I remember having a ton of questions about the milk industry. How do cows produce milk constantly? How long do they produce milk for? Is milk bad for the environment? Is milk bad for you? Why do humans drink cow’s milk? What happens to the calves if humans drink the milk that was intended for them? What exactly is in it?
This article focuses on the environmental impact of milk. I have added resources to other questions at the end of it.
I’ll begin with the image that inspired me to write this blog. The image presenting the graphic below is from Veganuary. Veganuary is a non-profit organization that encourages people to go vegan for the month of January, each year. Their own description goes like so:
‘Veganuary encourages and supports people and businesses alike to move to a plant-based diet as a way of protecting the environment, preventing animal suffering, and improving the health of millions of people’– Veganuary
Here’s the graphic that had me research – Is milk bad for the environment?
Is milk bad for the environment? Let’s start by debunking the graphic above.
To start, I always like to refer to sources., whether it’s a graph that confirms what I thought to be true or not.
So Veganuary mentioned their sources on their graphic – smart! Let’s take a look. The source cites a research paper from J. Poore, T. Nemecek called ‘Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers’. Who are the authors? Joseph Poore is a researcher in Zoology at the University of Oxford. Thomas Nemecek is an Agroscope researcher with a Ph.D in Agroecology and Environment. The following sentence is excerpted from Science Daily:
For example, a low-impact (10th percentile) litre of cow’s milk uses almost two times as much land and creates almost double the emissions as an average litre of soymilk.– Science Daily
On Joseph Poore’s website, the paper links to this article from The Guardian as the chosen press. Some of the most interesting conclusions include the following
A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use– Joseph Poor, researcher University of Oxford
Biggest analysis to date reveals huge footprint of livestock – it provides just 18% of calories but takes up 83% of farmland– The Guardian
That said, is milk bad for the environment? We can confirm that dairy milk is definitely not a great choice when it comes to the impact on the environment.
Now let’s take a look at the additional calculation from J. Poore. I found the original paper in an Oxford University Research Archive which confirms that the graphic is accurate as far as soy milk versus cow’s milk.
Furthermore, I was able to find the following facts on BBC.com which also sourced its content from J. Poor and T. Nemecek’s research.
Producing a glass of dairy milk every day for a year requires 650 sq m (7,000 sq ft) of land, the equivalent of two tennis courts and more than 10 times as much as the same amount of oat milk– BBC.com
Almond milk requires more water to produce than soy or oat milk. A single glass requires 74 litres (130 pints of water) – more than a typical shower. Rice milk is also comparatively thirsty, requiring 54 litres of water per glass.
However, it’s worth noting that both almond and rice milk still require less water to produce than the typical glass of dairy milk.– BBC.com
Finally, it’s confirmed – is milk bad for the environment? Yes! It has a huge negative impact on the environment. If you want to find more information on the environmental impact of the food you eat, scroll down to this article from BBC and use their calculator.
More resources on the dairy industry
Lastly, if you’d like to know more about the dairy industry, I suggest that you read this article from The Human League. You’ll find answers to what happens to the cow’s calves, more milk production statistics, how cows produce milk, how they are treated and for how long. As far as the history of dairy milk and why humans drink cow’s milk in the first place, look up this article from BBC.
If you’d like to transition to a vegan lifestyle, check out these 7 alternatives to cow’s milk.
You can also find information about the impact of meat and dairy industry on the environment on this post.