Almond milk, coconut milk, soy milk etc. are currently on everyone's lips and the well-known cow's milk seems to be moving further and further back on the shelf - the trend of milk alternatives is in full swing while cow's milk has been increasingly labeled as environmentally harmful in recent years. Cafés and restaurants that do not offer plant-based alternatives to traditional cow's milk are now considered backwards. Likewise, many proponents of plant-based “milk drinks” view conservative cow’s milk consumers skeptically and criticize its consumption as harmful to the environment. But how sustainable are plant-based milk alternatives really, and how do they compare in terms of nutritional value?
Proponents of tried-and-tested cow's milk and farmers from the Alps argue that cow's milk, when kept in an animal-friendly manner and using regenerative agriculture, is even more sustainable than the alternatives currently being advertised. They also argue that cow's milk is to a certain extent a plant product, as its original source and biomass is grass. Milk is simply an end product catalyzed by the cow, which ultimately offers humans an ideal and sustainable source of protein.
We would like to take a closer look at who is right about how healthy the different types of milk are and which milk has a better ecological balance in this article.
How is cow's milk made?
Cows are vegetarians and eat grass - this should be known to most of us. What many people don't know, however, is that a cow only produces milk when she is pregnant. So if a cow is carrying a calf, she produces milk from the second month of her pregnancy. The grass eaten by the cow is then converted into the milk we know in the udder through various chemical processes. To a certain extent, cow's milk is therefore 100% plant-based and is converted by the cow into white milk as a catalyst. This is particularly helpful for us humans because we ourselves cannot use the cellulose in the grass. The grass, the underlying biomass, which is unusable for us, is later converted into highly complex protein structures using a fermentation process.
We would like to explain with a short detour into history why cow's milk is so important, valuable and even plays a huge part in human evolution and civilization.
We ask ourselves, since when have people actually been consuming cow's milk?
The evolution of milk
We have probably all experienced the ongoing human evolution in connection with cow's milk in our everyday lives - "I am lactose intolerant" is the keyword here.
We have only evolved the ability to drink and digest cow's milk over the last few millennia. A comparison could be drawn here with the evolution of human posture - at first we moved on all fours, later crouched on our knuckles and today we walk upright. In terms of human history, we are still in a crouched position when it comes to cow's milk, as not everyone in the world can yet digest cow's milk without any problems. These people are lactose intolerant. If someone is lactose intolerant, they are missing a specific gene that produces lactase. Lactase is an enzyme that breaks down the lactose contained in milk into the components galactose and glucose. This chemical reaction ensures that the components of milk sugar (lactose) can be absorbed by the small intestinal mucosa.
Most of us have been able to use dairy products, or the milk sugar lactose, for generations. A mutation in our genes has led to most European people carrying a version of the so-called LCT gene, which means that the lactase production that we naturally have as babies and young children does not stop in later years, but continues. In Asia, for example, people still struggle with lactose intolerance because the majority of the population does not have the LCT gene.
Geneticist Mark Thomas and his research team from University College in the United Kingdom have managed to pinpoint the origin of lactose tolerance. It is also interesting that the beginning of the farming lifestyle can be directly linked to the emergence of lactose tolerance. According to Thomas' findings, the first people consumed dairy products for the first time around 7,450-7,900 years ago in what is now Romania and Hungary. At that time, the so-called Linear Ceramic Culture lived in these latitudes, which was one of the most important populations in Neolithic Europe. This culture is credited with the beginning of our civilization and agriculture, particularly through the revolutionary consumption of dairy products. From there, the first “milk drinkers” spread rapidly throughout Europe and began to establish agriculture.
Aside from the enormous socio-cultural and economic benefits that milk consumption has had on human history, the health benefits and high nutritional content of cow's milk have also aided human development.
If cow's milk is so original and pioneered the agriculture we all benefit from, why has it fallen into disrepute?
We do not want to ignore the ecological balance of cow's milk and therefore address the most important points of criticism.
Sustainability of cow's milk
Admittedly, cow's milk has fallen into disrepute in recent years for legitimate reasons: factory farming, udder infections and ethically questionable conditions in the keeping of cows in agriculture have opened the eyes of many of us and encourage us to rethink and think. The ever-growing demand and the consequent increase in consumption of meat and dairy products has resulted in many cows and cattle living in conditions that are not worthy of animals. Greedy corporations and profit have cast a shadow over the once natural coexistence of cows and humans. The fact that the conditions of factory farming should not be supported, that they should be criticized and that they should be regulated in a more animal-friendly manner in the future, cannot be questioned and is out of the question. We also speak out actively and loudly against factory farming.
However, there are countless farmers, especially in the Alpine regions, who have traditionally and for generations relied on regenerative and natural agriculture in which the cow does not have to suffer, but is bred and cared for by dairy farmers in protected conditions. Respect for nature and animals has been and is maintained. We would therefore like to listen to these voices.
Dairy farming can be operated in a CO2-neutral manner
If dairy cows are kept in regenerative agriculture, dairy farming can be operated in a CO2-neutral or even CO2-negative manner. In this form of agriculture, from which we exclusively source the ingredients for all of our products, the cow lives a torture-free life in natural conditions. Milk production is not artificially increased, the cows eat grass from the pasture and do not receive punched feed that produces greenhouse gases during production, but rather grow and thrive locally. Although cows will always emit methane, this can be neutralized in its ecological footprint through reforestation or the use of solar power and hydroelectric power plants.
The dairy industry in the Alpine countries is a pioneer of this CO2-neutral cow's milk. Through regenerative agriculture, the organic farming and feeding of dairy cows, the milk produced becomes a sustainable source of protein that is 100% plant-based.
Comparison of milk with milk alternatives
If you compare cow's milk with the plant-based alternative drinks in terms of nutrients, then cow's milk comes out much better. Cow's milk provides a number of nutrients and minerals in high concentrations and does not require any subsequent additives to achieve the desired nutritional levels, as it already contains them naturally. It's not for nothing that cow's milk is considered a staple food. With regard to the ecological balance, it can be stated that cow's milk from factory farming should not be advocated and does not have a good ecological balance - it contributes to greenhouse gases due to the high nitrogen emissions. Cow's milk from regenerative agriculture, on the other hand, can be CO-2 neutral or even CO-2 negative and therefore has an excellent ecological balance.
For comparison in terms of nutrients: Oat milk usually only contains a third of the amount of protein that we find in cow's milk. When it comes to the nutritional values of calcium, potassium and protein, cow's milk also has better nutrient content than, for example, soy milk. Cow's milk also contains around 400 fatty acids, which none of the plant-based alternative drinks can boast. Cow's milk also contains the growth hormone IGF-1, which has been proven to make people taller and longer. We also know that proteins from plants are processed more poorly by our bodies than animal proteins such as those found in cow's milk. In addition, the nutrient content of plant-based milk is usually artificially increased subsequently using additives so that it can keep up with the nutritional values of cow's milk.
But how do the milk alternatives perform in terms of their ecological balance? Are they really more sustainable than cow's milk?
Soy milk and deforestation of the rainforests
Around 35 million tons of soy are imported every year, more than half of which comes from Brazil. The gigantic soy fields there are displacing the million-year-old rainforest. The rainforests and savannahs are habitats for a number of animals and insects that are being driven out of their habitat. The pesticides used in the fields also pollute the soil and groundwater in the regions. The monocultures planted are largely genetically manipulated so that they can better ward off pests and are more productive. Soy milk is therefore often not sustainable and does not have a good ecological balance.
Critics of cow's milk often note that the majority of soy production is used to produce animal feed, such as for cows in factory farming. This is true, but does not apply to dairy cows in regenerative agriculture, as they eat local grass and are fed organically. We agree that feeding cows with soy meal is not advisable, as the excretions of a cow fed soy are extremely high in nitrates and pollute the soil and fields, which in turn pass the nitrate pollution on to the groundwater. Regenerative agriculture puts an end to this vicious cycle.
Almond milk and the death of bees
In Europe and the USA, almond milk is the second most popular cow's milk alternative. A full 80% of the world's almonds come from California, where huge monocultures are displacing the local flora and fauna. In addition, the dry climate in California means that extremely high amounts of water are required for the harvest to be successful. However, one of the most devastating factors in almond production are bees. The almond trees in California need regular pollination to produce almonds. To ensure this, billions of bees are distributed throughout California's plantations every year. The bees are exposed to constant transport, high stocking densities, enormous stress and helpless in the pesticide-contaminated environment. The bees' immune systems are weakened by these conditions, making them vulnerable to viruses and parasites. This chronic weakening of the bees' immune system must be viewed critically from an evolutionary point of view and is considered to be a contributing factor in the death of bees.
Researchers at the University of California also found that almond milk requires about 17 times more water to produce than cow's milk.
Conclusion – cow’s milk from regenerative agriculture in the Alps
Our conclusion is therefore as follows: cow's milk from factory farming is not sustainable and should not be supported, while regenerative dairy farming can be CO-2 neutral or even CO-2 negative. Cow's milk from regenerative agriculture in the Alps often has a better ecological balance than imported, plant-based alternatives.
The nutritional values of cow's milk often compare better with plant-based alternatives, making it a staple food for humans. A moderate consumption of cow's milk from regenerative agriculture can be more sustainable and healthier than plant-based alternatives, which often fluctuate in their nutritional values and therefore have additives added later, and are often associated with a poor ecological balance as they require large amounts of water in production. contribute to the death of bees or cause the deforestation of rainforests abroad.
BE THE CHANGE® therefore works with its own suppliers from the Swiss dairy industry and maintains personal and long-term relationships with all farmers. Organic and regenerative agriculture are part of our company's mission statement. We work exclusively with selected farmers who respect and lovingly care for the cows and calves in terms of their nature and their natural needs according to the principle of organic and regenerative agriculture.
We know exactly which milk products come from which mother cow, because the overall health of the cows is crucial for acceptable and healthy dairy products. The well-being of the animals is directly related to the free range on healthy pastures, local and natural nutrition, as well as species-appropriate and loving animal husbandry, so that high-quality and rich cow's milk can be produced. Cow's milk from regenerative agriculture in the Alps is sustainable, in harmony with nature, corresponds to animal welfare and offers an excellent source of nutrients and protein for us humans.
https://www.agrarheute.com/management/agribusiness/arla-kuendigt-klimaneutrale-milch-geht-575186#:~:text=How%20can%20milk%20without%20CO2,consumers%20like%20referred to as % 20climatekiller % 20 _ _ _ .
https://albert-schweitzer-stiftung.de/aktuell/oekobalance-pflanzenmilch#:~:text=Researchers%20der%20Universit%C3%A4t%20von%20Kalifornia, data %20on%20the%20Californian%20almond cultivation.