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Science and the Dairy Dilemma



The legacy of milk drinking has not come to us from Krishna or the Vedas – nowhere in any of sacred texts does anyone drink milk – but from the British. Rabid milk drinkers, they brought this culture into India, started the first dairy farms and promoted it widely. Then our own governments, filled with people who had aped the West for so long, carried on this advertising and gave it a religious connotation (it is not the holy cow but holy milk),  filled it with virtues like calcium and protein, and promoted it as an essential food for children to have at least three times a day. But does milk deserve its halo as a food that “does a body good.”

Now scientists are retracting their rubber stamps. In the world’s premier medical magazine, The New England Journal of Medicine in February 2020, scientists Walter Willett, MD, DrPH, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and his co-author, David Ludwig, MD, PhD, a professor of paediatrics and nutrition at Harvard, say the science behind those dietary recommendations is almost nonexistent, and  eating dairy may cause harm to both our bodies and the planet. Willett is the best known scientist on dairy in the world.

According to them, the core reason why people drink milk – its supposed benefits of calcium – is based on flawed evidence. Does milk justify its majorly adverse impact on the environment? Willett says no.

Their study comes at the same time as another prestigious one: Elizabeth Jacobs, PhD, is a professor of epidemiology, biostatistics, and nutritional sciences, at the University of Arizona College of Public Health in Tucson, recommends in Nutritional Reviews that milk be downgraded as a separate and essential food.  She says it should be placed in a much lower category as one of many foods that could provide protein.

Milk drinking in America has fallen by 40% since 1975. But its production and consumption has risen by 9% . That is because people are eating more cheese and yoghurt and it takes far more milk to make these products. India has the same pattern. Much less milk is being fed to children, but paneer and dahi and sweets made of milk are up.

According to the team led by Willett, the recommendations for milk as a major calcium source came from a few small studies on a few people, and were carried on for just a few weeks.. Researchers measured how much calcium they ate and drank, and compared it to how much they were excreting. The idea was to find out how much calcium the body needs to keep it in balance.

In adults, the calcium balance should be net zero – i.e., the body should excrete the same amount as it ingests. Researchers of these small studies concluded that  for Americans 741 milligrams of calcium a day was enough for balance.

But in countries where dairy was not a common food, like Peru for instance (and all of Asia and Africa before the British), the amount needed for balance was much less around 200 milligrams. As far back as 1951, Harvard University nutritionist Mark Hegsted did a study to find out whether calcium was needed in such quantities by the body  He looked for a chronically calcium-deprived population and found one in the Central Penitentiary of Lima, Peru, where prisoners subsisted on a rice and beans diet and drank milk once a week. Hegsted monitored the calcium intake and compared it to the amount they excreted in their waste, to calculate how much calcium they retained. The average prisoner took in just 126 milligrams of calcium a day, but  tests still showed normal levels of calcium in his body. Willett says the body simply absorbs what it needs for balance, taking more from whatever food is eaten to meet its needs whether from green leaves, fruit and vegetables or fish.

But what happens to the body when large amounts of dairy calcium are poured into it ? Willet points to large population-based studies, that have followed how people eat for years (not weeks), and measures what happens to their health. All these studies consistently point out that populations that eat the most milk have the highest number of bone fractures (specially hip fractures), i.e., the weakest most fragile bones. Exactly the opposite of what parents want to achieve when they force their children to drink milk. The risk appears to be highest for men who drank a lot of milk in childhood. One huge study found that women who drank 2.5 or more glasses of milk a day had a higher risk of fractures than women who drank less than one glass a day.

What are the other claims that Willett has found that have no basis in fact?

That milk makes you lose weight.

That milk can help control blood pressure.

That dairy lowers the rates of cardiovascular disease : all research shows that dairy has no effect on cardiovascular disease rates.

Dairy consumption lowers bone fracture rates: goes against every study which actually suggest the opposite

And there was no link between lifespan and eating dairy.

All in all, every research done to date shows that “milk is not essential for health,” says Marion Nestle, PhD, Professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University.

 According to the data there is good evidence that kids who drink cow’s milk grow taller than those who don’t (I would contest that: this has to do with genetics as well – Maneka Gandhi). But there is no scientific reason that shows why or how milk accelerates growth. Willett gives a sound reason : cows are often pregnant when they’re milked, which increases hormones like estrogen and progesterone. Cows produce more of another hormone, called insulin-like growth factor, IGF, which increases milk production (and gives cancer). These hormones may also promote growth in people.

Does milk create strong bones in children ? Children need calcium for bone building but do they need to get it from milk ? The authors of this review showed that no studies have proven the link between dairy and strong bones.

A study, “The effect of dairy intake on bone mass and body composition in early pubertal girls and boys: a randomized controlled trial” by Vogel, Martin McCabe et al and published in  2017’s American Society for Nutrition, done on 240 healthy 8-15 year old children of different colour and weight, showed that feeding them three added servings of dairy, as against a control group that had none, had no effect at all. After 18 months the study found no difference in bone density between the children who had more dairy and the ones who didn’t. The U.S. recommends that children ages 4 to 8 get 1,000 milligrams of calcium in their diets. The U.K. recommends half that much, just 450 to 550 milligrams a day. The difference in recommendations is not because scientists differ but is dependent on the political weightage of the dairy industry.

Humans get far more calcium from green vegetables nuts, beans. When you eat a food  that makes no difference in calcium or protein  but has chemicals, artificial hormones, antibiotics and pesticides in it, you also bring disaster to the environment. Dairy farms consume masses of water. They contribute to water pollution. The cattle emit methane which heats the atmosphere much more than carbon dioxide. Why don’t you do the world a favour and eat plastic instead?

(To join the animal welfare movement contact,

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Sat Mag

After Bandung:



The revenge of modernity

By Uditha Devapriya

This is the second in a series of essays examining the Bandung Conference, the Non-Aligned Movement, and the latter’s eventual dissolution.

Asked for his opinion of Western civilisation, Gandhi famously replied, “I think it would be a good idea.” There were many things Rabindranath Tagore agreed with Gandhi. His estimation of the West was not one of them. When the father of India’s independence struggle implored everyone to use the charka, the soul of the Bengali Renaissance begged to differ: “The charka,” he said, “does not require anyone to think; one simply turns the wheel of the antiquated invention endlessly, using the minimum of judgment and stamina.”

For Tagore, Western civilisation could be a source of liberation; for Gandhi, it could only be the object of amusement. To borrow an analogy by Isaiah Berlin, Gandhi was a hedgehog, a believer in the superiority of one way of life all others, while Tagore was a fox, a believer in the potential of human reason, individual freedom, and modernity. The latter is of particular significance and relevance, and forms the subject of my piece.

One of the most perplexing dilemmas of the 20th century has been the issue of modernity. Just what is it? Particularly for the postcolonial world order, the search for modernity has been coterminous with the search for identity. Western scholars, understandably, would pin it down to a clash of civilisations between East and West, and point out that modernisation inevitably involves Westernisation. Others, derided as “nativists”, would look to the East, at home-grown ideologies. The conflict between these two schools of thought has dominated the narrative throughout the Cold War, surviving its very end.

Francis Fukuyama believed that the collapse of the Soviet Union would usher in the end of history, transforming a bipolar world into a unipolar one: all world systems would flow into one, with the West dominating. For some time, the optimism of the West at the fall of the Berlin Wall and the transition from Communism to capitalism in the Soviet bloc seemed to confirm this thesis. Modernity had returned, in the form of the marketplace. “Since 1991,” wrote Fareed Zakaria in 2008, “we have lived under a U.S. imperium, a unique, unipolar world in which the open global economy has expanded and accelerated.”

Samuel Huntington discounted such optimism. To him the collapse of a bipolar world could only lead to the rise of diametrically opposed ideologies, clashing with one another. Implicit in his view was a pragmatic belief in the withering away of nation states: now ethnicity, not nations, would reshape history. Nationalism, in other words, would transcend borders, and defy sovereignty. Huntington named eight cultures which would triumph over national borders in that manner: Latin American, African, Islamic, Sinic, Hindu, Orthodox, Japanese, and Buddhist. No wonder Gunadasa Amarasekara, the enduring symbol of the Sinhala Buddhist intelligentsia, referred to Huntington in his essays: it validated his own thesis of a world of competing civilisations, cultures, and worldviews.

Western civilisation continues to evoke hatred and infatuation among nationalist elites, and not just in countries like ours. Post-war Japan teetered, for instance, between adulation of Western culture, including forms of dress, with displays of exclusionary nationalism at times bordering on xenophobia. Thus when Marlon Brando rode a motorbike in The Wild One and Audrey Hepburn cut her hair short in Roman Holiday, Japanese teenagers followed suit, yet when cafes popped up in Tokyo, many of them actively excluded foreigners. The situation was certainly not as stark in other parts of Asia, least of all here: as with India, our tryst with the West has historically been a less complicated affair. In general though, we’ve been as ambiguous in our encounters with modernity as them.

For some, it would seem that modernity is white, male, bourgeois, and European. I hate to put it so bluntly, but that’s the truth. A corollary to this argument is the view that if we must embrace modernity, we must embrace the West. The only exception to that I can think of, from the last century, has to be the Non-Aligned Movement: it tried to forge a modernity acceptable to the ex-colonies of the Third World. That vision was many things: progressive, liberating, yet traditionalist. Anchored to the past, it sailed towards the future. It held the promise of growth, minus the dictates of Bretton Woods; an exit from underdevelopment that wouldn’t involve, much less depend on, the IMF and the World Bank.

Until the revival of neoliberalism in periphery countries (Sri Lanka included) in the late 1970s, this way out for developing societies seemed to work. Yet wrecked by differences in culture, growth and development potentials, resource endowments, and a frustrating lack of political consensus, it gradually fell apart. When Fouad Ajami wrote his critique of it (“The Third World Challenge: The Fate of Nonalignment”, Foreign Affairs, Winter 1980/1981), he began, fittingly enough, by quoting J. R. Jayewardene: “[t]he only real nonaligned countries in the world are the United States and the Soviet Union.”

To me it’s one of the biggest ironies that an outfit committed to neutrality between capitalism and Communism should come to be influenced by both camps. The capitalist bloc, led by the US, helped rightwing authoritarian elites, particularly in the military, to overthrow democratically elected leftwing governments; the Communist bloc, led by the USSR, supported reformist nationalist elites, often but not always in the military, who had overthrown or defeated at the polls dependent, compradore rulers.

Each believed that history was on their side, and ironically both were wrong for the same reason: they assumed that the regimes they supported would respond to the people. In this, however, the socialist bloc proved to be more correct of the two in the long run: opposed as leftwing reformist nationalists may have been to a socialist revolution in their front yards, they nevertheless did manage to fulfil the aspirations of the peasantry, something rightwing compradore elites could never hope to do or achieve.

Meanwhile, the Non-Aligned Movement’s vision of modernity was being buttressed by culture. “Islamic lands,” Fouad Ajami wrote in his obituary of it, “had developed a powerful consensus in favor of Islamizing modernity.” As with these Islamic lands, so with Buddhist, Hindu, and the other non-Christian nonaligned societies of the world: Pan-Africanism, the Bhoomiputra movement in South-East Asia, and over here, the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna and the Sinhala Basha Peramuna among other outfits. These appealed to a nationalist petty bourgeoisie. By pandering to them, the governments of their societies contributed to the Movement’s very demise. Not owing to what they had, but owing to what they lacked: a cultural consensus on which such a group could build a political consensus.

As much as I disagree with much of what the Jathika Chintanaya ideologues say and write, the likes of Nalin de Silva got it right when they claimed that almost all forms of Western culture and philosophy, including rationalism, were rooted in a Judeo-Christian framework. Fernand Braudel also made this claim: “Western Christianity,” he wrote, “was and remains the main constituent element in European thought.” From classical antiquity to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, encompassing the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, and the Enlightenment – from Thomas Aquinas to Adam Smith – the paradigm shifts of Western society never actually swerved from the faith of Abraham and Moses.

From Galileo to Descartes, and from Einstein to Hawking and Dawkins, the growth of Christianity hence paralleled that of Western civilisation. Post hoc ergo, propter hoc: these in turn paralleled the evolution of Western modernity. A deeply unified culture, nourished by over four centuries of exploitation of colonies across Asia and Africa, the West gradually came to monopolise the idea of growth, progress, liberty, and modernity. Added to this was the formation of the colonial bourgeoisie, which in most colonies displaced the traditional ruling elites. Their thinking was no different to that of European officialdom, and even the most radical among them conformed to the decrees of the colonial bureaucracy.

That sped up the Westernisation of these societies even more.


The Non-Aligned Movement lacked that kind of unifying culture, and with it the rudiments of a political consensus. Ergo, its vision of modernity could not hold. Once it unravelled, the ideal of modernity had to revert to its assumed homeland: the West.

It’s not surprising that the descent of the Movement should coincide with the fall of the Berlin Wall and of Communism. The fortunes of the Non-Aligned Movement had been built on the Cold War: while it represented countries from both capitalist and socialist camps, it overwhelmingly represented the latter. If there’s one legacy of the Soviet Union’s support for these countries, it was the enrichment of a nationalist petty bourgeoisie. Yet as I wrote in my earlier essay, the Soviets vastly overestimated the potential of bourgeois democratic nationalist leaders to take forward the revolution in these societies. In Egypt as in Sri Lanka, the dalliance between bourgeois nationalists and leftists soured: Egypt with the dissolution of Communist parties in 1965, Sri Lanka with the expulsion of the LSSP in 1975.

The faith which Marxists placed in Third World bourgeois nationalists was hence, if not misplaced, then misaligned. Their main electorate, despite their efforts at land reform in favour of the peasantry, remained the petty bourgeoisie. Nationalism is by no means petty bourgeois dominated – that is a crass simplification – but in their hands, it invariably turns into the dominant political ideology. That is exactly what happened here.

The experience of the Non-Aligned Movement shows that even with Moscow’s support, this petty bourgeoisie consistently prevented the leaders of their countries from transcending a nationalist political framework, thereby preventing that much needed cultural and political consensus in the Movement. What it led to, firstly, was the defeat of the socialist project in favour of a neoliberal restoration – Jayewardena after Bandaranaike in Sri Lanka, Sadat after Nasser in Egypt – and secondly, the widening of cultural division.

With the dissolution of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Soviet bloc, the contradictions of globalisation and market fundamentalism led ethno-religious nationalism to erupt in and fracture these societies. Huntington called this the clash of civilisations, though it remains a reductionist and deeply cynical diagnosis to me. In any case, modernity has had its revenge: after a full four decades of “the East” endeavouring to come up with a tenable alternative to what Nalin de Silva refers to as “Judeo-Christian values”, it has returned to its assumed land of birth, leaving one half of the world reeling in chaos. Modernity, Gandhi could well have said today, thus remains, at best, a good idea for us. I doubt Tagore would retort.

Note: In my previous article on the Non-Aligned Movement (“After Bandung: Marxism’s exit from the Third World”), I wrote that J. R. Jayewardene made his facetious remark on the organisation at the 1979 Havana Summit. In reality, he mentioned it in an interview with the New York Times, which quoted him in the May 22, 1979 issue.

(The writer can be reached at

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Sat Mag




“String of Archeological Sites on the East Coast and Other Articles”

[Review by Tissa Devendra]

Readers of this most interesting collection of  articles should not be misled into thinking it is a learned discourse on Sri Lanka’s ancient history. Far from it. The author brings to bear his experience as a scholar, administrator and traveller on subjects as varied as ancient ruins,  primitive tribes, fading traditions and administrative systems. The first few articles deccribe the once forgotten Buddhist temple complexes on our eastern seaboard, once buried in forests and later vandalized by terrorists aand religious extremists. A few courageous bhikkus are  now battling to restore them as places of worship.

However, all is noi lost of the Great Tradition founded by Ahubudu Mahinda, Theri Sanghamitta and the Sri Maha Bodhi. The author illustrates  these traditions with his accounts of the Tulabara donation and the sculpting of thr massive sedent Buddha of Rambodagalla..

He draws on his experience as a senior administrator in his accounts of the exploitation of Vellassa, the Veddas of Pollebadda, judicial executions, encounters with politicians and the role of administrators in the establishment of the Peradeniya University. Moving further afield as an internatiomal expert, he describes his experiences in Indonesia and  enlightens the reader about Coconut cultivation in Asia. During this period he paid an emotional visit to RL Stevenson’s’ last home in Samoa. He also gives us articles he wrote to Indonesian publications referring to that countyu’s historic links with Buddhist Sri Lanka.

The author’s deep appreciation of our nation’s culture  is evident in his reviews of books and the appreciations of the many scholars with whom he had interacted. An altogeher fine collection af writings to read and digest.



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Sat Mag

Devastating impact meat production has on world



To produce one kilogram of beef requires 25 kilos of grain to feed the animal and roughly 15,000 litres of water. Pigs and goats are almost the same, and chicken a little less. Their emissions: faeces, urine and methane, degrade the land and water and cause the climate to become hotter. Methane causes 24 times more damage than carbon dioxide and each cow emits 600 litres of methane daily. Livestock farming contributes 18% greenhouses gas emissions worldwide.

Why would any government make policies that make its people poorer and unhealthier? I can only put this down to a complete ignorance of real economics due to which policies have the worst effect on the economy and on health.

Let me briefly give you the reasons why you should not eat meat.

All living beings require food and water. In order to grow food for animals we need vast amount of land, which we don’t have. So, we allow them to graze in the forests and this destroys the forest, which in turn impacts the climate and reduces ground water. We give them water that we don’t have. We grow animal food instead of growing food for humans. To produce one kilogram of beef requires 25 kilos of grain to feed the animal and roughly 15,000 litres of water. Pigs and goats are almost the same, and chicken a little less. Their emissions: faeces, urine and methane, degrade the land and water and cause the climate to become hotter. Methane causes 24 times more damage than carbon dioxide and each cow emits 600 litres of methane daily. Livestock farming contributes 18% greenhouses gas emissions worldwide. This is more than the emissions from all forms of transport put together. When the climate becomes hotter we need to do far more coal mining to create more energy to cool humans down during heat waves. The water levels rise and flood lands. The rest of the lands suffer drought as glaciers melt and dry up. Mosquitoes and other pests increase and so do their diseases. We feed grain to animals grown for meat, and so the prices go up and there is no grain left for the poor.  If all this grain were fed to humans directly we could feed 3.5 billion people more daily – and keep them healthier.

Because the industrial growing of animals does not recognize their bodies as live, they are simply seen as meat machines and deliberately grown to be fatter, larger, softer… whatever. This can only be done by using antibiotics, hormones and chemicals. In both, India and America, 80% of all antibiotics are fed to animals and so the human eating them in his/her meat becomes immune to them. Thousands of people die every day because there is no medicine left to cure them when they become sick. Heart disease, diabetes and cancer are all related to animal eating, and you and I are paying taxes for more and more hospitals. Switching to a plant-based diet could save lives, lead to healthcare related savings and avoided climate change damages of up to $1.5 trillion.

Therefore, if our nutritional needs can now be met by consuming foods that are less harmful, then we ought to choose these foods. Giving up meat is one of the easiest things we can do to live better.

But this is not going to happen unless the government takes a policy decision on whether it wants the country to survive or not. Encouraging meat export is the quickest way of destroying our land, water and air. The excuse is feeble that meat exports earn money – what is the point if that money is spent on restoring water sources and forests or paying farmers compensation for the destruction of their crops? Or for trying to undo the effects of climate change ? This makes no sense to me at all.

This is where taxes come in.

This tax should be made far more sensitive and sophisticated in its social agenda as well as its economic one. And that means adding taxes to meat.

The government has decreed no tax on live animals grown for food : bovines, swine, sheep, goats, poultry, geese, ducks, turkeys and guinea fowls. The government has given exemption to all meat of bovine animals, swine, sheep, goats, poultry fresh or chilled. For some reason it has also exempted the meat of horses, donkeys, mules – even though these animals are forbidden to be killed for meat by the FSSAI. Does the Finance Department even know the food laws? All offal (which means the parts like anuses, intestines and hooves) and fats of pig and poultry are exempt (so now they can put them happily into vegetarian Dalda). All fish, prawn, shrimp, crustaceans and molluscs and every other aquatic invertebrate, live or dead, are exempt. Considering that a large number of them are banned for any catching/eating under the Wildlife Protection Act, this seems equally bizarre. The prawn/shrimp growing industry is probably the most polluting industry, and the worst for health, because it uses tonnes, literally tonnes, of antibiotics which wash into the agricultural fields making those lands dangerous for all grains/vegetable eaters. Bones, horns, nails, beaks, hooves and anything made of them, are exempt. They have even added antlers – which can only come from deer that are protected from killing by other laws. Eggs are exempt. Milk and all its products, of course, would be exempt as it is a holy cow in itself.

Some countries give food a special tax exemption. Many states in America exclude groceries from sales tax, and there is no VAT on foodstuffs in the UK, Ireland and Malta, though other European countries, add VAT to food. Australia has no GST on all food. However, regardless of the level of tax charged on food, taxation systems fail to distinguish between different types of food. Simply put, taxes are blind to the differences between meat and other foods like fruit and vegetables. Food which is good for the country and the human is taxed just as much as food that destroys the planet and the individual.

Taxes, and all revenue collection should encourage or discourage certain behaviour. Do we not put huge taxes on cigarettes and alcohol or luxury cars? Then why should meat get treated on par with fruit and vegetables when it costs the country so much more in terms of pollution, water, land, health?

Meat production and consumption impose extremely high environmental and health burdens on society. Tax revenue is used (among other things) to support public health care and to fund government-backed environmental initiatives. So, given that meat compromises both public health and the environment, it surely follows that it should be taxed accordingly.

It makes no sense to me that the Indian government would exempt all forms of meat from all GST. Meat is not a necessity. It is a luxury – and it falls in the same category as cigarettes. The slaughterhouses are run by multimillionaires who are sending most of the meat abroad and most of the owners are NRIs. If the government were to put GST on meat at the rate of even 10% the potential revenues would run into crores. At a time when internationally calls are increasing for taxing meat on environmental and health grounds, why would India go the other way?

Taxing meat would help nudge Indians in a healthier direction. A reduction in meat consumption, encouraged through taxation, will have both environmental and public health benefits. More revenue would remain with the government, since health care costs would come down.

Meat, should be a prime candidate for taxation because of its negative impacts. By not taxing meat production and consumption appropriately, governments are in fact subsidising environmental and public health destruction. Meat tax should be on the table for all climate negotiations. This tax can be used for supporting agricultural innovation and victims of climate related problems.

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