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Milk facts
...or myths?

So many things have been said about cow’s milk during such a long period of time, that a lot of them tend to be considered as facts. But is everything you’ve learnt about milk true? (Short answer: No!) In Finland, which is the country with the highest milk consumption per person, we decided it was about time to bust the myths. Like the ones saying that “milk gives you strong bones!” and “cow’s milk is the most natural thing you can drink” and “there are too little protein in plant-based drinks”.

Our booklet Milk Myths (Maitomyytit) was based on 20 different “facts” about milk and sent home to parents in more than 250,000 households. Apart from looking into what’s true and what is not when it comes to milk, the purpose was to initiate a bigger discussion around topics related to sustainability, health and plant-based versus animal-based food. 

Did we start a debate? Oh, yes! Suddenly, the content of the booklet—accompanied by print ads and outdoor messaging—was discussed everywhere. In more than 50 newspaper articles (not to brag, but one of them even brought in experts who confirmed our arguments). On Twitter. On sofas in front of the TV. By politicians. Around dinner tables and in saunas (however, we got some angry complaints saying that the book doesn’t burn very well—sorry about that!). 

All in all, we managed to raise tons of noise and debate around food, health and sustainability. Some voices were supportive, while others were, let’s say, less happy. But that’s what’s needed to create change, right? And best of all, the discussions are still ongoing. Go Finland!

 

Below are some examples of the arguments we make in the book. If you happen to know Finnish or Swedish, you can read the whole book at www.maitomyytit.fi

Kids need to get enough nutrition, and the milk served in schools is key to providing that nutrition.

Yes and no (but mostly no). School lunches are super important, and should contain 30% of the nutrition and energy a child needs every day. Best case, the food should check all nutrition boxes—but that’s not always happening. Growing children need things such as good-quality (a.k.a. unsaturated) fats, calcium and vitamin D, which means it definitely makes sense to serve something other than water to drink. But the question is, why does it have to be cow’s milk, when all the things we just talked about can also be found in most enriched plant-based drinks?

1. Opetushallitus: Tietoa kouluruokailusta. 

But hey, there’s not enough protein in plant-based drinks.

It’s true that there’s less protein in oat drink compared with cow’s milk, but saying it’s ”not enough” isn’t really true. Because today, almost all of us get our required amount of protein anyway. Really? Yes! The idea that people will become protein deficient if they start eating more plant-based foods is really an old way of thinking. The fact is, a surprising number of plant-based foods contain protein—it’s actually almost impossible not to get enough when eating a varied diet. Even if you’re vegan. And what about all the extra protein people are eating that isn’t needed by their bodies? Well, some of it is converted into carbs, but the rest is broken down and leaves the body as urine. Which in turn can end up in our lakes and oceans, contributing to over-fertilization and algae blooms, since protein contains a lot of nitrogen. So what was best for the average human body in 1921 isn’t necessarily best for one living in 2021. And the same goes for our planet.

1. HSY 2020: Pressmeddelande: Proteiinin liikasyönti kasvattaa typen määrää jätevedenpuhdistamoilla. HSY 22.01.2020. 

2. Valtion ravitsemusneuvottelukunta (VRN), Statens näringsdelegation 2014: Mat ger hälsa – Finska näringsrekommendationer 2014. 

You not only get milk from cows, but you get meat, too. The cows are super useful.

Win-win.

Well, from a climate perspective (not to mention a cow’s perspective), that win-win is more of a lose-lose. Because even if there is value in making use of the whole cow, the end result is still the same whether you drink milk or eat cheese or meat: Animal-based foods come with a high climate impact. Remember, dairy is an animal-based food just like meat is an animal-based food, even if you tend not to think about it that way. So if you think you are doing the climate a favor by choosing cheese over meat, you’re really not, since everything is connected and milk production generates meat (actually, around 85% of our beef originates from the milk herd). On average, a milk cow is slaughtered after five years, and a bull calf seldom gets to live even a year and a half. With that in mind, you might want to take a look at that win-win from another angle: If humans start consuming less animal-based dairy, there will be fewer dairy cows and ”by-product” calves to slaughter and eat. Besides, dairy and meat are for sure not your only options for getting your body up and running. 

1. Luke: Maitdontuotanto. 

2. Poore, Nemecek 2018: Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science 1.6.2018. 

3. Pulkkinen et al. 2016: Naudanlihan tuotannon ympäristövaikutukset ja niiden vähennyskeinojen mahdollisuudet. FootprintBeef-hankkeen loppuseminaari. Luonnonvarakeskus 21.4.2016. 

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