Milk is a product that has been consumed by people of all ages for centuries. With consumers becoming ever more concerned about the health impacts of what they’re eating and drinking, UK dairy farmers and organisations such as Dairy UK are putting their time and money into spreading the word about the health benefits of drinking milk and why we shouldn’t necessarily be rushing to cut it out of our diets.
Milk contains calcium and protein amongst other nutrients, all of which have dietary benefits for people of all ages, but it is an especially important part of a healthy diet for babies and children, as the calcium in particular is vital for strong, healthy bones. It is also significantly cheaper to purchase than many of the alternatives.
As well as there being health benefits to consuming milk and dairy, it also brings significant value to the economy. For example, the UK dairy industry is estimated to provide around 80,000 jobs. Countryside Online published an article which answers a lot of questions regarding the dairy industry such as ‘what is the value of dairy to the UK?’ and ‘why should I eat dairy products?’ – an article worth reading if you’re debating whether or not you should stop consuming milk and other dairy products. Dairy UK state that dairy farmers and milk processors play a vital role in their communities employing 23,000 people at processing sites around the country. On top of that, dairy farms employ 50,000 more people, both directly and in supporting industries.
Another interesting article, ‘Backing British Dairy’, from the National Farmers Union, points out the many benefits of milk and other dairy products both to consumers and to the environment.
On 22nd February a campaign called Mission 4 Milk was launched by dairy farmer Andy Venables, which encourages people to take part in the #MilkPintChallenge or to take a selfie with the drink, in order to spread their message. Cinemas are also using advertising to promote the health benefits of milk, featuring a campaign by Dairy UK and AHDB to highlight the benefits.
Nowadays there is a robust debate surrounding the ethics of consuming dairy products, which has lead to many people removing all dairy (and meat) from their diets. However, milk alternatives are not without ecological concerns of their own: it takes around a gallon of water to grow a single almond; California, which produces 80% of the world’s almonds, was in drought from 2011 to 2017. In the midst of that catastrophe, Mother Jones magazine put it bluntly: “Lay off the almond milk, you ignorant hipsters.” In its article “How we fell out of love with milk”, the Guardian asserts that it’s estimated that two-thirds of the alt-milk sold in Britain is almond. It further claims that milk is “the most argued-over food in human history”.
According to the IFCN Dairy Research Network, it seems unlikely that alternative milks will make much of a dent in the world’s growing appetite for milk, at least over the next decade. The IFCN in its comprehensive 2018 overview of the dairy world state that global milk production has increased every year since 1998 in response to growing demand. In 2017, 864 million tonnes of milk were produced worldwide. This shows no sign of slowing down: the IFCN expects milk ‘demand to rise 35% by 2030 to 1,168 million tonnes.’
According to Dr Judith Bryans, the chief executive of Dairy UK, which represents farmer-owned cooperatives and private dairy companies, 96% of households in the UK still have milk in their fridges and still actively buy milk, and she states that “the figures have been relatively consistent since around 2012. So this idea of everybody’s turning away from dairy is not really true. We’ve also got 94% of British households actively consuming cheese, and 78% consuming spoonable dairy yoghurts. When you have figures like that in front of you, it tells a slightly different story to the one that some people would like to tell.”
She goes on to say that a lot of people talk to her about wanting to have clean eating and to have natural food. “So pick up a carton of milk, it contains 100% milk. And you have a whole combination of nutrients in there from high-quality proteins to calcium to iodine, and B vitamins. It’s a naturally nutrient-rich package.”
“Now,” she adds, “you turn around the carton of that plant-based beverage and what you tend to have is a very small percentage of the plant, and then you have colourings, preservatives, additives, and usually fortification of vitamins and minerals that already exist naturally in milk.
Whatever your preference, your beliefs about climate change, ethical food production or animal welfare, milk is still a nourishing and sustaining food, and will be in our fridges in its various guises for a long time to come. Whether you have yours delivered to your doorstep or purchase your milk at your local supermarket, it will still be our hard working British dairy industry who excel at getting innovative, fresh and tasty products to us consumers in a safe and rapid fashion.
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