On the Eighth Day of Christmas – are we going off milk?

At the latest estimates, UK dairy farmers were estimated to be producing over 14 billion litres of milk per year. But are we actually drinking as much of the white stuff as we used to, and if not, why not?

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eight maids-a-milking…

Milk is often a quintessential part of our days, soaking our corn flakes or taking the edge off our cups of tea or coffee. In society at large, there is increased awareness of issues surrounding the consumption of it, including lactose intolerance and the need to find healthier, lower-fat options.

Some brands of milk aren’t even derived from dairy farmers – a lot of fuss is made about switching from dairy milk to soy, almond and other varieties. Does it matter, or is it just a lot of crying over spilt milk?

Dairy consumption is tanking

Since 1974, per capita dairy milk consumption has dropped 50 per cent, according to a Family Food Study by Defra. Most households still make purchases of the white stuff – 98.5 per cent, according to Kantar. However, the composition of this liquid is changing in line with our evolving tastes.

As of 2018, 4.6 per cent of the milk we bought was derived from non-dairy-based sources, including almonds and oats. This represents a small share of the milk market, but it is growing in size over time. The benefit of ditching dairy for plant-based milk is that you spend less time using fewer resources to sustain the cows to produce your milk in most cases.

In addition, the global dairy industry is responsible for a considerable amount of the world’s methane and nitrous oxide emissions. The situation is so serious, in fact, that one study by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy found just 13 dairy farms around the world emit as much greenhouse gas emissions as the UK as a whole.

The study blamed ‘Big Dairy’ for accelerating climate change, and even hollowing out communities, as smaller farming communities struggle to keep up with larger rivals, in churning out supplies quick enough.

A greener way to find white stuff

The science is clear – non-dairy milk is greener than dairy, as it requires fewer resources and emits less greenhouse gases, according to an Oxford University study. That being said, alternative forms of milk can have varied environmental and societal impacts, which need to be taken into account.

Coconut milk, for example, is a bit of a glass half empty story, as Peta recently revealed that monkeys had been abused, chained up and forced to pick coconuts by unscrupulous farmers in Thailand, just to collect a bit of coconut milk. Almond milk is also a mixed bag of nuts, as almond farming requires large amounts of water, and places strain on commercial beekeepers, whose bees often die trying to fertilise a large number of almond crops.

Soy and oat-based milk, however, are purported to be two of the best milk varieties in terms of sustainability. Soy-based milk requires less water than almond milk, and produces much less greenhouse gases than dairy. Oat-based milk, meanwhile, is easily made and ensures lower emissions, while remaining highly nutritious.

Whichever variety of milk you choose, it pays to carry out the necessary research, to see which brands are doing their bit to make sure they minimise their impact on the environment, while producing a healthy, tasty drink.

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