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How will dairy fit into personal and planetary goals this year?

Casey Kinler for Progressive Dairy Published on 09 January 2021

The new year brings a renewed focus on personal and planetary goals, as many people strive to make choices they believe are healthier for themselves and the environment. Many will pledge to start exercising, use less water, save money, recycle plastics or eat better. New Year’s resolutions are all about a commitment to continuous improvement, which is something the U.S. dairy community strives toward year-round.

In 2017, the environmental impact of producing a gallon of milk required 30% less water, 21% less land and a 19% smaller carbon footprint compared to 2007. How far we’ve come is just as important as where we are going. The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy has also set goals to guide the dairy industry on a sustainable path into the future. By 2050, dairy will become carbon neutral or better, optimize water use while maximizing recycling, and improve water quality by optimizing utilization of manure and nutrients. Despite these efforts and goals, dairy is often misrepresented in sustainability and nutrition conversations nationally and abroad.

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The EAT Forum and the Lancet medical journal formed the EAT-Lancet Commission to find “a healthy diet within planetary boundaries.” In early 2019, the commission prescribed a global diet severely limiting meat and dairy consumption, drastically departing from U.S. dietary guidance. One of the recommendations included consuming no more dairy than one cup of milk (or its equivalent of other dairy products) per day. Evident from its recommendations, the EAT-Lancet Commission comprises a small group of researchers and does not represent a global consensus of scientific experts in animal agriculture, nutrition or sustainability. Many experts spoke out against the commission’s claims, however, that didn’t stop the report from getting significant attention. Not only did animal rights activist groups latch onto the report’s claims, but now we are seeing studies cite the EAT-Lancet report in their research, giving it more credibility than it deserves.

This year, the United Nations (U.N.) secretary-general will convene a Food Systems Summit to “launch bold new actions to transform the way the world produces and consumes food.” The event includes five action tracks: “Ensure access to safe and nutritious food for all; shift to sustainable consumption patterns; boost nature-positive production; advance equitable livelihoods; and build resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stress.” Each of these focus areas is a noble cause that deserves attention, but how animal agriculture is represented on this global stage depends on how the leaders of the discussions define terms such as “nature-positive.” While the commission’s report got a lot wrong, the U.N. Food Systems Summit has the potential to drive meaningful conversation and find solutions rather than pointing fingers – if animal agriculture leaders and scientific experts are able to take a seat at the table and engage in these important discussions.

The U.N. secretary-general has said, “It is unacceptable that hunger is on the rise at a time when the world wastes more than 1 billion tons of food every year. It is time to change how we produce and consume, including to reduce greenhouse emissions.” Last year, the world was exposed to COVID-19, which exacerbated pre-existing crises – including the hunger crisis. More than 50 million people may have faced food insecurity in 2020 due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Feeding America. To many – but not the dairy community – the issue of food insecurity was a foreign concept until the pandemic brought it to the forefront.

In addition to caring about the environment, the U.S. dairy community has been caring about providing nourishment to families for years. Through efforts like the Great American Milk Drive and the 10-gallon challenge and partnerships with GenYouth and the National Football League, the dairy community is working hard to do its part to help with hunger. Dairy is protein-packed with nine essential nutrients but is often underscored by dairy-free imitators claiming to have better nutrition and less of an environmental impact. I hope the Food Systems Summit will jumpstart initiatives to solve the hunger crisis and address food waste, while providing guidance on how to effectively combat climate change. Time will tell if this event puts animal agriculture in a negative light or invites us to the table.

How animal agriculture is portrayed at global events will affect conversations and decisions at the local level. It could be a friend in your Facebook feed re-sharing an article about going vegan for the month of January, your hometown elementary school adopting Meatless Mondays or your city’s mayor signing a resolution riddled with misinformation about dairy. While many people have good intentions, there are unintended consequences of stripping dairy from the diet, especially for those already facing hunger and malnourishment. We cannot all be part of global dialogues, but we can do our part in our communities to engage about dairy. For your New Year’s resolution, pledge to join local conversations about dairy nutrition and sustainability. Click here for resources to help you stick to your resolution.  end mark

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References omitted but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

Casey Kinler is the director of membership and marketing at Animal Agriculture Alliance.

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