Animal agriculture is one of the leading polluters, greenhouse gas emitters and destroyers of land, habitat and biodiversity on the planet. It is also one of the leading drivers of climate change and is responsible for 14.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the whole world’s transport combined.
Dairy’s contribution to this is significant, as milk alone accounts for 20 per cent of animal agriculture emissions and around four per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. There are over 1.8 million dairy cows in the UK. Most of them give birth to a calf each year and they all have to be fed and the farms need to be maintained using electricity, fuel and vast amounts of water. Dairy farming also means endless battles with slurry and continuous emissions of methane (one of the main greenhouse gases) resulting from cows’ digestion.
The total carbon footprint of the UK dairy sector, including emissions from dairy farms, transport, distribution, processing and end use, is estimated to be 15.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, according to the Carbon Trust.
Methane, which has a much greater warming potential is 25-times more damaging than carbon dioxide, is emitted by ruminant animals, including cows. Nitrous oxide, which is even more damaging than methane - about 300-times more potent than carbon dioxide - is released from the billions of gallons of manure they excrete, making dairy one of the most damaging industries on our planet.
But soya is destroying the rainforest?
While some people point to the vast environmental damage caused by soya plantations as a reason to avoid soya milk, they probably don’t know that the vast majority of soya is actually fed to farmed animals raised for meat and dairy. It is thought that as much as 75 per cent of global soya production ends up in the mouths of animals rather than used for human consumption. Luckily, there are lots of different options on the market if you want to find a dairy-free alternative to soya.
Read more in Viva!’s Environmental Impacts of Dairy