Debunking the Calcium Crisis: Seven Questions the National Dairy Council Must Answer

by Erik Marcus (reproduced with permission)

One of the National Dairy Council's central missions these days seems to be repeating the phrase "calcium crisis" until the public gets caught up in a frenzy to consume more dairy products. In June 1999, the Dairy Council even held a "Calcium Summit," in Washington DC which was attended by more than 250 health professionals.

The Dairy Council was able to use this summit to get coverage in the New York Times and other leading newspapers. Much of this media coverage suggested that people would be well-advised to increase milk consumption. The trouble is that there are a number of problems that accompany the inclusion of dairy products in the diet.

Below, I offer seven questions that get to the root of the Dairy Council's "Calcium Crisis." These questions raise some serious concerns regarding milk, and I invite the Dairy Council to respond. I ask that each answer be given in a summary ranging in length from one sentence to two hundred words. If necessary, I will link each summary answer to a fuller answer containing pages of supporting text and documentation. In an effort to encourage discussion, I will post the Dairy Council's full response to each question in the October issue of

If no response from the National Dairy Council is forthcoming, will ask our readers to help publicize this list of questions until we get a response:

1) If cow's milk improves bone health, how is it that the United States is a world leader in dairy consumption yet also has one of the highest rates of osteoporosis?

2) What percentage of studies related to milk and calcium are funded by the Dairy Council and other milk-industry groups? Each year, how many researchers and nutritionists receive grants from the Dairy Council and other milk industry groups?

3) Leafy greens contain no cholesterol or saturated fat, and they are loaded with beneficial phytochemicals that are absent from dairy products. There are some greens like spinach that contain oxalates that inhibit calcium absorption, but a number of other leafy greens have been proven to be better calcium sources than milk (both by weight and by calorie.) If increasing dietary calcium is a goal of the dairy council, why isn't priority given to leafy greens, especially since the calcium in leafy greens is often more plentiful and better absorbed than the calcium in dairy products?

4) During the June 1999 Calcium Summit, no representatives were present from industries or farm collectives that market leafy greens. Nor were representatives invited from other food concerns that market nondairy calcium rich foods and supplements. Given the contribution that these products could make to calcium consumption, why weren't people connected with these industries specifically invited to the summit?

5) Why do many "Got Milk" advertisements feature celebrities of African or Asian descent, while these ads fail to mention that most adults of these ethnicities lack the enzyme to properly digest milk?

6) Why hasn't the National Dairy Council taken a stance to ensure that milk from cows treated with Monsanto's rBGH is labeled, so that consumers can choose to avoid this milk if they so desire?

7) The National Dairy Council and its associated groups consistently put out the message that milk builds strong bones and reduces osteoporosis risk. If milk can reduce the risk of osteoporosis, why has Harvard's Nurses' Health Study, which included over 57,000 women, found women who consumed the most calcium from dairy products had almost double the rate of hip fractures compared to women who got the least calcium from dairy?