Long live raw milk
Like toothpaste and loo paper, milk is one of those household goods we must not run out of. While we probably all know something about the environmental impact of consuming particular foods (fine beans flown in from Kenya, cod caught in the wrong stretch of sea), these can be easily avoided whereas you have probably drunk the ubiquitous white stuff less than three hours before reading this – in your coffee, on your cereal…
A recent UN report found that nearly 3% of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions result from milk production. This includes the processing and transportation of milk as well as its production, which probably had a bearing on the suggestion by Defra a few years ago that there should be a radical shift to non-refrigerated milk – UHT, that is. This would reduce the need for chiller space in supermarkets (indeed, it is the chiller compartments that are the chief villains as far as our big retailers’ carbon footprints are concerned).
Of course, plenty of brickbats were thrown at the UHT idea, including the warning that the UK dairy herd would be decimated. With dairy farming already on the backfoot the civil servants, probably wisely, took their idea no further.
Interestingly, most of the milk consumed in France, that bastion of good taste, is UHT, compared to only around 8% here. Maybe they think it’s only the pressed curd of milk (i.e. cheese) that’s worthy of attention.
Vegetarians may feel that their diet is a much lower carbon one than that of the rest of the population, but as they enjoy milk and yoghurt they have no real reason to be smug. There’s also the often overlooked fact that milk is a byproduct of reproduction: male calves are routinely culled. A way of getting around this wasteful practice is to promote the sale of ‘rose veal’. The UK’s organic farmers, meanwhile, are preparing to end culling at birth.
Milk cartons shouldn’t really be an environmental problem – they are made from recyclable plastic – but it seems three out of four go into the rubbish bin. Introducing soft, squishy pouches as containers is something of an admission of defeat, as if retailers are saying if an item is destined for landfill it might as well be as small as possible. In any case, they haven’t proved popular with shoppers (Waitrose did not pursue their trial any further).
As a tentative step in a worthy direction, might we suggest that we seek out raw, unpasteurised milk where possible? Unlike your standard milk, it contains loads of beneficial bacteria. As it’s only sold by the producer – at farm gates or at farmers markets – it’s a way of putting your pound straight in the pocket of a small, local business, whose farming practices are inherently likely to be sustainable.