The Vegan Society has today warned that a dairy milk crisis could be imminent as sales of plant-based milks increase exponentially and consumers demand healthy and compassionate alternatives to traditional milk.
The retail price of milk has now slipped below the cost price and is lower than some bottled water, signalling that its production is becoming increasingly unmanageable. The largest dairy firm First Milk has delayed payments to farmers as the price of a four-pint carton has slipped to £1 with more than 1,000 farmers missing payment on their milk because of a crash in prices. Management at the co-operative firm said 2014 had been a “year of volatility that has never been seen before” with milk prices around the world falling by more than 50 per cent over the past 12 months.
Deflation of milk prices has been blamed on a number of factors including good weather, which has helped farmers deliver a surplus, as well as increased production of milk in the US and New Zealand and a reduction in demand from China. Russia’s import ban has also squeezed demand for products such as cheese and yoghurt which has had a negative impact on cost.
But the Vegan Society believes other factors might be at play, such as ethical considerations amongst UK consumers who are demanding healthy and compassionate alternatives to dairy milk such as plant-based milks such as soya, almond and rice milks.
The Vegan Society’s Chief Executive Officer, Jasmijn de Boo, said: “The Vegan Society is saddened to learn that farmers are being forced out of their livelihoods but we have clearly seen this dairy milk crisis coming for a long time. For years we have seen the demand for dairy drop, and the sales of plant-based milks increase exponentially. Consumers increasingly want healthy, ethical alternatives that do not cost the earth or cause animal pain and suffering. Sales clearly show that people are willing to pay a little more for a product that is good for them. The large range of plant-based milks are tasty and healthy, particularly the unsweetened versions. Plant-based milks typically do not cause allergies the way milk lactose can cause allergies and people are now more aware that dairy milk is not needed to maintain good health. In fact, a growing number of studies point out the health disadvantages of dairy milk.”
One such study was recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition by Aune and other researchers showing that high intakes of dairy products may increase total prostate cancer risk. This, along with a more general cautious approach to dairy products has significantly inflated the size of the non-dairy market which has jumped from 36 million litres in 2011 to 92 million litres in 2013 – an increase of 155 per cent in just two years, according to retail analysts Mintel. Mintel says the plant-based, non-dairy category is worth £150.6 million. Soya-based alternatives to yoghurt account for 13 per cent of all sales in the plant-based eating category and are growing at 8 per cent year-on-year.
Ethical considerations are also impacting consumer’s choice. The Vegan Society points out that dairy farming causes great suffering to calves and cows which are required to produce an unnatural and very high volume of milk and they struggle to maintain their metabolism and health under such stress. Lameness and udder infections are common among dairy cows as a result of the unnaturally high milk yields demanded of them.
“Many people do not understand that dairy milk is only suitable for calves. The calf is taken away from its mother at birth and this causes both calf and cow great emotional distress. The male calves are destined for a short life as they cannot become milk machines in their turn. Humans are the only animals that drink milk after weaning”, de Boo commented. She believes “It is time we welcome the consumption of plant protein directly, rather than passing it through four cow stomachs and contributing to greenhouse gases and animal suffering and death along the way.”