She has stirred a hornet’s nest with her campaign against milk. Even hardcore veggies have attacked Maneka Gandhi and religious leaders have openly come out to contradict her. Curiously, on her side now is global research and modern science. They are the ones defending her now. Pritish Nandy talks to Maneka Gandhi about the controversy she has stirred.
You have come out very strongly against milk. Why are you so hostile to it?
There are three reasons. The first is health. The health of people is compromised by milk. Two, I am against cruelty. The third reason is the pollutants in milk.
Would you like to explain why you think milk is unhealthy?
There is this belief that milk is a complete food and an important source of protein, iron and calcium. Not only does it have no iron, milk in fact blocks the absorption of iron. As far as calcium is concerned, the ability of the body to absorb calcium from milk is barely 32 per cent. Whereas it can absorb, say, 65 per cent from cabbage and 69 per cent from cauliflower. As far as protein is concerned, milk has less protein than any vegetable. Even if it had more, it would be useless for human beings require only 4-5 per cent of their daily calorie intake in proteins. Even if you just have chapattisand potatoes for instance, you will get more than that.
So milk is not the best food in the world as it has been touted for generations?
Even if it was, no one can digest it. Certainly no Asian, no African. Why do I not eat plastic? The reason is: I have no enzyme to digest it. We do not have lactase in our body and so we cannot digest lactose. If we cannot digest milk, how do we get any of its ingredients? Apart from this, milk has something called IGF-1. All cancer studies show that when IGF-1 rises in your body you get cancer. All the IGF-1 in milk stays in the body, making you prone to cancer. Milk also has a very strong role to play in causing asthma. In fact, asthma patients all over the world are told to avoid milk and milk products.
The problem with doctors in India is that they are not taught nutrition in medical colleges. So they have a limited knowledge of food. Their knowledge of nutrition comes from the same source as yours and mine — grandmothers and teachers. Add to this the confusion caused by our local religious leaders, particularly the ones who espouse vegetarianism.
What is specifically wrong with milk? What is specifically harmful?
The calcium contained in milk actually becomes a health hazard as the undigested portions of it are deposited in the urinary system and become kidney stones. Another condition milk aggravates rather than alleviates is osteoporosis or bone loss. Studies have shown that it is excess protein rather than lack of calcium that causes this. So the more milk you drink, the more you are prone to osteoporosis. Countries like Sweden that have the highest milk consumption also have the highest incidence of osteoporosis.
Another misconception is that milk helps ulcers. Ulcers are caused by the corrosion of the stomach lining. When you drink milk it gives you immediate relief from pain. But that is only temporary. Milk actually causes acidity and further destroys the stomach lining. Besides, ulcer patients who are treated with dairy products are found to be two to six times more prone to heart attacks. This seems only logical because milk is designed to be the food on which a calf increases its body weight four times over in one month! It is so naturally high in fat that it leads to obesity, the cause of all modern disease. Ayurveda actually lists milk as one of the five white poisons.
Indians have been drinking milk for centuries. All of them did not fall sick.
It depends on what you call illness. Most people regard arthritis, osteoporosis, asthma, headaches and indigestion as normal for the body and look on cancer as an act of god.
By looking at milk as evil, are we not turning our back on our tradition and culture?
For thousands of years people thought the sun went around the earth. Copernicus was the first person who said it did not. There was a huge backlash against him. Indian tradition also talks of sati, thuggee and eating opium. Should they be legalised now?
I have written a book on Hindu names for which I had to read every single sastra. Nowhere was there any mention of milk being drunk. There is ghee mentioned and that too for havans. Unfortunately, our memories are short and the things we are most adamant about are those we know the least about. Dr Spock is the guru when it comes to child nutrition. Now he apologises for having advocated milk and says children must be kept away from it.
Dr Kurien has described the dairy industry as the gentle industry. You claim it is just the opposite?
No industry can be gentle. The fact that supply caters to demand makes the cow the ultimate victim. It may have been gentle when each household had its own cow and treated it as a member of the family. Not any longer.
How is milk produced now?
The cow is forced into yearly pregnancies. After giving birth she is milked for 10 months but will be artificially inseminated during her third month so that she is milked even when she is pregnant! The demanded production of milk is more than her body can give. So she starts breaking down body tissue to produce milk. The result is an illness called ketosis. Most of the day she is tied up in a narrow stall, usually wallowing in her own excrement. She gets mastitis because the hands that milk her are rough and usually unclean. She gets rumen acidosis from bad food and lameness. She is kept alive with antibiotics and hormones. Each year 20 per cent of these dairy cows are sent illegally by truck and train to slaughterhouses. Or they are starved to death by letting them loose in the cities.
It is no secret that the slaughterhouse in Goa was made by Amul Dairy. No cow lives out her normal life span. She is milked, made sick and then killed. Even worse happens to her child. The male calves are tied up and starved to death. Or sent to the slaughterhouses. It is not by chance that a calf is no longer called bachda in India. It is called katra, which means one who is to be killed. Even Dr Kurien admits that in Mumbai every year 80,000 calves are forcibly put to death.
But the doodhwalas love their cows. They live off them.
Have you seen how cows are milked? In the villages they practise phukan. A stick is poked into the cow’s uterus and wiggled, causing her intense pain. Villagers believe this leads to more milk. In the cities they are given two injections of oxytocin every day to make the milk come faster. This gives her labour pains twice a day! Her uterus develops sores and makes her sterile prematurely. Oxytocin is banned for use on animals but it is sold in every cigarette shop around a dairy. Every illiterate milkman knows the word. In human beings, oxytocin causes hormonal imbalances, weak eyesight, miscarriages, cancer. Recently, Gujarat started raiding dairies for oxytocin. In one day, they found three-and-a-half lakh ampoules in Ahmedabad alone!
You mentioned pollution in milk. What does that mean?
The ICMR did research on milk for seven years and took thousands of samples from across India. What did they find? Large amounts of DDT, poisonous pesticides called HCH. Under the food adulteration act only 0.01mg/kg of HCH is allowed. They found 5.7 mg as an average! They found arsenic, cadmium and lead. This causes kidney damage, heart disease, brain damage and cancer. Their findings, based on 50,000 samples, were released at a press conference. What did Dr Kurien and the Operation Flood people have to say? More samples should have been taken!
Other things put in your milk are sewage water, vegetable oil and liquid soap. In some cases we have found that earthworms are put in because they excrete slime which increases the density of the milk!
You have said that drinking milk is akin to drinking a cow’s blood?
Milk and blood come from the same source — the body cells of the cow. Every time you drink a glass of milk, remember it comes from a sad, suffering mother whose own child was killed before her eyes and who herself will be killed when she dries up.
Won’t the stoppage of milk lead to thousands being unemployed?
A large number of people are dependent on smuggling, thievery, begging, drug pushing, gun-running and terrorism. Do we buy their products to help them?
What is the substitute for milk?
What is the substitute to a placebo? Anything else. To me, soya bean milk, green vegetables, dal are all effective substitutes. My son has never drunk milk in his life. He is six feet tall and has never been sick for even a single day!