Is this really the end of a food staple?

Ray Hill
Founder and Secretary of the Health Food Institute

It is interesting how a newspaper article can evoke a chain of thought and how self-education evolves. The article was about one of the most used and sustaining foods from nature readily available in the UK, and cheap, by any measure, in relation to the nutrients it supplies. Never mind the many uses it has in providing those nutrients, most households would be lost without it.

I expect by now you guessed that I am talking about milk. Milk from cows, that is. Not any of the other milks be they sheep, goats or even camels' milk. Neither is it milk from the plant-based varieties: pea, almond, cashew, hazelnut, coconut, oat, rice, soya, hemp, or any other comestible one can milk to earn a living!

This headline created my interest: “Tech tycoons toast the end of milk”, mainly because I could not believe the statement, even though I have always thought cows' milk is for calves and human breast milk is for babies, until they reach an age when it is no longer necessary. Whilst I know we can live without animal milk it did alert me to the fact that in 2000 there were 28,000 dairy farms in the UK and just 12,000 today. That is not necessarily a justification for thinking the population is rejecting cows' milk, more a commercial decision by supermarkets buying cheaper milk from abroad.

So, taking everything into account, it appears the dairy industry is on the verge of collapse according to some non-animal milk producers, or to give some a more accurate description, the genetically modifying engineers. People like Magi Richani who, as reported in the Sunday Times, spent four years genetically engineering soya plants. She could not find a vegan cheese that tasted like cheese, so she established Nobell Foods with venture capital investment of £55m to create a cheese from the soya bean which does taste like cheddar or mozzarella.

Speaking of venture capitalists, the billionaire Jim Mellon, the investor behind Agronomics, has predicted: “The dairy industry, as it is today, will be gone within ten years.” RethinkX, a think tank, maintained just before Covid that advances made in precision fermentation, where microbes instead of cows are programmed to produce milk and cheese, would replace those ingredients extracted from milk such as casein and whey. Ingredients such as these are fundamental to the survival of the dairy industry. And RethinkX also suggests the dairy industry will be gone by 2030.

From a climate change point of view it is difficult to argue for the dairy trade when one reads that it requires about six pounds of food and up to 1,000 gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk. Or that 15% of the global greenhouse gases come from agriculture and cows are responsible for over 40% of it.

According to the article, a third of the earth's arable land is used to grow crops for animal feed, then we slaughter the animals. Just this paragraph is certainly a strong case for seeking other ways of providing the sustenance cows' milk provides.

Maybe the strongest case against is that we don't actually need it. Simply a habit imposed on us in early life and passed down through the generations.

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