The switch to non-dairy milks, like almond milk and oat milk, is becoming increasingly popular—especially among millennials and Gen Zers. According to a recent study by dairy company Arla, 49% of Gen Z participants said they felt ashamed to order dairy in public.
So, why is it that young people are ditching dairy? Well, it goes hand-in-hand with the growing adoption of plant-based diets for environmental, health, and animal welfare concerns. In fact, according to the Plant Based Foods Association, sales of plant-based foods were up 27% in 2020, 6.2% in 2021, and are currently at a record high of $7.4 billion.
Plant-based milk, in particular, is the largest category of plant-based foods. The Plant Based Food Association reports that plant-based milk grew $105 million in sales in 2021, while animal-based milk sales declined for a loss of $264 million.
There are several reasons why consumers are opting for plant-based milk over dairy milk, one of them being that a lot that goes on behind the scenes of the dairy industry.
Animal welfare isn’t guaranteed
Although many dairy companies promise “animal welfare,” the reality is that animals are still mistreated. Animal rights organizations, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), continually expose the horrors of animal cruelty on dairy farms.
Over the years, several dairy farms have been investigated for their treatment of cows, including the well-known dairy company Fairlife. In 2019, the Animal Recovery Mission went undercover at Fair Oaks Farm and released a video of workers throwing calves, hitting them with bottles, and much more.
Since then, Fairlife has generated entirely new animal welfare policies and procedures. However, the company is one of many that hide animal abuse on their farms and supplier farms.
The environment is at stake
In recent years, environmental concerns have been front and center, and big dairy companies are being urged to change their practices. According to a 2017 Corporate Social Responsibility study, 88% of people surveyed said they’d be more loyal to a company that supports social or environmental issues.
The dairy industry alone contributes to 2% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. While that may not seem like a lot, the United States Environmental Protection Agency reports that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions totaled 5,222 million metric tons in 2020—that’s 104.44 million metric tons from the dairy industry!
While many dairy companies have recently announced environmental goals, not all of them are explicit about what’s going to be accomplished and when. Furthermore, progress is often not reported after these goals are set.
Overall, transparency in the dairy industry is seriously lacking, but there are some dairy companies that are especially sneaky. Read on to find out which dairy companies have the worst quality food practices.
Known for its chocolate milk, Nestlé has over 450 manufacturing facilities in over 80 countries. Being such a large company, it’s no surprise that animal cruelty sometimes goes unnoticed. In 2019, Animal Outlook exposed the horrific abuse of mother cows and their calves on Martin Farms, a dairy farm that supplied Nestlé. While Nestlé has since cut ties with Martin Farms, it’s likely that animal abuse continues to happen behind the scenes at some of its many other suppliers.
Furthermore, Nestlé’s animal welfare statement hasn’t been updated since 2014. Although the company announced a few additions since then, the original document hasn’t been updated in light of the changing landscape of animal welfare.
The policies themselves can be quite vague. Regarding animal abuse, the policy states: “Farmers should phase out tail docking (cattle & pigs), dehorning, disbudding without anesthesia and analgesia, castration without anesthesia and analgesia (cattle & pigs), and non-therapeutic beak trimming (laying hens).” Notice what’s missing—a timeline for phasing these practices out, which implies that they were (and are) currently used.
The one pro here is Nestlé’s announced progress, though limited and specific, towards animal welfare: “Over 94% of the cows in our dairy ingredients supply chain are now disbudded, rather than being subject to the more severe process of dehorning.”
However, the company still has a long way to go in guaranteeing no animal abuse or mistreatment on their dairy suppliers’ farms.
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While Land O’Lakes has outlined clear sustainability commitments, its history with animal cruelty is hard to ignore. PETA’s undercover investigation inside a Land O’Lakes supplier facility in Pennsylvania revealed poor living conditions for cows, horrific abuse, and mother cows abruptly torn away from their calves. While the case was dropped, a more recent investigation opened up at the same farm—the Reitz Dairy Farm.
However, Land O’Lakes states on their website: “Maintaining the highest level of animal care and driving continuous improvement are increasingly important to our brand and our relationships with customers and consumers around the globe.” This is clearly another issue of transparency in the dairy industry—marketing makes consumers of Land O’Lake believe that cows are well taken care of when, in reality, terrible things take place behind the scenes.
It’s no coincidence that Dean Foods declared bankruptcy in 2019 after a severe decline in sales. Once the biggest milk producer in the U.S., the company had to be acquired by Dairy Farmers of America to stay in business. But there’s a reason that Walmart stopped buying Dean Foods’ milk, alongside many consumers.
The Animal Recovery Mission went undercover at McArthur dairy farm, controlled by Dean Foods, as a part of its factory-farm initiative, and what they found was scary, to say the least. Photos reveal severe animal abuse of cattle, overcrowding, and small cages.
While this was one of many dairy farm suppliers for Dean Foods, it is not unlikely that animal abuse went on behind the scenes at other supplier farms. Furthermore, according to Green America, Dean Foods falsely claimed that its white milk did not contain GMOs, but it raises its cows on genetically modified feed. Transparency was not this dairy company’s strong suit.
It’s also worth noting that Dean Foods owns multiple dairy companies, including TruMoo, DairyPure, and the controversial Horizon Organic. Horizon Organic Milk was sued in 2018 for false advertising: including non-organic DHA in its organic milk products.
And even though Deans Food was acquired by another company, it still hasn’t escaped its complicated history with poor quality practices. In 2020, an animal-rights group Animal Outlook went undercover at a dairy farm that supplies the now-owner of Deans Food, Dairy Farmers of America, and documented animal abuse, neglect, and disgusting living conditions for cows. Let’s hope Dairy Farmers of America can develop stricter animal welfare policies regarding their milk production.
Scoring a zero on The Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Dairy Scorecard, Meijer’s in-house label does not provide the high-quality milk you might assume you’re buying. The company used to get a lot of its milk from Texas farm Natural Prairie Dairy, which was exposed by Animal Recovery Mission went in 2019 for partaking in some horrifying practices: cow abuse, untreated infections, constant milking, violent insemination, and much more. Although Meijer Organics supposedly cut ties with Natural Prairie Dairy, it’s still unclear what the company’s plan is to ensure animal welfare across suppliers.
It’s also unclear where Meijer currently gets its milk. “The inherent problem with private labels is that they lack transparency. Store brands may get their milk from highly-rated producers, but they may also source from factory-scale dairies,” explains The Cornucopia Institute on the Meijer Organics Scorecard.
Want to know more about what not to buy while you’re grocery shopping? Check out 5 Freezer Aisle Brands To Stay Away From Right Now.
This content was originally published here.