential to human health. People who prefer not to use dairy foods can get adequate calcium, vitamin D and riboflavin from an all-plant diet when it is appropriately planned.

Our exact wording is as follows:

"It used to be so simple. But, these days, North Americans are receiving many messages about the use of dairy products.

On the one hand, our culture teaches us that milk and its products are an essential food group; government publications tell us that we must eat foods from each group to be healthy. Children learn that if they don't drink their milk, they won't grow strong bones. Adults get the impression that the best way to prevent. or even cure, osteoporosis is to drink more milk.

On the other hand, we hear reports of cow's milk causing allergies, congestion and diabetes. In fact, there are even recommendations against using milk by some physicians.

So, what's the truth? Is milk nature's most perfect food, or is it poison?

In reality, cow's milk is neither nature's most perfect food (except for a baby calf), nor poison. Canadian and American food guides recommend that we consume, at different ages, in the range of two to four cups of milk daily, or comparable amounts of cheese or yogurt. Many North Americans and Europeans rely on milk and its products as major sources of calcium, vitamin D and riboflavin. With the North American style of eating, it can be a challenge to get these nutrients without milk. But this doesn't make cow's milk an essential food. "

Page 3

1. "We find this manipulative and even somewhat inflammatory. The word "must" appears in italics making the reader skeptical about the reliability of government publications."

While the word "must" does not appear in Canada's Food Guide, it is implied. Here is what Canada's Food Guide (Using the Guide) states:

"Each food group is essential. That is because it provides its own set of nutrients." pg. 5

"The 4 food groups provide you with nutrients you need to be healthy. " pg. 4

"You need foods from each food group because each group gives you different nutrients." pg. 41

The words "essential" and "need" are very strong. When one uses the word essential in nutrition, it generally means necessary to life. After reading these kinds of statements, individuals just may get the impression that they must include these foods in their diet to insure an appropriate balance of nutrients.

The comment that this makes the reader skeptical about the reliability of government publications is quite presumptuous. What we are doing in this paragraph is simply illustrating one extreme in terms of how people perceive milk and milk products in our culture, and why they are perceived in this way.

1. Health and Welfare Canada. Using the Food Guide. Ministry of Supply and Services Canada. 1992.

(ISBN 0-662-19649)

2. "It demonstrates the authors' intent to lead the reader towards a blind faith acceptance of their beliefs." [referring to our use of the word "must"]

The critics have no idea of what our beliefs are, as evidenced by their comments about our "vegan agenda". To set the record straight, our "agenda" is now and always has been providing vegetarians - whether lacto-ovo or vegan with the information necessary to plan a diet that will support excellent health at every stage of the life cycle. The whole point of this first page was misunderstood. We had no intention of leading the reader towards anything other than a balanced perspective regarding the role of dairy foods in the diet.

Page 8

1. " The authors do not cite any specific scientifically-based reports. Testimonials are unreliable! Hearsay is just that. The general public does not read scientific journals; they rely on the media for information, the accuracy of which may sometimes be questionable. Dietitians are aware that nutrition information provided by popular media without documentation from a reliable, scientific source is not reliable. By failing to reference their sources, the authors invalidate their own claims. [referring to: "We hear reports or cow's milk causing allergies, congestion and diabetes".]

The nutritionists at the Dairy Bureau of Canada state that we claimed milk causes allergies, congestion and diabetes. We did not. This sentence is taken completely out of context. We simply illustrate the range that exists in how people in this culture perceive dairy foods in relation to health. On one hand people hear that milk is essential to good health, and on the other hand, they hear reports of congestion, diabetes and allergies. The next thing we say is "So, what's the truth?" To imply that we were dealing with the accuracy of these perceptions, when we were simply illustrating the range in how people view dairy foods is manipulative, particularly for people who have not read Becoming Vegetarian.

Our critics go on to mention the unreliability of testimonials and hearsay as though we used testimonials and hearsay to justify our claim that milk causes allergy, congestion and diabetes. We did not use hearsay and testimonials to justify this statement (or any other scientific statement in the book) because we were not attempting to justify this perception. Indeed, we do not agree with this perception, and we say so very clearly. We find it most disturbing that the nutritionists at the Dairy Bureau would spend so much time refuting claims that we never made.

With regard to our references, selected references are included in the text and an extensive list of references are available upon request.

2. "It is irresponsible to suggest that some physicians recommend against using milk."

Is it irresponsible to report the truth? People in our culture have received mixed messages about dairy foods, and while much of what people perceive is very positive, they have also been exposed to negative view points, some of which has come from physicians, such as Dr. Benjamin Spock, Dr. Neil Barnard, Dr. Robert Kradjian and Dr. Charles Atwood. These physicians have sparked a good deal of media interest, and it would have been difficult for consumers to have missed hearing some of these reports.

Pages 4-7

1. The points made in the section of Becoming Vegetarian called "Reasons of Compassion for Animals" are valid points for discussion, but they have nothing to do with the nutritive value of milk."

In this section of the book we were not discussing the nutritive value of milk, we were discussing the reasons why people might choose not to consume dairy foods. We felt that this subject warranted discussion for the following reasons:

i/ To educate people, particularly health professionals, as to why a person would want to eliminate dairy from their diet. For a vegan, it is unacceptable to consume animal foods -- period. It is of little value to tell a vegan that they must use dairy foods as a source of calcium or vitamin D when that is contrary to their basic ethical and moral principles. Simply adding lactaid to cows' milk does not make it an acceptable food for a vegan. Their reasons for eliminating dairy products go far deeper than a concern about lactose intolerance. If health professionals are ever to be of any assistance to those people who cannot or will not consume dairy foods, it is important that we understand what compels them to make that choice. Perhaps then will we be in a position to offer advice that will be of real value.

ii/ Our food choices are not made solely on the basis of the nutritional value of a food, but also economics, taste, availability, appeal, nutrition and, for some individuals, the origin of the food, the environmental impact of growing or raising that food and the affect it has on other living creatures. Thus, in a book about vegetarianism, we believe that not only are we justified in including this type of discussion, but that we would be remiss in not doing so.

Page 4

1. Criticisms about cows and dairy farming

Our critics fail to tell their readers that we are discussing the reasons people have chosen to eliminate dairy under a section entitled "compassion for animals". We are attempting to explain why people are eliminating dairy foods due to concerns about animals. Once again they quote us out of context.

2. "The reference to 10 million dairy cows in North America should be verified."

Our reference to 10 million cow's was from direct communication with Ron Barker, a veteran spokesperson from Agriculture Canada.

Page 5

1. "Who is served if farming practices revert back to the 1800's?"

The nutritionists at the Dairy Bureau completely missed the point of the discussion. We did not state or imply that we should revert back to farming practices of the 1880's.

Page 6

1. "Veal has nothing to do with the nutritional quality of milk"

We never suggested that veal had anything to do with the nutritional quality of milk. We are not discussing the nutritional quality of milk in this section, we are discussing reasons why a person would chose not to consume milk. Some people are very concerned about veal-calves as a by-product of the milk industry and it is that concern which motivates some of them to avoid dairy foods. For this reason, it is deserving of mention.

Page 7

1. "Calves are rarely tethered in Canada, Canada has a code of practice, routine sub-therapeutic antibiotics are rarely used in Canada, and calves are sold from dairy farms at an older age than is standard practice in the U.S."

2. "About 40% of white veal calves in Ontario are raised in loose housing or free stall housing, and this trend is increasing."

We are not arguing whether the way veal calves are raised is right or wrong, rather that the perception of how they are raised motivates some people to eliminate dairy foods from their diets. But since the nutritionists at the Dairy Bureau bring it up, it is important to note that while Canada has a code of practice, it is not mandatory to follow this code. We found it rather ironic that right after our critics tell us that veal calves are rarely tethered in Canada, they quote the statistic that 40% of white veal calves in Ontario are raised in loose housing or free stall housing. Can we correctly assume that 60% of veal calves in Ontario are tethered?

3. "Milk hasn't changed. It still provides the same nutrients it always has and its origin is still the dairy cow. Unfortunately, due to material like this, the public's perception has changed." [referring to "For some people, the origins of the white beverage that we grew up on seem to be changing a little too much for comfort."]

We didn't state or even imply that milk has changed in its nutritional value.

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