Navigating the Moral Maze of Milk

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Today is ‘World Plant Milk Day’, celebrating the health, environment and animal welfare credentials of plant milks like almond and soya.

Now, I have no doubt that plant milks are better for animal welfare – after all, there are no animals involved.

But what are they doing to the environment?

I decided to find out.

Whilst writing Dead Zone, I saw first-hand in Brazil how the industrial production of soya is expanding at the rate of hundreds of thousands of hectares every year, wiping out whole ecosystems and driving iconic species like jaguars to the brink of extinction.

The European Union imports about 35 million tonnes of soya a year – nearly half from Brazil.

But here’s the rub: much of it goes to feed factory farmed animals.

Soya is actually a wonder crop, offering a complete protein for humans.

A travesty then that so much protein produced in such a destructive way is then wasted as industrial animal feed, where most of the food value of the crop is lost in conversion to meat, milk and eggs.

It’s not soya per se that’s the problem, it’s what the crop is used for and the way it’s produced. Where soya is produced organically, without pesticides, with mixed rotational farming, on existing farmland rather than deforestation, then things can be better. Where it is feeding people instead of factory farms, then better still.

So do those cartons of soya milk on supermarket shelves come from chemical soaked crops grown on the deforested plains of South America?

It was a question I put to leading brands and the supermarkets themselves.

In brief, here’s what I found out: by choosing with care, you can buy soya milk that is grown without destroying the forests and savannah of South America.

Alpro, the clear leading brand of soya and other plant milks in my local supermarket, told me that the soya in its products come from Europe and Canada and don’t come from deforested areas. Provamel is the company’s dedicated organic brand.

Most UK supermarkets offer soya milk under their own label, with Tesco, The Cooperative and Waitrose confirming their soya too avoids rainforest deforestation, coming from Europe and Canada.

What I also discovered is that it can be good for the environment in other ways too: soya milk needs nearly two-thirds less land than its dairy equivalent, produces a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions and is four times less polluting of water.

So, planet conscious consumers wanting to avoid the animal welfare pitfalls of dairy, can, with care, choose environmentally-friendly soya.

To find out how other plant milks fare in the environmental stakes, check out my full investigation which I’ll be revealing at the upcoming Ludlow and Abergavenny Food Festivals in September.

For a taster, take a look at my short film on The Moral Maze of Milk, released today.

My clear conclusion is that we all have the power to reduce farm animal suffering and save wildlife: by choosing to drink more milk (preferably organic) from plants; and by reducing our dairy intake, making sure any we do buy comes from cows kept pasture-fed, free range or organic.

Happy World Plant Milk Day!

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