Vegan milk environmental impact praised in new Oxford study

Vegan milk is one of many foodstuffs which have been analysed and celebrated as part of a new study from Oxford University. 

The Oxford University Research Archive have published a peer reviewed journal article entitled ‘Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers‘. In the report, ‘millions of diverse producers’ are considered as the authors delve into food’s environmental impacts.

Taking into account the data harvested from almost 40,000 farms, 1,600 processors, packaging types and retailers, the researchers found that the same products can often have vastly different environmental impacts. The supply chain has a lot to do with things, but so does production.

One of the most important elements which is stated is that “Most strikingly, impacts of the lowest-impact animal products typically exceed those of vegetable substitutes, providing new evidence for the importance of dietary change.”

The study shows that, while meat and dairy products only constitute about 20% of the average calorie intake, they are responsible for a quarter of all human-produced greenhouse gas emissions. This gives further basis to the ongoing debate on diet and its effects on climate change. Now that veganism has made the leap from the ethically minded minority to the mainstream, it is becoming clearer that a cultural shift may be on the horizon.

Milk, both dairy and plant based, was one of the highlighted topics. Land and water use, as well as emissions on all fronts were examined, and the results were clear. It takes exceptionally more resources to produce dairy milk, as opposed to vegan alternatives.

Vegan Milk Stats My Good Planet

As outlined by the study, the production of a single glass of dairy milk each day for one year ‘requires 650 sq m (7,000 sq ft) of land, the equivalent of two tennis courts and more than 10 times as much as the same amount of oat milk, according to this study.’

The BBC adds that ‘Almond milk requires more water to produce than soy or oat milk. A single glass requires 74 litres (130 pints of water) – more than a typical shower. Rice milk is also comparatively thirsty, requiring 54 litres of water per glass.

However, it’s worth noting that both almond and rice milk still require less water to produce than the typical glass of dairy milk.’

The ranges of plant based milks are increasing in both variety and quality all the time. While soya milk makes the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea, oat and almond are delicious in strong coffee. If it’s calcium which is a concern in making the switch to plant based milk, it’s always wise to keep an eye out for the labelling. Many vegan milks state that they are either “source of calcium” or “fortified with calcium” on the label. 250ml of good quality vegan milk contains an average of about 300mg of calcium.

It’s actually easier for your body to absorb calcium from plants than it is from cows’ milk.” say Veganuary, the leading incentive for vegan change, “Research from Forks Over Knives shows that about 30% of the calcium that is found in a cup of cow’s milk is actually absorbable. Whereas, of the calcium found in kale for example, about 50% – 60% is absorbable.”

As an interactive and enlightening activity, the BBC have also recently developed a carbon footprint calculator, which allows users to make an estimate on the impact of their meal / grocery shop.

Colin J McCracken
Colin J McCracken

Director and Executive Editor

Colin J McCracken is an Irish editor and writer of both fiction and journalism. Coming from a background in education and film, his passions are split between the environmental and the entertaining. Constantly striving for a more sustainable existence and trying to balance it while simultaneously buying too many books.