/ Food & Drink

Have you switched to a plant-based milk?

Would you swap dairy for plant-based milk? I spoke with people around Which? who have made the switch to find out why they felt it was right for them.

Plant-based milks are well on the rise. According to research released by Mintel in July last year, almost a quarter of Brits are now drinking them.

So is it sustainability concerns, health benefits, a combination of both, or something else that’s behind the increasing popularity of the plant stuff?

What better way to find out than by speaking directly with people who have made the switch. And, as I found out, there are plenty of them at Which?. Here’s what they told me.

Which one have you switched to and why?

Amy: Rice. I became intolerant to dairy as it made me feel quite unwell.

Lauren: I’ve tried all of them but like oat the best. Oat also apparently has a lower environmental impact.

Oscar: Oat. I tried soya and almond, but found oat milk most similar to cow’s milk.

Rosie: Almond. I switched as I felt I was having a little too much dairy for my body to handle.

Katie: Almond and hazelnut. I tried it for ethical reasons and haven’t looked back.

Roughly how much more are you spending on non-dairy milk every week?

Amy: It’s about £1.40 for one litre and I probably go through one a week. It’s long life so lasts for a while if I don’t use it up within the week, so I don’t feel I spend much more.

Lauren: I usually get through a one litre carton each week. The branded version costs around £1.20. I haven’t seen any supermarket-own versions yet, please let me know if you have!

Oscar: I drink less milk generally since going Vegan, so I probably spend less than I have in the past.

Rosie: 85p – thank you, Aldi!

Katie: I’m not sure.

Are you using it the same way as cows milk? Eg. in tea and coffee, in cooking etc. Is it as versatile as cow’s milk?

Amy: Yes. I think it works really well in cooking, baking and coffee, but I’m still not a fan of it with tea! The only downside is dairy-free milk can split when you put it into coffee and tea which isn’t very nice. And nothing can beat a proper bit of cheese!

Lauren: I use it in tea, coffee, cereal, baking and desserts, but wouldn’t recommend for anything savoury, like a white pasta sauce. It’s too sweet.

Oscar: I drink tea and coffee black as I didn’t find oat milk the best in it. It’s nice with cereal though.

Rosie: I found it a really distinctive taste in my teas and coffees, so I haven’t made the full switch – but I do use it as an alternative with cereals and hot chocolates.

Katie: I only drink milk with muesli and granola but am giving the almond milk to my daughter with her cereal.

Have you noticed any health benefits?

Amy: Other than relieving the symptoms of being intolerant, no.

Lauren: I was recommended to cut down on dairy to help with a recurrent sore throat – it seems to work. I’ve been a vegetarian for years and I’m interested in cutting down on animal products anyway, I definitely feel better for it. I hope the cows do, too.

Oscar: No major changes.

Rosie: Yes – I feel less bloated after using almond milk

Katie: Not yet (a month in), but I am consuming fewer calories.

Do you think you’ll stick with it long term?

Amy: Definitely. Unless I stop being intolerant to dairy then I’d be quite keen to start eating proper cheese again!

Lauren: Yes!

Oscar: Sure.

Rosie: I plan to, yes.

Katie: Yes as I prefer the taste. I may also now try other flavours/brands. I could also be tempted to try non-dairy cheese!

How nutritious is plant-based milk?

Along with everyone above, I also spoke with Shefalee Loth, our Principal Food Researcher/Writer and Nutritionist here at Which?. Here’s her view:

Plant-based milks have become increasingly popular and they’re a great alternative for those with a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance. However it’s important to note that they’re much more pricey than cow’s milk and don’t contain the same nutrients.

Plant-based milks are predominantly water so they are lower in calories than cows’ milk. Apart from soya milk they also contain much less protein. If you have switched, go for an unsweetened version and don’t choose organic – organic plant-milks can’t be fortified by law. Non-organic plant-milk have been fortified to contain the same vitamins and minerals, for example calcium and B-vitamins, that you’d find in cow’s milk.

Could you see yourself making the switch from dairy to plant-based milk? Do you think the health and sustainability benefits are worth it? Or have you already made the switch?

What would sway you into giving plant-based milk a try?
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Either way, tell us about it in the comments.

Harry says:
24 January 2020

I changed a couple of years ago to plant-based milk, but I’ve made the switch to Veganism since watching the documentary Game Changers.

Has anyone else watched it? I think it’s already proving to be a real watershed moment for changing the perception that being vegan isn’t ‘manly’.

So I watched the film, well I watched half of it before I had enough. Not wanting to be persuaded in any direction, I did not do any research before watching it. After watching half the film, I discovered I missed the best part, so watched the rest.

I now know what Harry was getting at when he used the word ‘manly’: The film suggested an improvement of between 8-13% in the active manhood on a vegan diet. Really? After just one meat-free meal?

Sports people (most I had never heard of) promoted veganism to be top of their game. If veganism was that great, wouldn’t all sports people be vegans? One thing that the film failed to mention, was that all these athletes would have constant medical supervision so any nutrients lacking in their diets could be addressed, something that your average person might never know.

There is a lot of cherry-picking and mis-information in the film.

It turns out Vitamin B12 isn’t made by animals at all, it is made by bacteria these animals consume in the soil and water, just like with protein, animals are only the middle men.

Before industrial farming, farm animals and humans could get B12 by eating traces of dirt on plant food or by drinking water from rivers or streams. The best way humans can now get vitamin B12 is by taking a supplement.

It was suggested the meat, dairy and egg industry have engaged in funding studies to deny any connection between animal foods and diseases. They have apparently used a company that denies evidence and has challenged the health risks of substances like arsenic, mercury, asbestos, formaldehyde, Agent Orange, pesticides.

Statements like:
– Animals consume more protein than they produce.

– Animals are responsible for 15% of man-made global emissions and is the about the same as all the emissions from all the forms of transport including planes, trains, cars, vans, ships.

The narrator suggested his vegan diet was the reason he recovered from his injuries.

As I said, there is a lot of cherry-picking and mis-information in the film. A plant-based burger and chips was promoted as more healthy with not a dicky-bird about the fried chips or bun loaded with unpronounceable additives you have never heard of.

Would the film turn me into a vegan? No way. We already eat less meat than we used to and for us that is good enough.

The film was shown in the UK around the same time the film’s producer launched a vegan protein food business. It is also on Netflix that targets a younger and more impressionable audience.

I am not saying the whole film is wrong, but at least read another view before making a drastic lifestyle change that you might not be prepared for and do your own thorough investigations into eating healthily as a vegan.

Wonderful comment Alfa. I haven’t watched the film but it would appear to be exactly the type of propaganda that is supposed to push into diet change. Thanks for your research and subsequent analysis. Valuable as usual.

Thanks Vynor. I find it rather concerning the sudden way and extent that animal farming is being demonised by those who have a hidden veganism agenda. So-called experts can always be found to prop up whatever argument you want to put forward.

Media are quick to jump on a bandwagon whether it is right or wrong, and I don’t like the way meat and dairy eaters are being made to feel guilty for their eating habits, mostly by impressionable youngsters who don’t look at both sides of an argument before making a decision and spreading their unsubstantiated fads on platforms such as social media.

This article suggests that the environmental impact of producing cows milk is greater than for producing the alternatives. It seems to be based on research published in a respectable journal. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-46654042 I wonder what other studies have to say.

It is not clear whether the “milks” units used have the same nutritional value. Basing the results on a 200ml glass would not seem to.

If the figures are correct then drinking one glass of milk a day for a year involves 164 kg of CO2 Eq. That is, half that produced on a round trip per passenger by plane to Malaga (320kg) – and many people travel further than that.

I may be wrong here, but I thought much of the claimed environmental impact of cows was the production of soya to feed them.

The graph shows a small percentage of water used to produce soya milk compared to cows milk.

Is this a case of manipulating facts to achieve the desired impact? The article is written by at least one vegetarian.

I posted the link to provide a little balance, Alfa. There are many factors to be taken into account when making meaningful comparisons. It’s worth looking at scientific reviews that weigh up the evidence from what research is available and consider factors such as the diet of cows.

Nowadays it is necessary to declare interests such as commercial funding of research when publishing scientific papers. I guess that whether you are a keen carnivore or devout vegan could have an influence too.

The BBC link says “However, it’s worth noting that both almond and rice milk still require less water to produce than the typical glass of dairy milk.“. I am not sure of the relevance of this. In the UK I assume the cow’s diet may be grass for much of the year – grown using water – and drinking water. Much of that water will presumably be released regularly by the cow so is not permanently locked up in the milk – which, when we drink the milk, will also be released. So just what is the point in quoting such figures unless it is to construct a rather artificial case?

I am happy to be corrected, as usual.

I presume that the main use of water in milk production is for cleaning purposes – the dairy, the equipment used in collecting and processing milk and cleaning milk tankers. Obviously this will vary between dairies.

I would have thought animal consumption was greater. Anyone know?

Every anti-cow article/film shows an aerial view of cattle in pens like this:

I had assumed they were images of intensive farming in the USA, but it would appear this is now happening in the UK also.

There is not a blade of grass in sight so all feed and water would have to be taken to the cows which would account for the increase in water consumption.

These types of farms can only be bad for the environment and the animals. Cows should be free to roam fields and eat real grass not be kept like this especially in a country normally blessed with green fields. Intensive farming can put smaller farmers out of business as they might be unable to compete.

We only buy eggs from free-range hens, seems beef and milk also need free range classification.

“Intensive farming can put smaller farmers out of business as they might be unable to compete.“. This is the constant dilemma facing a lot of businesses, not just farming. High St shops, small engineering companies, for example. Unless we set sensible standards and a level playing field that we uphold, in appropriate cases – say animal welfare, taxation – then it is an inevitable outcome. Businesses must find ways to be competitive. We owe no one an entitlement to a living (well, we do seem to make some questionable exceptions).

I hope that any farm doing this in the UK is stopped. It is so obviously bad that it must be seen as wrong by any government. We seem to have done a lot for chickens, though probably not enough. I wonder what would be said if Which? asked the ministry a question or two about photographs such as these? If this is the standard procedure in the USA, we shouldn’t be trading in foods where such cruelty is commonplace. Perhaps the public will refuse to buy American produce and do the government’s job for them.

Milk and dairy products don’t seem to cause me any problem. Unless there is clear evidence that switching from milk offers both health and environmental benefits, I doubt that I will change.

I well understand that some people must avoid milk for various reasons, but wonder if pushing the rest of us to switch might be purely for commercial purposes.

I have reduced my consumption of cows milk and other dairy products for health reasons but I shall not be switching to plant-based milk.

I am able to tell from the taste of milk when the cows are eating fresh grass in the pastures again instead of hay in a barn.

Harry says:
24 January 2020

John Ward – that sounds like quite the skill. We should do a blind taste test 😜

Harry says:
24 January 2020

Wavechange – I agree, I’d say that there’s no doubt because of commercial reasons.

That’s why all these brands are rushing to jump on the success that Greggs had last year.

But is that a bad thing if it’s good for the planet? What would you need to believe that’s it’s better for the environment?

I used this calculator tool from the BBC which I thought was really interesting: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-46654042

Hi Harry – Thanks for the link. The news article a link to an interesting paper in the journal Science.

Like John, I have cut my consumption of milk and have also reduced my meat consumption, mainly as a result of stopping eating chicken because of poor animal husbandry and unhygienic practices in the processing industry. I don’t eat much red meat either.

I would be wary of excluding milk from my diet because we don’t know the long term consequences. At one time it was seen by many as acceptable to switch from mother’s milk to alternatives, but now it is generally accepted that there are benefits of mother’s milk that go beyond having the right vitamins and minerals. It was very irresponsible that Nestle pushed their products in third world countries that did not have a safe water supply.

For the time being, I will focus on some of the many other ways that I can reduce my personal impact on the environment.

I accept that milk and other dairy products causes problems for some people and it’s well worth experimenting to see if excluding them from your diet improves your health.

Harry said: But is that a bad thing if it’s good for the planet? What would you need to believe that’s it’s better for the environment?

But is a plant-based diet really better for the environment?

My concern is the intensive use of chemicals, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides that poison the soil and more loss of trees and natural pasture as more land is utilised for crops. Many of those crops will be produced in other parts of the world creating water shortages for their mass production.

Avocados and quinoa have become so in demand, their prices have been pushed up becoming unaffordable to those in their country of origin.

The world grows 95% of its food in the uppermost layer of soil but if we continue to degrade soil at the current rate, the world could run out of topsoil in about 60 years. In 2014 scientists were saying Britain might only have 100 harvests left in its farm soil.

All we hear about is how cows are destroying the planet, but there are 2 sides to that argument. Feeding seaweed to cows could reduce their emissions by 80% as well as breeding cows that produce less methane so they might be less of a problem in the near future.


Harry says:
24 January 2020

I’d say humans are destroying the planet not cows!

In terms of water shortages, I think the deforestation and water used for rearing livestock far outweighs that of crops.

That’s not to say certain crops are not bad. I know almonds gets brought up a lot for its environmental impact on both bees and water consumption.

And I’d say there are huge ethical reasons to not eat avocados not just about the environment – organised crime being just one.

But I would say we should encourage people to switch to more sustainable crops rather than more sustainable livestock!

But I’m no expert, so will have a look at those articles. And I’d recommend you watch Game Changers on Netflix 🙂

I’m not sure the activities of Mexican cartels should stop us eating avocados. Protection rackets will just move from one market to another,

Deforestation I understand, but I do not see how any water used for rearing livestock is a problem. Unless I have missed something, does it not return quite quickly to the local ecosystem?

I feel that a lot of the issues being raised in this and many other topical discussions taking place around food production are really only dodging the real and existential questions of Earth’s excessive population for its sustainable capacity and the amount of food of all types consumed by humans. We have to curb both so there are fewer people each eating less [on average – malnutrition prevails in some places].

I think the main problems lie with mass production John. Whether it is animals and their excrement or crops with herbs and pesticides leaching into the ecosystem.

And you are right, it does all boil down to excessive population.

As far as the UK is concerned, those with small or large gardens or allotments could contribute by growing some of their own vegetables and fruit. A lot can be done in a small space. Perhaps a campaign from Which? Gardening and some basic instructions for those new to the hobby? I cannot buy sweetcorn, potatoes, tomatoes, salad stuff that tastes as good from the shops, nor as convenient. But effort is needed.

And if you want a couple of pets why not get productive ones like chickens? I must admit to having shied away from them because of other commitments – they do need daily attention. But now I’m giving them some thought.

Cooking Is another worthwhile activity and can significantly decrease the amount of waste plastic we produce.

My husband is allergic to dairy, his throat constricts like a peanut allergy. I am intolerant and get stomach ache and bloating.

In one way, the sudden upturn in veganism means more choice available, but it does irk somewhat that food producers are quick to jump on the bandwagon of a lifestyle choice after having ignored those with medical conditions for so long. Maybe there will now be more medications available that do not contain milk.

Which one have you switched to and why?
Soya – Started on this but it after having a bad one, seemed to develop an intolerance.
Oat – Definitely the best, hubby uses this, makes the best coffee but . . . It has a down side as it contains inulin that gives me diarrhoea so I had to stop using it.
Coconut – Use this occasionally, fine in tea, but doesn’t make great coffee.
Cashew nut – I use this most of the time now. Very good for cereal and in tea, but curdles in coffee. Very expensive when compared with other plant based milks.
Tried others, but haven’t like them.

Roughly how much more are you spending on non-dairy milk every week?
Don’t know, quite a lot I suspect as the ones we use are not cheap. I tend to buy them in bulk when they are on special offer.

Are you using it the same way as cows milk? Eg. in tea and coffee, in cooking etc. Is it as versatile as cow’s milk?
Most plant based milks seem to be ok in tea, but the majority seem to curdle in coffee. When using them in cooking, they tend to thicken so need an eye keeping on them.

Have you noticed any health benefits?
No bloating and stomach ache.

Do you think you’ll stick with it long term?
Yep, don’t have a choice.

Those with food allergies can sign up to receiving alerts from the Food Standards Agency: https://www.food.gov.uk/news-alerts

Often these alerts relate to undeclared ingredients or to contamination (e.g. by traces of nuts) during food processing.

I wouldn’t change.

If any sector of any industry needed the full support of the British public, its dairy farming.
We have a small holding in rural Scotland and included in our zoo are a small herd of pedigree Aberdeen Angus beef cattle.

Whilst we (my wife and I) don’t take milk from this herd for our consumption (they only produce milk for and during calf suckling), we very much support our local and national farming community, particularly those farmers who struggle daily to make ends meet. Apart from that, it tastes great and is good for your health.

Without an agricultural industry, British farm and industry associated workers would be jobless and lost. These people work very much using their own self motivation and self reliance each and every day, and for the majority of dairy farmers the financial security of a once thriving lifetime job has evaporated.

Please remember to think about these hard working families when deciding which fad drink suits your ethics and morals the most. These families generally have no neighbours within a reasonable walking distance but they rely so much on engaging with others in their rural community that to lose one family effects others greatly. To lose the industry would devastate not only the countryside and it’s hardy communities, but our whole nation too.

I’m more than happy drinking milk, eating butter and cheese and cream and having a very mixed diet, so I have seen no need to try alternative “milks” which, apart from those with intolerances, seem rather like “superfoods” – promoted by the producers to make them more money.

I would like to see the UK more self sufficient in the production of all appropriate foods, whether dairy, meat, cereal or vegetable. I should also include flowers, most of which seem to travel in aircraft from distant places. We seem to have a good mixed climate and a range of suitable soils to do this but can we do it all economically? What do we need to do to increase efficiency? Is it larger units rather than individual small farms, charming though the concept is? Can the industry do more to help itself? I’m not generally in favour of subsidies nor in protecting jobs for their own sake. What should we do to accomplish this? Have a buy British mentality without the producers and retailers exploiting us?

Norm says:
24 January 2020

I changed from milk because of the land pollution poo runoff into streams and rivers, methane given off by each cow is anything from 20 times to 100 times (different sources) worse than cars giving off carbon dioxide. The milk is produced to supply the calf so if I alone reduce the need for one less cow in my life time and all those calves then we are talking large numbers. And as an aside I buy as much organic products as possible, less herbicides and pesticides. I don’t need the the small Swede to educate me thanks.

What additives are there in ultra-processed plant-based “milks”? Are they good or bad for you? What is the environmental impact of growing the plants necessary for the manufacture of those milks? Of their manufacturing itself?

These are good questions, Sophie. The additives used in making plant-based alternatives to milk will depend on the product and should be listed on the pack. I’ve not looked further than this recent article, but I doubt that there is anything that is not already widely used in foods: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1541-4337.12505

It’s worth bearing in mind that most of the ordinary milk we buy is processed to some extent. Pasteurisation changes the flavour but improves safety, most people prefer milk with reduced fat content and homogenisation produces a uniform product rather than having a layer of cream at the top. Filtration can significantly extend how long milk will keep. We have UHT milk that is handy when you get back from holiday. Some milk contains supplements and lactose-free milk has been a great help for those with lactose intolerance.

I don’t know about the environmental impact of plant-based milks – which will depend on the ingredients – but obviously conventional milk production and processing also has an environmental impact.

Until I saw this Convo I had no idea of just how plant-based milk products can be found in supermarkets. I expect that we will have a lot more discussion about nutrition and environmental impact in the next few years.

There was a piece in Which? mag Oct ’19 “What’s in it” – Almond milk? Water + 2.3% almonds + salt + emulsifier + stabilisers ( calcium and vitamins B2, B12, E, D2 added if non-organic). I will stick with cows milk but for those who are intolerant I’d guess soya might be best?

Even before there was the sudden rush to veganism, supply has always seemed to be a problem for oat milk, so we have always kept a good stock as supermarkets frequently run out.

An awful lot more land and water is going to be needed to grow crops not only for plant-based milks but the additional plant crops that can frequently fail so I see more problems ahead.

The UK’s farmland is well-suited to rearing animals and some areas are useless for much else. With the right husbandry and a population in balance with nature’s resources I think we could be much more self-sufficient. If we tackle the heavy pollutants and contaminants of the environment the methane outputs of cattle will be negligible, and any way can be reduced as has already been suggested.

I suppose I cannot bear to think of our rural landscape without the grazing herds and flocks who contribute so much in other products. I think we might be measuring their harm using the wrong factors.

We have been farming and producing traditional food for hundreds of years and now, all of a sudden this industry is being hit upon as the latest way of saving the planet. In the past, those on plant diets chose this lifestyle for what they believed were moral principles. We either agreed with them or dismissed them and kept to our traditional foods, including our turkey at Christmas and barbecues and spit roasts in the Summer. Medical science has influenced diet as we have become more aware that what we eat can be harmful if not balanced. This has changed our lives from those of our grandparents who ate traditional fare from where ever they lived. The food industry has adapted, making butter alternatives, skimming milk and trying out “healthy” alternatives to our staple foods. Thus, a visit to the supermarket can be a happy experience for all tastes and diets. Once again this is different from the days when, as a child, I took the ration book, ten shillings and one medium sized cardboard box and brought home the week’s groceries, loose in bags for the most part.
There is a difference between eating food, chosen for its health and eating food chosen because we have to stop making and breeding it. Quite apart from the livelihoods of the farming community I would like to see a balanced discussion about the changes we need to make in order to leave the world in a better state than it is now. Picking on one corner and declaring it to be bad is not balanced. Like everything else in this panic we find ourselves in, changing our basic way of life from travel to the very food we eat is so fundamental, that it has to be approached nationally and not by the whim of those who wish to set an example and carry the torch for a particular cause. If food is part of this, then declaring bad and good has consequences that go far beyond what goes into our mouths. And, if it is decreed that change has to be made, then we all make it without any choice. Until then I shall cook my spare ribs and enjoy them this week.

I do hope they are not your spare ribs, Vynor. 🙁 .

I do not expect Convos to have balanced comments always ; it is good to see points made robustly on all sides and there is often not the space to present a fully balanced case. I do, however, expect Which? to put balanced cases forward and not chase media headlines.

I certainly own them, but they are not attached, yet.
Any guesses as to what becomes the next bete-noire? Wool for clothing? clay for bricks? Swimming pools because of the waste of water, heat and chemicals? Theatres, concert halls and shopping malls where people congregate and spread infections? Baked beans? It is bound to be something unexpected and something we enjoy doing or having. It wouldn’t be worth banning otherwise.

Anything we really enjoy tends to be immoral, illegal or fattening.

Kevin says:
26 January 2020

I’m pretty sure the latest health food is something called Soylent Green.

It’s made from animals that paid for, built, and mostly operate all the hospitals, railways, schools, houses, parks, reservoirs, wind turbines, solar panels and every other thing that 99.999999% of the population use and rely on every day. Apart from that, they’re all useless despoilers, exploiting their own young.

Yes indeed 🙂

Exactly Vynor.

Kevin, you are not far wrong with Soylent green.

Cellular agriculture creates meat from animal stem cells in a laboratory machine.

Then we have Solar Foods creating a protein called Solein made out of thin air using bacteria found in the soil fed with nitrogen, water and carbon.

Thanks for telling us about Solein, Alfa. It seems that the process uses the carbon dioxide-fixing and hydrogen-oxidising bacterium Cupriavidus necator. That bug has had several name changes since it was a candidate for producing biodegradable plastics back in the 1980s. That was not commercially viable because the solubility of hydrogen was so low. I would be very surprised if the process was commercially viable for this reason. What Solar Foods refers to as protein is in fact ‘single cell protein’ – which is whole bacteria. One of the best known single cell proteins is Quorn, the main component being a mould.

The production of Quorn does not look very appetising though marketing it as a type of mushroom achieved sales. I wonder how many vegetarians would be put off if they knew how their meat alternatives were produced?

I’ve written about Quorn in earlier Convos. The original marketing was very dodgy, saying it was a tiny, tiny plant, distantly related to the mushroom. No mention that it’s a mould or filamentous fungus. 🙁 The wording of the misrepresentation has changed over the years, and I assume that widespread criticism has resulted in greater honesty.

At least in the UK, Quorn is said to be based on ‘mycoprotein’, originally a scientific term for single-cell protein based on mould single-cell fungi (i.e. yeast). From the website: “Mycoprotein is a source of protein that is high in fibre and low in saturated fat. To make mycoprotein, we don’t start with livestock, we take a natural, nutritious fungus that grows in the soil. This fungus is known as Fusarium venenatum.

I have not switched to a “cow free” plant based milk. In my case, I am not aware of any compelling reasons for doing so.

But, last time I looked, cows, for example Robinswood Ruby and her sisters, were all happily munching a plant based diet.

Indeed Ruby and a few others were showing a particular liking for the uppermost willow shoots of the trees that I was clearing, to help keep a cycle path nice and clear.

Indeed. Cows are probably more efficient and more cost-effective converters of plant material into drinkable milk than any manufacturing process largely because they do their own harvesting in the pastures and carry the product to the reception point.

One of the biggest environmental concerns with the production of milk is road transport and only if the volume of alternative types of milk is lower than the volume of cows milk will there be any reduction in that factor.

It’s great that Derek is helping to clear a route so that the cows can safely cycle to the dairy.

For no good reason, the thought of cows speeding along on bicycles reminds me of the old Milk Race.

Perhaps they’ll use moopeds.

Daveold school here,It is great everyone is enjoying a reasonable debate about this subject and perfectly good to know we all have our choices in a truly democratic manner. Of course when and if the fads of today to save the planet are reviewed as they always will be by a Dan Snow of the future it will be established that by then how all those non users of dairy are now suffering from oesteoporosis brittle bone disease and their children rickets,conditions not known much in this country since just after WW2 when as a boomer I was glad to have more milk,eggs,cheese etc in my diet but only allowed it fully by 1954.By then my bones hadto make do since being born in 1947.Most people had to dig up their gardens and plant plant based everything just to survive.One problem the planet faces is the amount of co2 to be used when tilling the soil to grow crops to satisfy those who are ok with taking calcium tablets as part of a calorie controlled diet.Shouldnt we be planting more trees I hear you say on the plant based diet crops or will be growing more in space as happened recently.Whatever …it will be pie in the sky in 50 years when I am pushing up the daisies or maybe eating them?DS

True allergy to milk and dairy products is a serious problem and thankfully uncommon. On the other hand, lactose intolerance affects at least 5% of the UK population and is more common in other countries. When we are born, our bodies produce an enzyme called lactase (beta-galactosidase) that breaks down lactose (milk sugar) to glucose and galactose, but as we get older the amount of this enzyme produced decreases, and even those who don’t normally have a problem would suffer from bloating and other problems if we consumed several glasses of milk.

The first solution to lactose intolerance was lactose-free milk, which is ordinary milk that has been treated with lactase to remove the majority of the lactose present. The newer plant-based milk substitutes are suitable for those who must avoid lactose completely.

It might be worth anyone suffering from digestive problems experimenting to see if switching to plant-based milk substitutes and avoiding food containing dairy products to see if this helps. It would be wise to discuss this with a GP before changing the diet of children.

John said I am able to tell from the taste of milk when the cows are eating fresh grass in the pastures again instead of hay in a barn.

Years ago, I occasionally used to feel sick with cow’s milk and the milk would have a feint smell to it. One day, I had a bad soya milk and had exactly the same feeling of sickness and the same bad taste in the mouth. The soya milk also had that same feint smell only it was much stronger.

So I wonder if what John can smell is the soya. Cows are fed soya not fit for human consumption so is this partially responsible for creating milk intolerances?

Except perhaps in the Winter months, healthy cows should not need to be fed anything extra over and above the grass they chew in the field or the hay in the barn. Unfortunately the BSE outbreak showed that many cattle were being fed on all sorts of material including animal by-products. This is probably the consequence of the intensification of husbandry to gain higher yields and lower production costs.

I think the pollution effects of cows’ manure has been exaggerated. There is a ratio of the number of cows sustainable per acre on a given type of soil and grazing material. If this is not exceeded the manure on the fields is not a significant problem for watercourses. It breaks down under the weather. In any case much of the manure arises in the milking shed where it is collected and stored for later use as a fertiliser.

Mixed farming, for which the British Isles are especially well-suited, is the best way to keep the balance of crops, grazing, cultivation and soil condition in a sustainable state. In my view it produces superior food as well.

It is possible that cattle reared for beef are given supplements. Male bovines are exclusively reared for meat and some females that are not able to produce milk. With some cattle breeds [e.g. Aberdeen Angus] the females will produce milk only when suckling so have to be reared for beef.

On the question of the taste of cows milk – it is purely the taste that I distinguish. On my palate, it tastes sweeter when the cows are on fresh grass from early Spring onwards. Once they are brought in for the Winter and fed on hay [which is grass mown in the Summer and stored for Winter use] the milk tastes a little flatter to me. I am not able to recognise the taste or smell of soya since I am not aware of ever having had any.

I understand that dairy cows are fed silage and concentrates in the winter months and kept indoors for months. I probably learned that from trips on the Archers omnibus in the days before it became a a full-blown soap opera.

I think the pollution effects of cows’ manure has been exaggerated.

I believe the problem isn’t the manure as such; it’s when the manure has composted and had water added and then sprayed across fields where the rapid rise in methane has been observed. As you say, John, the original stuff is quickly absorbed, but once it’s been diluted and sprayed on surfaces the action of sunlight releases a disproportionately high amount of methane.

The Danes have introduced regulations requiring it to be injected sub-surface and this is not only easily done but apparently is better in terms of the nutrient additions.

I understand that dairy cows are fed silage and concentrates in the winter months and kept indoors for months.

They are, and there’s a good reason. Between October and April all our local farmer friends bring them in, because if they’re left out they get stuck in the fields. Not sure if we’re particularly prone to this with the topography, since hills inevitably mean valleys, and valleys become swamps in winter. But I have seen one of our friends having to rescue a bull in spring after one field was turned into a quagmire by storms. The weight of the animal had simply allowed it to sink and the poor creature couldn’t actually pull its feet out, so just stood there, getting colder and wetter.

Thanks Ian. The road into town crosses flat pasture land, but the cattle are taken in at roughly the times you have mentioned.

Grass has minimal nutritional value in the winter – and doesn’t grow below around 5C. Hence hay, silage, and supplementary feed for lactating animals.

Silage is only grass that has been mown and compressed in an airtight storage cylinder.

Ian – I agree that the spreading of manure on the fields by mechanical processes is a concern because of the way it is done – it more ‘spraying’ than ‘spreading’. I think we should follow the Danes and inject the manure. I think that would be a much more precise way of delivering the nutrients and possibly more economical in the use of the material.

Silage is fermented grass.
Silage has several advantages over hay as a mechanically harvested product. Silage has more nutrients preserved per acre because there is less field loss. Silage is also less affected by weather damage because the forage does not lie in the field drying.
Good hay is more palatable than silage due to the high sugar content and the reduced protein breakdown. The breakdown of hay in the rumen also results in a more synchronised release of energy and protein.

A couple of bits off the internet – for what they are worth. All I know is hay smells a lit nicer than silage.

Ian wrote: “I believe the problem isn’t the manure as such; it’s when the manure has composted and had water added and then sprayed across fields where the rapid rise in methane has been observed.”

Another environmental issue caused by farming is diffuse pollution of water courses (what used to be called agricultural runoff), leading to eutrophication. Contamination of water creates problems in meeting standards for drinking water. There was going to be a ban on the use of metaldehyde slug pellets but that was overturned: https://www.farminguk.com/news/metaldehyde-slug-pellet-ban-overturned_53580.html

I think the main point from the point of view of this Conversation is that both hay and silage are natural animal feeds.

I presume the liquid arising from the compression of the silage has beneficial uses also.

Silage smells awful.

Maybe we can watch programmes about making silage on ‘smellyvision’ in future. A truly immersive experience.

Not everybody would, or could afford to, but I would pay more for organic dairy coming from agroforestry. All I need is certification that it does come from such a system. This is also related to the palm oil discussion and the all encompassing app/one-stop info source I would like to see created.

I am eating a lot more organic food now Sophie. I stopped eating bread for quite a while as I thought I had a problem with wheat although I would occasionally have a slice of organic I wasn’t too bad on. I now make all my own bread with organic flour and my tum has no complaints.

I would buy more organic produce if I could be sure that it was produced honestly. I have a farmer friend who has a large farm (not organic) and buys agricultural chemicals in bulk, selling some to the owners of smaller farms in the area. When I was at a meeting a few years ago, he pointed out the owner of an organic farm who had been buying chemicals from him.

One of the advantages of organic farming is that modern ‘efficient’ intensive farming practices deplete soils and create more pollution of water courses. Intensive farming provides cheaper food but at what cost?

Agroforestry is important too in this. With it there are no immense monoculture fields, and what you grow and the animals you rear are among trees.

Meat and dairy have a high price, plants have a price too, and depending on where they come from, too high a price to pay, and higher than some meats and dairy.

As to organic being “organic”, mmh, I can’t say I’m surprised there are cheats here and there. I have also heard of a farmer who put chemicals on his fruit trees that were destined for flowers. You can imagine what that does to your inside, never mind the environment. I’ll bet on organic being less dangerous all in all, even accounting for the rogues. I just wish it were cheaper and more widely available.

I very much hope that most organic produce is what is says. Free range eggs seem to have become very popular, even though free range conditions are just less bad than the alternative. 🙁

Dairy cows have been bred to produce huge amounts of milk, and that causes health problems. I don’t know whether paying a premium for milk translates into better animal husbandry or more money for the farmers.

Since getting some sort of stomach bug problem a few years ago, I went from being able to eat almost anything to frequently feeling sick and bloated after meals.

Trying to pinpoint the cause of these episodes that can take a week to recover from sometimes, has been quite difficult when I can eat the same thing and be fine, and another time feel ill.

I found I was OK eating an organic bread most of time. I am OK eating Aberdeen Angus steak most of the time.

I am OK eating organic vegetables most of time.

Switching to organic is just one way I have tried to find out what upsets my tum as I wondered if the pesticides, etc. sprayed on the raw ingredients was affecting me.

The ‘cheats’ in the organic industry might just be the reason why I am OK ‘most of the time’.

The picture I posted above has got me thinking and could be the answer to why steak sometimes affects me. I know I have a problem with soya, and already thought there was a connection between soya and milk, so if I eat steak from cows fed on a diet of soya especially if it is not fit for human consumption, it follows the meat would be affected, then my tum. Chickens are fed corn to produce better meat.

I complained to Ocado after receiving rib-eye that I didn’t think was the Aberdeen Angus I had ordered. It didn’t look right, there was no marbling and I felt sick after eating it. Customer service looked into it and found I had been given the wrong steak. Did I receive steak from a cow that had never seen a blade of grass fed on a diet of soya?

Consumers need to know if milk and meat comes from intensively-farmed cattle that don’t get to eat fresh grass at least most of the year. We need labelling to enable us to make an informed choice.

Hi all,

According to the Guardian, oat milk is the most environmentally friendly of non-dairy milks; and almond, coconut and rice milk do pretty badly (all are better than dairy in environmental terms though, apparently):

“I’m excited about the surge in oat milk popularity,” says Liz Specht, associate director of science and technology for the Good Food Institute, a not-for-profit that promotes plant-based diets. “Oat milk performs very well on all sustainability metrics.” Also: “I highly doubt there will be unintended environmental consequences that might emerge when the scale of oat milk use gets larger.”

“According to Bloomberg Business, retail sales of oat milk in the US have soared from $4.4m in 2017 to $29m in 2019, surpassing almond milk as the fastest-growing dairy alternative. But unlike almonds, there are already plenty of oats to go around. “Right now, 50 to 90% of global oat production goes into animal feed,” says Specht, “so there’s a huge existing acreage that we can safely steal share from without moving the needle at all on total production.”

“Oats are grown in cooler climates such as the northern US and Canada, and are therefore not associated with deforestation in developing countries. The only drawback with this trendy and guilt-free option is that most oats come from mass-produced, monoculture operations where they are sprayed with the Roundup pesticide right before harvest. A study by the Environmental Working Group found glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup and a possible carcinogen, in all the foods it tested containing conventionally grown oats and even in one-third of products made with organic oats. However, the popular Oatly brand oat milk company maintains its oats are certified glyphosate free.”

Full article is here if you’re interested: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jan/28/what-plant-milk-should-i-drink-almond-killing-bees-aoe

the Good Food Institute, a not-for-profit that promotes plant-based diets. ” We also need balanced views from others without a particular agenda “We focus on clean meat and plant-based alternatives to animal products—foods that are more delicious, safer to eat, and better for the planet than their outdated counterparts.“. It is not that I don’t value their input but, inevitably I’d suggest, the information they impart will be selected to support their aims.

I should interested to know whether the environmental assessments take into account the sowing, cultivation, harvesting, and processing of oats which are highly mechanical activities that generate their own pollution.

Do these assessments also factor in the by-products of animals after their death which have a utility value and would in many cases have to be replaced by plastic or other fossil-based materials? In terms of cattle we get hides, bone and bonemeal, hoof & horn, hair, and other by-products through rendering.

Hi Oscar – we have not heard much from you recently.

I suppose that one of the benefits of using oats to make alternatives to milk is that we can grow oats in the UK, unlike almonds, coconut, etc.

It might be the case that most of the land suitable for cereal production is already being used for that purpose. The land that is used for animal husbandry is no longer generally suitable due to the nature of the terrain which is not so amenable to harvesting by large machines.

In Victorian England small fields on hillsides were commonly used for arable production but, once mechanical harvesting processes emerged, growing cereals in such a way became uneconomic and, as the railways made the collection and distribution of milk much more efficient from all parts of the country, grazing replaced arable. This was particularly noticeable in the West Country and in the Lake District. East Anglia lost most of its sheep as a result of the improvement in crop yields for cereal production and today there are few herds of cows to be seen [possibly because BSE led to most of the cattle markets closing down]. A side benefit of the change from cereals to grazing in the 19th century was that people living in towns and cities no longer needed to keep a cow in their backyard or cellar.

Hi Wavechange,

I’ve been busy keeping our campaign sites up-to-date. Nice to be back though!

Nice to see you back 🙂

Yes indeed. I think about Oscar’s unanswered question about how long pesto will last once the jar has been opened each time I see the stuff.

Ha, good to hear Wavechange. And thank you, Ian. I’m experimenting a lot when cooking at the moment, trying to replace old staples like anchovies, parmesan and bacon with non-meat/diary alternatives. It’s challenging, but interesting. So far I’ve made vegan cakes using aquafaba, which is the water that you get in cans of chickpeas: it has roughly the same chemical composition in terms of protein as egg whites, so helps makes cakes rise. My newest focus is seaweed though: I’m going to try using it in place of anchovies on pizzas and in ‘salsa verde’ — also if you fry it, it crisps up and works as a sort of fake bacon apparently. This kind of cooking isn’t for everyone, but I find it quite exciting discovering all this stuff.

That’s ‘facon’ of Frasier fame. Seaweed is widely used in all sorts of foods.

I tried aquafaba in a wheat-free bread. 😖 It made a rather solid brick that was fed to the fox, a bit like chewing on a bone I should imagine.

There is a cooking program on ITV called Living on the Veg that is quite interesting. The episode I saw didn’t preach but showed practical alternatives to meat. Being dairy free, I am interested in alternatives to include in our diet.

I have no idea what this tastes like but this was one of their recipes.

Aubergine Bacon
2 tbsp olive oil
1 1⁄2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp smoked paprika
1⁄2 tsp garlic powder
1⁄2 tsp liquid smoke
1 small aubergine

Equipment: Preheat oven to 160°C | Line a baking tray.

1. Put all the ingredients except for the aubergine into a mixing bowl and mix together with a fork.
2. Cut the stem off the aubergine and slice the flesh lengthways into quarters, then again to make 5mm thick slices.
3. Add to the marinade and carefully turn to coat.
4. Transfer to the lined baking tray and drizzle over any remaining marinade.
5. Put the tray in the oven and bake for 40 minutes, turning halfway through.

I’m not keen on bacon because that is usually cured with nitrites, which produce carcinogenic nitrosamines when cooked. Nitrite-free bacon did appear a year or two ago but I’ve not seen it on sale recently. I also avoid cheap processed meat such as sausages, having some knowledge about what can be put in them.

I don’t mind eating vegetarian food when eating out with someone who can give guidance.

Hi Alfa, might that have been because of the lack of gluten in the flour used rather than the aquafaba? (Sounds a lot like the issue with most of the gluten-free stuff I’ve tried.) Aquafaba’s worked well with regular self-raising for me in baking.

Thanks for the recipe 🙂

I gave up on wheat-free bread and tried organic bread flour instead that so far has not upset my tum. Very recently, I discovered Holland & Barrett sell Vital Wheat Gluten that makes a very good 100% wholemeal loaf. Hubby is diabetic, so will try the gluten with some of the more diabetic-friendly flours still in the cupboard.

The Dan Snow of the future may discuss with the Dr Mosely of the future the efficacy of even mentioning putting a bullet in an injured animal as per Malcolm R reference to the good old days (now the present).Discussion at present centres on what marvellous different milks might be enjoyed versus traditional nutrition.
What seems to be missing from the discussion is how much the building blocks of bones of any young person trying to achieve their optimum bone density.Of course men as well as women can be genetically prone to brittle bones.The science I have read and doctors views given appear to coincide with the acceptance that by at least their mid twenties all the density of bone young people might have achieved HAS been achieved.
Whatever state their bones the humans have can only be maintained but not improved upon.The maintenance alone is just to ensure the appropriate amount of nutrition ( mostly calcium).So the best an individual who may have been without sufficient calcium in their young lives is only if they are lucky enough to have the right genes and even then poor calcium diet will leave bones at risk.
Checking relative’s physical poor bone history is one way of knowing how important it would be to most definitely indulging in a good calcium intake.The number of replacement hips and knees to say nothing of breaking bones fairly easily will indicate historically whether it may have been a nutritional mistake to avoid traditional calcium intake?
Even if no history is available it must be important to maintain a healthy diet to ensure good bone growth and not assume that all planet saving ideas transcend humans priority for future children not to give Dr Mosley of the future to say we had hoped cutting out dairy was only a passing phase.
Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure if zero carbon is the target for 2050 then it will mean completely eradicating all farm animals and leaving many young children picking an argument on Thunberg’s lines but saying save my bones first then the Planet! Dave Old School.

It’s worth remembering that approximately 65 percent of the human population has a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy. Lactose intolerance in adulthood is most prevalent in people of East Asian descent, with 70 to 100 percent of people affected in these communities. So it seems cows milk may be overrated in this regard.

I wondered how much milk we consume in the UK and looked at this page on Statista: https://www.statista.com/statistics/298770/milk-production-in-the-united-kingdom-uk/

To quote: “During 2017/18, over 14.7 billion liters of milk were produced in the UK. This was enough to cover a bit more than the entire city and county of Cardiff in a ten-centimeter-deep sheet of milk. Only in 2015/16 was UK milk production slightly higher.”

I wish these statisticians would stick with familiar units such as the length of double decker buses.

David Sheppard, I made no reference to “putting a bullet in an injured animal“. However, it seems to be regarded as the humane way to deal with a severe injury. Horses and cattle seem to be very difficult to treat if they break a leg for example.

I hit a deer (well, it really hit my car) as it shot across the road out of a roadside wood. Neither if us had a chance – except I came out unscathed. Unfortunately the deer was dispatched.

I couldn’t find any info on amount of land usage for oat crops and their milk yields.

I think Ruby and I would sooner eradicate all (other) humans than all farm animals…

Thought it was Olympic swimming pools for liquids – with which we are all familiar 🙁 . I see statista mix US spelling and metric. I wonder how many people can visualise a puddle of this size?

To Malcolm r.I am sorry it was the good old days to which I referred not the bullet my clumsy sentence construction.Although the link you gave did actually refer to the bullet as needed if you read through the link which you had drawn our attention to. I accept you were making a point about the huge amount of care required for the upkeep of animals which yes has been going on since the good old days.
Sorry about the deer.I had muntjac hit my car but luckily it survived as we were both moving slowly.DS

:-D. Sorry not necesssary David.