Milk Wars: They’re On!

Why the dairy industry’s claim that consumers are being misled is highly ironic

dairy-cow-exploitation-milk-cruel

First, they said we should call our vegan cheese ‘Gary’, and we almost did!

Now the dairy police are after us again, campaigning for legislation that would prevent non-dairy milk brands from labeling themselves as ‘milk’.

Dairy farms have in fact been arguing this for a couple of years now – ever since plant-based milk snatched up 10 percent of their market share – but a recently introduced bill known as the Dairy Pride Act which, in its own word, aims to “protect the integrity of dairy products by enforcing existing labeling requirements” hopes to generate a new law against non-dairy products being labeled with terms like milk, yogurt and cheese on the basis that this would be “confusing” to the consumer.

In response, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the FDA is now considering limiting the use of the word ‘milk’ as a descriptor for plant-based dairy alternatives.

Question: is anyone buying coconut milk because they’re confused?

Sales of almond milk shot up over 250 percent between 2011 and 2016. Meanwhile, consumption of dairy milk has plummeted 37 percent since the 1970s, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). What the dairy police are trying to suggest is that some of these people are buying plant-based milk by accident because they’re being misled by the word ‘milk’. However, according to the Plant-Based Food Association (PBFA) – a trade group representing 70 companies – consumers know exactly what they’re buying when they choose almond or soy milk instead of dairy milk.

Michele Simon, executive director of the PBFA, has commented on this:

“There’s no cow on any of these containers of almond milk or soy milk. No one is trying to fool consumers. All they’re trying to do is create a better alternative for people who are looking for that option.”

And yet, the National Milk Producers Federation accused “fake food marketers” of exploiting the “nutritional halo” of dairy milk at their 2017 annual meeting.

This coming from the same people who show cows living in a lush green oasis on the packaging of their products…

Oh, the irony!

The British dairy industry actually spends millions on their marketing every year (over £124 million in 2012) and is supported and promoted by DairyCo, the Dairy Council and Dairy UK. DairyCo is a levy-funded, not-for-profit organisation which is a division of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB). It works on behalf of Britain’s dairy farmers, with an annual income of £6.5 million coming from a statutory tariff paid by dairy farmers on their milk sales.

Over in the United States, the National Dairy Council (NDC) aggressively promotes the interests of the 92,000 dairy farms there, with their 9.14 million cows producing 173 billion pounds of milk, 99.4 percent of which is consumed by humans for an annual cash inflow of $20.4 billion, according to USDA data for 2002.

In addition, the US dairy industry spends millions of dollars lobbying the federal government (over $6 million in 2016), which strongly encourages Americans to drink plenty of milk as a result. The government’s dietary guidelines recommend that people consume up to three cups of low-fat milk or dairy products each day, saying it contains many essential nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D and potassium.

However, according to a study published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ), people who consume three or more glasses of milk per day have a 60 percent increased risk of developing a hip fracture and a 93 percent increased risk of death, with each glass of milk increasing mortality risk by 15 percent. That’s quite concerning!

And, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), while it is indeed important to have enough calcium and vitamin D, cow’s milk (which is engineered for baby cows, not for humans) tends to actually leach calcium from our bones. The PCRM also states that vitamin D is not naturally found in dairy milk, regardless of what milk marketers would have you believe.

Could it be that all of those white-moustached milk ambassadors we couldn’t avoid as kids were actually misleading us, and maybe even getting paid a fraction of that $23 million annual “Got Milk?” campaign budget to do so?

Surely not.

Non-dairy milk brand Milkadamia is actually attempting to gain an edge with their consumers by highlighting their relatively low water and carbon footprint compared to dairy:

Jim Richards, Milkadamia’s CEO said:

“We’re all about climate change. We’re telling the story of regenerative farming. We’re talking about micro-organisms in the soil and carbon sequestration.”

The dairy industry has, for years, come under scrutiny for its carbon footprint, particularly following the Netflix release of the revelatory documentary Cowspiracy, which effectively communicated the detrimental impact of dairy and meat production on our planet to the masses.

Globally, the dairy sector emits 4 percent of all human-caused emissions, mostly in the form of methane, an especially potent greenhouse gas, with every gallon of milk consumed resulting in greenhouse gases equivalent to 17.6 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

Those numbers are significant enough to perhaps impact consumer choice, but for many, environmental concerns tend to be pretty far down in their decision-making process.

According to a survey carried out by the Plant-Based Food Association (PBFA), consumers are choosing dairy alternatives largely for health reasons and out of concerns for animal welfare.

Charities like Viva!, PETA and Mercy for Animals have been going undercover to video-record what really happens on dairy farms and thanks to the far-reaching power of social media, the footage of day-old calves being dragged away from their mothers and shot, and of female cows being callously exploited and abused up until the day when they too are killed, is gradually permeating the public’s awareness. Powerful videos and documentaries such as Dairy is Scary, Earthlings, Land of Hope and Glory and the recently released Dominion are also putting to the bed the myth that dairy farming can ever be humane.

dairy-is-scary-you-tube-milk
Credit: In Defense of Animals

Prominent physicians and biochemists have also raised concerns about human exposure to the hormones and cholesterol found in dairy milk, with the renowned doctor, scientist and Cornell Professor T. Colin Campbell declaring cow’s milk to be “the most significant carcinogen we consume” and a far more relevant cancer-causing substance than any pesticide, herbicide, food additive or other noxious chemical ever tested.

If you haven’t tried plant-based milk yet, there’s a wide variety to choose from. There’s pea milk, coconut milk, hemp milk, cashew milk, quinoa milk, oat milk, and rice milk, as well better known non-dairy milks, like almond and soy.

Whoops – I called them all ‘milk’. Was that confusing? Hopefully not!

As the dairy industry continues to press its case, it’s good to know that non-dairy milk supporters are fighting back and that a petition from the Good Food Institute opposing the dairy labelling legislation has garnered more than 41,000 signatures to date.

Marsha Cohen, an expert on food and drug law at the University of California, has said that the dairy industry faces an “uphill battle”, particularly in light of the fact that the FDA recently allowed the company JUST (formerly Hampton Creek) to call its vegan mayonnaise substitute “Just Mayo,” even though the FDA’s legal definition of mayonnaise states that the condiment “must contain eggs”.

That’s cause for a glass of cashew milk juice in celebration! 

But if you’re sitting there asking yourself where on earth you’re supposed to get your calcium from if not from cow’s milk then fear not, because plants are capable of providing us with all (yes ALL) of the nutrients we need.

You can get calcium by eating:

  • Kale
  • Collard greens
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Sweet potato
  • Black beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Soymilk (calcium-fortified)
  • Tofu
  • Baked beans
  • White beans
  • Dried figs
  • Orange juice (calcium-fortified)… just to name a few!

In fact, any fortified non-dairy beverage can provide the necessary nutrients, but without the cholesterol, saturated fat and small drop of pus found in milk.

So, while the battle between dairy milk and plant-based milk is heating up, plant-based alternatives are posing ‘dangerous competition‘ and, call them what you will, it’s going to take far more than a name change to offset their upwards trajectory.  

Did you know 22 August is World Plant Milk Day? Share your plant milk drinks, smoothies and baked goods with us on social media! We’ll be reposting our favourites! Simply use the hashtags #VeganuarySupportsWPMD  and #WorldPlantMilkDay

Ready to take the Veganuary pledge?

Veganuary is the world's largest vegan movement, inspiring people to try vegan for January and throughout the rest of the year.