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On the Milk Issue

IVU News - Issue 3 - 1998




breast feeding





Whenever the subject of vegetarianism is discussed, one question invariably asked is whether or not dairy products such as milk, butter, cheese, etc., may be clasified as vegetarian. Among ancient cultures, the Hindus - traditionally considered the architects who laid out the principles of vegetarianism - regard dairy products as vegetarian. However, from an ethical, medical and modern enviromental viewpoint, as well as from a vegan perspective, milk and milk products cannot be accepted as vegetarian, because they are obtained from animals. Therefore, I would like to examine and compare the different principles and philosophies behind the old and new interpretation of the meaning of vegetarianism.

Motherís milk is the only nourishment available to a new-born infant, a characteristic common to all mammals since life originated on planet earth. Although a child may exceptionally be fed a dairy-free infant formula for medical reasons, despite unparalled developments in human biology and medicine the use of motherís milk remains the preferred option. Breast feeding causes no physical discomfort or pain and no health or life risk to the mother. On the contrary, retaining breast milk is painful and it must be drained if not fed to the infant. Likewise, dairy products have been regarded as vegetarian foods because they are presumed to have been obtained without violence or risk to the health or the lives of dairy animals.

The Jains are a very orthodox non-violent Indian community who do not consume any root vegetables to avoid destroying any plant life, nor vegetables and fruits that support any form of parasitic life, but milk is nevertheless considered to be vegetarian, though certain health and hygiene guidelines must be maintained to procure and prepare the milk once the suckling calves have got their due share.

Milk products are not only consumed freely by everyone in such communities, but are also used by their holymen, saints and sadhus, and are considered holy enough as an offering to their gods and deities in all social and religious rituals. Non-violence, the preservation of life and the human bond conveyed through the motherís milk are important concepts to them. Therefore, if milk products were not to be regarded as vegetarian, the act of suckling a baby would be akin to cannibalism. Most importantly, the molecular structure of milk does not consist of a biological cellular structure from which the basic building blocks of life are formed.

According to medical science, however, milk is an animal product with a molecular structure of animal origin. For example, if butter burns in a pot it gives off a smell similar to that of roasting animal flesh. However differently obtained, animal fat and butter are nevertheless similar, and should be eliminated to treat certain diseases and ailments directly linked to the consumption of animal products.

Milk serves also as the vehicle of transmission of some diseases from animals to humans, many animal diseases can easily mutate into specific human ailments. Modern science can also detect the presence of blood and pus cells in milk, kept below a specified limit through quality control. Vegans also object to the cruelty inherent in milk production and the commercial systems used to house and raise the animals.

Finally, the issue of eggs must also be confronted. Although it might be argued that using non-fertilised eggs addresses the ethical objections raised in defence of life, the cellular biological structure of the egg cannot be denied. The physiological impact of eggs on human health is therefore comparable with that of other flesh foods.

- Dr. P. K. Jain, Founder Chairman, Vegetarian Society of Botswana
P. O. Box 2178, Gaborone, Botswana.
Tel. +267 356171 Fax: +267 356591. E-mail:

Contributions to IVU News are welcomed. Material published does not necessarily reflect the views of the editor or the policy of the International Vegetarian Union.