Why America's dairy industry is struggling to stay afloat
Attitudes towards cow's milk have soured.
USA Today ran a story on November 30, 2019 on whether adults need to consume cow’s milk to be healthy. Numerous qualified experts weighed in and the conclusion was… probably not. Regardless of the outcome of this article, one thing is clear: Americans are moving away from drinking cow’s milk.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that from 2009 to 2018, traditional milk consumption declined by nearly 19%.
Last month, Dean Foods, America's largest milk producer, filed for bankruptcy. This news shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the slow but steady decline of the U.S. dairy industry. Americans are simply drinking less milk, with the changing tastes of consumers, concerned about the environmental toll of dairy, animal welfare, and their own health, switching to plant-based dairy alternatives.
The Executive Director of World Animal Protection U.S., Alesia Soltanpanah, told USA TODAY, “Because of this global shift, the largest dairy companies in the U.S. are investing in plant-based alternatives and the ones that aren’t face a very uncertain future.”
While large dairy conglomerates continue lobbying the government for subsidies, bailouts, and control of USDA nutrition guidelines to prop up their increasingly undesirable products, small dairy farms across the country struggle to make ends meet. In 2018, the USDA reported nearly 3,000 dairies went out of business.
Although consumption has been steadily falling, the dairy industry continues to overproduce. This is not only causing the price of milk to drop but is also forcing cows on dairy farms to produce more milk than their bodies are capable of. Cows on dairy farms often suffer from lameness and painful diseases like mastitis, a painful infection of the udder.
In 2018, the United States Senate signed a budget agreement to hand over $1 billion of taxpayer money to the dairy industry. So how is it still struggling to stay afloat despite huge government support? The answer is simple: the public’s perception of dairy has changed.
Over the last 70 years or so, the dairy industry and colleagues in government have spent a fortune manipulating the USDA nutritional guidelines to ensure dairy is in everything, and they have attempted to convince the public that we need milk to build strong teeth and bones.
These ad campaigns put out by the dairy industry and U.S. government contradict what modern medicine has proven to be true. Dairy is the number one source of saturated fat in the United States and can increase one’s risk of cancer. Vasanti Malik, an assistant professor of nutrition at Harvard's School of Public Health, told USA TODAY that when it comes to adults, "there’s really not a reason to consume milk unless you like it.”
What’s more, intensive dairy farming hurts the planet by contributing to climate change and polluting waterways. Soy, almond, oat and rice milk all produce less carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, while using less land and water than cow's milk. "If you’re conscientious about the environmental impact, then opting for another source of those nutrients and protein would be a better option for you," said Malik.
As American’s move away from dairy, they’re switching to nutritious, sustainable, and kinder plant-based alternatives. A survey from agribusiness giant Cargill revealed that half of U.S. dairy consumers also use plant-based dairy alternatives.
Traditional dairy companies with their finger on the pulse of the market have already started to invest in dairy alternatives. Recently, Danone pledged to triple its global plant-based sales from $1.9 billion to about $5.7 billion by 2025 and said it plans to keep investing in plant-based foods—with the goal of enhanced sustainability.
The writing is on the wall: American’s are over drinking cow’s milk. They are opting into plant-based alternatives.
We can all do our part to help animals suffering at factory farms and move the market towards a kinder, more sustainable and healthier future by consuming more plant-based foods. Pledge to eat more plants today!