Research: Cows’ milk ‘better for the environment’ than ‘soya milk’

With increasing pressure being put on citizens to do their part in tackling environmental issues through living and consuming in a sustainable way, new research has suggested that drinking cows’ milk may be better than non-dairy alternatives.

Research published in the Journal of Applied Animal Nutrition suggests that, despite milk from cows being under increased scrutiny for environmental reasons, it is a more sustainable use of land than producing so-called ‘soya milk’.

Soybean [soyabean] meal apparently has a very high carbon footprint if derived from crops grown on land recently converted from forestry.

The research suggets that greenhouse gas emissions and loss of wildlife habitats have stimulated a “growing global concern over the continued expansion of soybeans and palm oilseed production on land recently converted from forestry and natural grasslands”. 

The report looked at the roles of soybean meal and palm kernel meal in livestock nutrition. It also looked at how ‘soya milk’ made directly from soybeans is a “less efficient process than producing milk from dairy cows”, especially when grazed on pastures or given diets that do not contain soybean meal.

Why is soybean meal used?

According to the report, diets for poultry and pigs contain higher levels of soybean meal than those in ruminant livestock.

Small amounts of soybean oil are included in pig and poultry feeds, but its main uses are in processed foods.

The report asserts that 85L of milk are produced in the UK for every kilo (kilogram) of soybean meal consumed by dairy cows. 7g of soybean meal are needed to produce 200ml of dairy cow milk.

‘Associated with deforestation’

According to the report, soybean and palm oils together comprise about 90% of total world vegetable oil production.

“Production of soybean and palm oils is associated with deforestation, soil degradation, destruction of wildlife habitats and the loss of natural grasslands in some regions of the world,” the report claims.

The continued trend of deforestation and removal of natural grasslands to create more arable land for soybean and palm oil production has focused attention on [an] urgent need.

“Animal feed and human food industries [need] to replace soybean and oil palm products with alternative sources of protein-rich ingredients.”