Going Dairy-Free


The advancing market in alternatives to animal milks and their derivatives has relevance to customers with aversions to commercial dairy-produce for reasons of health and intolerance due to bad reactions (“milk brings on my catarrh”), outright allergy, and ethical abstentions. Observations in supermarkets bear witness to a niche market in alternatives well beyond the demands for veggie customers.

Nonetheless, veggies have compelling reasons to support the market for alternatives and the dietary diversity it widens; there is also the imperative to oust complicity in the trade for “liquid meat” that is as objectionable as the meat, red and white, derived from animals, birds, and fish.



Veggies are now riding on a wave of commercial enterprise mainly driven by soya-growers in North America who are seeking outlets for their crops as foods used directly rather than as feedstuffs in concentrates in the intensive live/deadstock industry, which ruthlessly exploits dairy cows and their calves (the BSE epidemic originated in the integrated dairy/beef/veal trade). VEGA is offering help to sharpen the competition and thus to find ways of diminishing the exploitation of cows. Converting staple crops in gleaming, stainless steel vats into the alternative dairy trade is much preferable to stuffing those same crops as feedstuffs into lame, mastitic, miserable and mucky cows, wastefully converting the crop and subsidies into milk and calves that have to be reared on replacers.

VEGA is trying to guide smaller enterprises entering into these developing markets towards government grants to small and medium-sized businesses that also forge links in shared funding with academic and technical resources in food technology and marketing.

The alternative enterprises do not enjoy the lavish subsidies and control that favor the live/deadstock industry, and they are disadvantaged in trade descriptions and labelling; they face opposition from entrenched and officially preferred interests such as the National Dairy Council, the Meat and Livestock Commission, and the National Farmers Unions. The alternative products still suffer in price, but enterprising developments in value-adding and claims (e.g. for health benefits) are easing the entry of the new “dairy” products to the ranges offered by supermarkets. Now they are only pushing in; VEGA vows to use its non-commercial activities to advance a phase of pushing out, as the burden on the cow is lifted.


What to Go For

The cheapest soya milk is now selling in supermarkets at 69p/litre, at which price it can be cheaper than organic cow-milk. Nutritionally it lacks important components in cow-milk – but then it lacks objectionable contents. Fortified alternative milks, UHT on the shelves or as competitors in the chiller cabinets (e.g. So Good and Alpro), cost up to twice the price of the cheapest. Such products are riding increasingly on the say-no-to-GMO bandwagon, for which the assurance can well mean something: most commercial cow-milk and derivatives, even when sold with “organic,” “freedom,” and “vegetarian” assurances, come from cows fed GM-soya and maize in their rations.

VEGA is working with the Food Standards Agency and the trade to stimulate replacement of products of the present dairy-industry with unexceptionable offerings of unassailable nutritional merit and sold with accurate claims – eligible to be rated for inclusion in, say, school milk schemes. We ask customers to tell us of their experiences, just as purchasers or, better, after correspondence with retailers and manufacturers. By-products of the dairy industry (apart from beef and veal) included in many-foodstuffs or used undisclosed as processing aids are unnecessary or can be easily replaced. As one example, M & S reduced-fat humus contains cow-milk derivatives, the equivalent product from Tesco does not. M & S, in particular, butter everything up and some brands of biscuits, misleadingly “approved” for veggies, vaunt their butter content. Supermarkets can be persuaded to sell a variety of dairy-free margarines, spreads, biscuits, and even ice-creams. But they need goading with constant jabs of their customers’ individually-expressed demands, preferably in writing. One letter of this type may represent to them 100 customers in their loyalty scheme whose objections to whey in the own-brand muesli mixture may see purchasers defect to a competitor for the whole of the week’s shopping.

Practising, Preaching, Eating Our Words

VEGA seeks to mobilize campaigners with the following special interests and whose complacency needs to be challenged: -
Members of the Farm Animal Welfare Council, RSPCA, Soil Association, British Veterinary Association…..These are growth industries cataloguing the evils of the cowboys and only in minor ways confining their consumption of animal-derived foods on which some sort of dubious approbation has been bestowed. If in doubt, leave it out. VEGA has rounded on the delegates of the RSPCA, and FAWC, Soil Association, and veterinarian organizations eating and drinking animal-derived foods at conferences on animal welfare that are of untraceable provenance and not even from suppliers approved or monitored (e.g. as Freedom Foods) by such flawed do-gooders.

VEGA has at least secured supplies of plant-milks on the tables of coffee and tea at some conferences. Vets cannot expect public recognition if they don’t act on the evidence they compile: what respect would patients accord to doctors and health ministers delivering homilies on smoking while puffing a cigarette? Vets in the necessary business of saving the lives of the fluffies must be continually upbraided for their unnecessary complicity in denying a life to animals born to be killed.

The flawed animal welfare groups assume that present levels of consumption can be maintained by feeble remediations at no more cost to the consumer than a modest increase in price. VEGA appeals to the rank and file of these organizations to embrace the sweeping changes that technology now offers and to look for the appropriate involvement and example.

Catering Outside the Home

Many institutions and hotels and some restaurants keep stocks of soya milk but do not display it and, when asked, serve it unattractively in the carton. VEGA enjoins students, attendees at events, and others eating communally to expect plant-milk for their breakfasts and to be spared the restriction to black tea or coffee. To this end VEGA is urging manufacturers to offer institutional caterers stickers advertising the availability (and attractions) of plant-milks and to offer jiggers (little tubs, as used for coffee-whiteners and UHT cow-milks) of such alternatives (as Plamil did at one time). We appeal for support volunteered by potential purchasers to manufacturers and retailers.

Veggies should no longer have to queue because the vegetarian option is something cheesy, with buttered vegetables, and an undressed salad without a bean. “Vegan? You’ll eat fish, then?” How often is this misunderstanding rehearsed? VEGA insists on an end to this nonsense: the vegetarian offering at any function could easily go all the way with a common selection, reducing the number of options and satisfying veggies at various stages, as well as Jews, Muslims, and wholefooders. There’s no better place to represent the constituency of our cause than with the chef. VEGA has had embarrassingly good strictly vegetarian buffet-lunches at meetings of scientific societies and MAFF (now under DEFRA). Acknowledgement is recorded accordingly.

The Vegetarian Society

The Society’s crass decision in the 1980’s to reverse the trend initiated in its Green Plan of the 1970s aborted the progress of what had been “the lostest cause since the flat earth” to a force in the food market and the leverage that it was exerting. Accepting fees to bestow approvals on commercial production of eggs (its officers initially defended approvals on eggs and their derivatives from all systems and even now don’t stipulate the welfare standards of Freedom Foods nor the Soil Association) and milk-production (and the cognate output of beef and veal) has set back much effort at keeping welfare a consistently effectual factor in the market. The connivance in this betrayal indicts a number of otherwise strident animal welfare organizations and has allowed manufacturers, caterers, and so on to duck responsibility in an endeavor to honor the spirit of the veggie consumer. In marketing terms the appeal of “organic” and “GM-free” campaigns has usurped the authority the Green Plan had captured, and veggies have to read and interpret labels for themselves: so for them manufacturers are wasting money spent on fees for the Vegetarian Society’s approvals.

In recent years the Society has attracted further discredit with advertising blunders and confusions over descriptions of free-range and GM-commodities. Its ridiculous efforts at justifying its errors continue to betray what should be its mission and to cloud the reliability of what should be allied causes.

VEGA has suggested to the Society’s management that a renunciation of its approvals on animal-derived food commodities could still be effectively arranged and publicised. The Society and the cause would be relieved of an embarrassment; the offensive items would be relegated to no more approbation than the members’ leather footwear attracts and – like that challenge – the impulse for replacement would be quickened. Better late than never – and opportunities are running out – VEGA urges the Society’s members to exert their muscle to correct its blunders without continuing and festering discredit.


Coffee Shops and Cafés

Starbucks now offer soya milks as alternatives for cow-milk in their teas and coffees, they also promote fairtrade coffee and tea. The present popularity of the coffee shops has attracted some criticism on environmental grounds, but in the milky context Starbucks earns favorable distinction. Costa and EAT have also recently started to sell soya milk alternatives. VEGA asks sympathizers to urge other chains to follow suit. Composting enthusiasts might like to avail themselves of the bags of spent coffee grounds that some Starbucks branches offer for free takeaway. However, the other offerings at these coffee-places don’t come cheap. For information on fairtrade products and issues visit Global Exchange and the UK Food Group.

Exposure to Soya-Based Formulas in Infancy and Endocrinological and Reproductive Outcomes in Young Adulthood.

This subject raised alarms recently over the content of phytoestrogens in baby-foods for the offspring of mothers unable to breast-feed and reluctant to resort to cow-milk formula. The MAFF set up a committee to assess the practice; its work continues under DEFRA and the Food Standards Agency. An American study, just reported (J Amer Medical Society, 15 August 2001), gives a verdict, arrived at by a group of doctors, pediatricians, and epidemiologists with some funding from Ross Products, Nestlé, and Mead Johnson Nutritionals. They conclude: “Exposure to soy formula does not appear to lead to different general health or reproductive outcomes than exposure to cow milk formula. Although the few positive findings should be explored in future studies, our findings are reassuring about the safety of infant soy formula.”

WhiteSun Milk. Pea Protein Instead of Soya

Plamil have launched this non-dairy alternative for abstainers from cow-milk. Pea protein is being generally introduced into the veggie market in place of soya. These are Euro-peas that British farmers could grow and for which no “GM”-modification available at the moment. Peas would contain most of the bioactive compounds present in soya.

WhiteSun goes well with breakfast cereals, but is inclined to curdle with hot tea or coffee. VEGA arranged for Farming Today on BBC Radio 4 a testing of the non-dairy alternatives to cow-milk and its derivatives. The tasting was carried out at the Country Life restaurant in London, to which the reporter had come immediately after a visit to a contemptuous NFU headquarters. WhiteSun came out very well (a confirmatory opinion volunteered independently by VEGA’s president, Dr Alan Stoddard). The reporter also found the soya ice-cream come-back-for-moreable and assures VEGA that he now regularly buys from Sainsbury vegan “yogurts” for him and his family.

Further Information

Visit the Vegan Village for further tips on Vegan recipes and products and Vegeats for vegan and vegetarian restaurants worldwide. For current news debates in the vegan movement you can also contact Vegan Organic and Country Life

Health Claims

A Food Standards Agency group is expected to deliver a verdict on claims allowable on the dairy-frees, which fall into a large grey area of functional foods, nutraceuticals etc between products defined as foodstuffs and as medicaments. Differences may emerge between regulations applying in the USA, Australia, and the UK.

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