Being lactose-intolerant and vegetarian, I have been drinking soya milk for many years now. The high carbon footprint of cattle has meant that soya milk has been promoted as an ethical substitute for cows' milk. But is it as green as we think?
The recent murder of Brazilian activist José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife brings to light the epidemic of illegal logging and forest burning in the Amazon. However, a more pressing problem is the drastic increase in deforestation caused by soya farming in the last few months. The most significant rise has been seen in an area which produces a quarter of the Brazilian soybean crop. Soybeans are predominantly used as animal feed for the meat industry, but increasingly for the production of soyamilk.
In her book Stolen Harvest: the hijacking of the global food supply, Vandana Shiva discusses the growing hegemony of soy in the global food supply. Like the growth of cash crops all over the world, this has been to the detriment of localised food culture. In India, soybean has annihilated the traditional growth of mustard in many areas, where it had previously added distinctive flavour and colour to food. It also provided a great deal of locally-based employment and contributed to social cohesion. The takeover of soy has meant that India has become thethered to genetically-modified seed. Because the EU has placed strict labelling regulations upon GMO ingredients, U.S. companies are dumping much of their products on countries with fewer restrictions, such as India.
What are the alternatives? Reducing our consumption of meat and other animal products is advisable, not merely for our individual health, but for the environment as well. However, we must also be careful that the alternatives we choose do not also negatively impact on the health of the planet. I believe that sustainable and locally-appropriate food is as important as issues such as vegetarianism and environmental protection. The inception of GMO and industrial agriculture and food production has had a devastating impact on delicate ecosystems as well as food cultures throughout the world.
It is for these reasons that I have started buying Avonmore Lactose-Free Milk. The situation is not ideal, as it is not organic, and I know that I am contributing towards the pollution caused by cattle farming. Further to this, there is very little information available about the human impact of the hormones used to increase fertility and lactation in cattle. However, I feel that the closer I am to where my food is sourced, the better for me and for the environment. In addition to this, studies have found that milk from grass-fed cattle contains higher quanitites of healthy conjugated linoleic acid, vitamin E and omega-3 than from grain-fed cattle.
The higher rates of cholesterol in milk might have a negative impact on my health down the road, but as I don't tend to consume a lot of milk, I am hoping to avoid that in my quest to eat more sustainably.