The dairy industry’s popularity has exploded in recent years, thanks to cheaper milk prices, the growing availability of natural dairy alternatives, and growing public interest in the benefits of a dairy-free diet.
But is the trend sustainable?
And how much healthier could dairy be if it was made from non-dairy sources?
We spoke to Dr. Kristin Miller, chief of nutrition at the University of California Davis and a food scientist who has written extensively on the topic of dairy.
Dr. Miller says the dairy industry has an uphill battle to compete with healthier alternatives because its products have not evolved in a sustainable way to the point that they are any less harmful than alternatives.
She also points out that most of the products you eat in a typical American household are manufactured with animal products.
“The dairy industry can do something about its health and make it a more attractive product, but they have to make a lot of changes, and they don’t have the resources or the time,” she says.
One of the major challenges in developing sustainable dairy alternatives is making sure that they aren’t contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or GMOs, which can increase their cost and make them more difficult to digest.
“We’ve known for a long time that there are ways to reduce contamination and the chemicals that go into dairy production,” says Dr. Miller.
“Dairy farmers, they’re very concerned about contamination, and if they have a problem with a particular product, they have two options: They can switch it to a more conventional product that they can grow on the land and sell to consumers, or they can get rid of the product completely and start all over again with the same product.”
One of Dr. Mollison’s favorite examples is milk from cows that are raised in the U.S. and feed their calves with soy and barley, a type of grain that is commonly found in other industrialized nations.
“They can use a different feed that’s grown in the US, they can use soy, they could feed their animals in a different way,” she explains.
“If they’re doing it in a way that is sustainable, and it’s not going to cause any harm to the animals, then that’s something that the public can have confidence in.”
In the case of milk produced by the U