Goat's milk is promoted as the angelic answer to those who want a healthier, more animal-friendly alternative to cow's milk. Juliet Gellatley delves into this rapidly growing industry to unearth the truth.
“It's a goat's life! Waited on hand and foot, with 'room service' delivering the perfect menu of food. In these pampered conditions… our goats enjoy all of life's home comforts…”
So purrs the website of Delamere Dairy, one of the UK’s largest suppliers of goat's milk, cheese and yogurts.
A major Viva! investigation, running at intervals from winter last year to May 2012, tears the heart out of this claim and reveals the sickening life of goats on two of Britain’s biggest dairy farms, one of which supplies Delamere Dairy. Upper Enson Farm, in Stafford, has some 1,800 animals. Our investigator found it strewn with dead kids and a skip overflowing with corpses.
We were told by a worker that the problem was probably ‘worms’ and then later by the manager that: “We've got more losses than I'd like, mainly from cryptosporidia”. Many of the kids had diarrhoea and he explained that the disease is spread via the excreta of the ill animals. There was no shortage of excreta on this farm!
It is a typical intensive dairy unit of large, open ended sheds, some packed with hundreds of nanny goats, surrounded by concrete yards and fields. Here, at least, the goats are allowed to graze at certain times of the year. Large numbers of nanny goats were waiting to enter the nostalgically named ‘milking parlour’ – a huge, rotary milking construction looking like some futuristic nightmare, where goats with pendulous, oversized udders were milked by automated, pulsing, often filthy, tubes to the sound of inappropriately cheerful pop music.
The kids are not alright
Another farm I visited is Bromes Farm, near Taunton, Somerset, with about 1,200 animals. It was heart breaking to film the beautiful, innocent reasons for the nanny goats’ milk – their baby kids. As with all mammals, goats only produce milk because they give birth. They have a five month pregnancy and are well known for being vigilant, loving and protective mothers. However, on all UK dairy goat farms, the babies, male or female, are taken away almost immediately after birth.
I watched the babies, not even a day old, being placed in a pen with artificial teats protruding from the wall. They were already trying to play, tottering, falling, struggling to stand up, falling again, and were sucking at each other’s noses and ears because their mothers were nowhere to be found.
We were informed that the male kids were, until recently, ‘disposed of’ by swinging them by their legs to smash their heads against a metal post. When we filmed, however, a market had been found and they were being sold for meat to a Bristol-based company.
Billy goats gruff
The male kids at Upper Enson Farm were also being sold for meat, which meant they had to suffer the pain of castration. Viva! filmed two women casually lifting baby billy goats and placing a rubber ring around the base of each goat's testicles so the blood supply is cut off and the testes slowly shrivel and die. The UK government’s Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) describes the procedure as causing “pain and distress” and urges it be used as little as possible. At the very least, it pleads for pain relief to be given. It wasn’t.
We also filmed female kids being ‘disbudded’ by having their horn buds burnt out. A worker holds a baby animal over her lap, pushing the kid’s neck into her leg as she forces the heated device down into the skull. The little creature struggles and cries. Kid after kid bleats and screams throughout the process.
Disbudding is “painful and stressful” (FAWC) and The Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 requires that it be undertaken by a veterinary surgeon, recommending it be done under general anaesthesia. This wasn’t the case at the suppliers of Delamere Farm – a dairy which has many of its products approved by the Vegetarian Society.
“With goats (disbudding) is a veterinary procedure. It is virtually impossible to anaesthetise the horn buds using a local anaesthetic and general anaesthesia is therefore necessary.” Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, 2011.
Female kids at Bromes Farm are kept for milking – to join the hundreds of adult nanny goats who have almost no environmental enrichment, nothing to play with, nothing to climb and are never allowed out to graze. Most large-scale UK dairy goat farms are ‘zero-grazing’ (Upper Enson is unusual) for reasons of convenience and money. Nanny goats have to be wormed when grazed outside, which means withdrawing their milk from sale for a week. Most farmers are not prepared to sacrifice this money.
Author and goat farmer Alan Mowlem candidly explains another reason why grazing is not favoured: “Young lambs seem intent on feeding and growing. Goat kids, however, seem more intent on having a good time and spend a lot of time playing and investigating their environment. When doing this they are not only using up more energy but are also eating less.”
Goats are active and inquisitive. It has been said that sheep are conformists whereas goats are capricious, unpredictable, flighty, impulsive and whimsical. The word capricious comes from the Latin for goat (capra). Put into a new field, goats will examine the perimeter and finding a gap they will escape! It is shameful that these highly intelligent, playful, endlessly curious animals are increasingly being factory farmed across the industrialised world. UK sales of goat dairy products are increasing and currently, 70,000 are kept for dairy products, 10,000 for meat and 10,000 for fibre.
Delamere Dairy sells goat milk products to almost every supermarket in the UK, including Sainsbury's, Tesco, Waitrose, Coop, Budgens, Asda, M&S and Whole Foods. Not only do they claim to have exceptionally high animal welfare standards but also make some pretty grand health assertions!
Good for health? Stop kidding
"For those people who experience cow's milk intolerance, goat's milk is an ideal substitute…” Delamere boast on their web site. Others claim that it is also perfect for people with cow's milk allergies. But what does the science say?
Goat's milk has virtually the same lactose (sugar) content as cow's milk! Goat's milk contains 4.4g lactose per 100g of milk; whole cow's milk contains 4.5g and semi-skimmed cow's milk, 4.7g. Patrizia Restani, Department of Pharmacological Sciences, State University Milan, reviewed the science on allergies and goat milk and concluded that goat's milk is wholly unsuitable for the lactose intolerant.
Even more serious is milk allergy, caused by proteins in milk, not sugars. Restani states that claims that goat's milk is less allergenic than cow's milk are “controversial” and have “not been proved”. She adds that there are more papers showing the opposite!
For example, 26 infants aged five months to seven years who were allergic to cow's milk protein were tested for goat's milk allergy. Twenty four out of 26 were allergic to both. In another study, 22 out of 28 children were allergic to both milks and just six to cow's milk alone.
Several independent studies have shown that milks from different animals all evoke the same immune reaction in people with cow's milk allergy.
Restani forcefully concludes that given the severity of the reaction in some people to goat's milk – including hives, eczema, difficulty in breathing and vomiting – goat's milk “must not be considered an appropriate replacement for infants/children with cow's milk allergy” and that “labels suggesting use of goat’s milk for intolerant/hypersensitive people should be banned.”
It is a fact (though not widely acknowledged by the dairy industry!) that cow's milk contains 35 hormones and 11 growth factors, the most devastating being insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). Levels of IGF-1 in blood can be a strong indicator of whether a person will develop cancer. It controls growth and development in both cows and people but each species has very different rates of growth. IGF-1 in cow's milk, survives pasteurisation and can cross the intestinal wall and enter human blood. Even small increases in levels of IGF-1 increase the risk of several common cancers, including breast, prostate, lung and colon.
The big question is: does goat's milk contain IGF-1? Scientists conclude that: “IGF-1 is present in goat's milk” and can survive in commercial milk products.
Another hormone present in both cow's and goat's milk is oestrogen, though at a lesser concentration in goat milk. Again, it has been particularly linked to hormone-dependent cancers such as breast, ovary and prostate. Most oestrogens in our diet come from animals’ milk and those in goat's milk are precursors to ‘catechol oestrogens’, strong promoters of cancer.
Mind the bugs don’t…
Unpasteurised goat's milk is sometimes hailed as a safer alternative to raw cow's milk. A UK study examined 131 frozen and fresh samples of unpasteurised goat and sheep milk from 79 retail outlets and around half failed the legal standards. They were rife with pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria, many of which indicated faecal contamination. Scientists conducting the study suggested that unpasteurised goat's milk should be banned.
Fat, however, may be an even bigger disincentive to sales, according to the Journal of Dairy Science (2012). “The largest health concern for consumers of goat's milk is likely to be its elevated fat content compared to cow's milk. More troubling is how much of the fat in goat's milk is saturated fat… if one is looking for a heart-healthy diet that includes dairy… goat's milk may not be the best alternative to cows’ milk.”
Are you taking the pus?
Most revolting though is the ‘somatic cell’ content of goat's milk! Somatic cells, more commonly known as pus cells, are counted in milk sold for human consumption as there are legal limits as to how much it can contain. Somatic cells are the white blood cells that are the defence against bacteria that invade the udder and may cause mastitis. Cow's milk can legally contain up to 400 million pus cells/litre. So one teaspoonful of milk can have two million pus cells! According to UFAW, 65 per cent of goat milk samples will have a cell count greater than 1,000 million cells per litre!
With goats as with cows, it is the philosophy of factory-farmed, mass production that triumphs; the same old cycle of pregnancy, removal of babies, constant milking, disease, deprivation and early death. And all for a product that may promote disease. Thank goodness for plants – soya, almonds, oat, hazelnuts, rice – and their milk of human kindness.