Reduce Dairy in Your Diet

Bovine breast milk goes great with your cereal, but its production contributes 4 per cent to global greenhouse gas emissions. Halve your dairy consumption, explore the alternatives and help the environment.

The main benefit in reducing the amount of dairy in your diet and shifting to non-dairy alternatives (for example soya) may not be to save money, but rather your wellbeing and impact on the environment.

The environmental impact of shifting half your dairy consumption to non-dairy alternatives is not simple to calculate, however in 2005 the University of NSW and CSIRO conducted a triple bottom line analysis of 135 sectors of the Australian economy called "Balancing Act", from which it is possible to calculate the environmental impact derived from a dollar spent in any particular industry sector.

Using the 'dairy products' sector the environmental benefits of reducing your dairy consumption by half are as follows:

  • Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions – 1,270.2 kg CO2 p.a.

  • Reduction in water use – 421,080 litres p.a.

  • Reduction in land disturbance - 2,459 m2 or 0.246 hectares p.a.

If the reduction in dairy products consumption was matched with a corresponding increase in vegetable and fruit growing (where soy production is counted), consumption is as follows:

  • Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions – 409 kg CO2 p.a.

  • Reduction in water use – 104,197 litres p.a.

  • Reduction in land disturbance - 226 m2 or 0.0226 hectares p.a.

These environmental benefits of shifting half your dairy consumption to alternatives would be as follows:

  • Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions – 861 kg CO2 p.a.

  • Reduction in water use – 316,883 litres p.a.

  • Reduction in land disturbance - 2233 m2 or 0.223 hectares p.a.

So eat and drink well and help us move to a more sustainable and healthy diet.

How to do it now!

According to Dairy Australia, Australians consume over 100 litres of milk and over 20kg of cheese, butter and yoghurt each year.

Given the increasing incidence of lactose intolerance, there is now a wide range of milk and dairy alternatives available, derived from plants. The most popular of these, soy milk, can be substituted for cows milk in most instances and has all the nutrients of cows milk without the lactose, saturated fat and cholesterol.

Lactose Intolerance is when a person has difficulty or is unable to digest milk sugars from dairy products. It is rare for caucasians to develop lactose intolerance. The condition is more common among Indigenous Australians and people from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and some Mediterranean countries. Symptoms include bloating, gas, abdominal pain and diarrhoea.

Source: Victorian Government’s Better Health Channel.

Why is this action important?

This simple shift in our eating habits can significantly reduce our contribution to climate change, save hundreds of thousand of litres of water and reduce the amount of land required to support our consumption. 

Environmental benefit

Climate change is a serious challenge facing the human race. The livestock sector is a major player, responsible for 18 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions (measured in CO2 equivalent). This is a higher proportion than transport. The overall global emissions attributed to the dairy herd, are estimated to contribute to 4.0 per cent of total anthropogenic emissions. Both meat and dairy production are projected to double by 2050. And we haven’t even mentioned the water consumption, land use and impact on natural systems resulting from intensive dairy cattle grazing.

For more information on the environmental impact of the dairy sector download “Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Dairy Sector” (PDF).

Wellbeing benefit

It is estimated the 75 per cent of adults worldwide are, to various degrees, unable to metabolise lactose (this figure is 4 per cent for Australians of European descent, up to 95 per cent for Chinese). While dairy products are lauded for their high levels of calcium and vitamin D, they also contain IGF-1 (Insulin Growth Factor) that is increasingly believed to increase the risk of prostrate cancer, type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease. It seems that more impartial research into the human health issues of consuming hundreds of litres of another animal’s breast milk needs to be undertaken.