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Is Milk a Problem for the Environment?

Milk's Impact on Our Morning Coffee and the Environment
Milk’s Impact on Our Morning Coffee and the Environment

When it comes to daily life, there is always some impact on the environment, including what we might be putting into our morning coffee every day.

Recently, I came across an article describing how bad Almond Milk is for the environment, and I had to wonder, what about Cow Milk? First, however, Almond Milk seems to be one of the more popular go-to substitutes for Cow Milk, in addition to Soy Milk, Coconut Milk, and Hemp Milk, all with different tastes and nutritional benefits. All of these Cow Milk substitutes are similar in that they are non-animal lactose-free and cholesterol-free creamy milk-ish liquids. If you recall the Diamond Nuts slogan, “The Best Nuts Come from California,” then it should come as no surprise that Almond Milk in the United States also comes from California, which produces about a million tons of almonds per year.

According to Capitalism is Freedom, it takes 1.1 gallons of water to produce a single almond, or about which would translate to about 460 gallons of water per pound of almonds. In turn, it takes about two pounds of almonds to make one gallon of Almond Milk, or 920 gallons of water. Considering that California is in the midst of the worst drought in the last century, one might consider this water usage a danger to the environment. Indeed, California’s annual almond crop requires some 966 billion gallons of water, which the State doesn’t have. Then, you can add the pesticides that contaminate the soil and water, and one can see that Almond Milk’s cost to the environment is high, but what about Cow Milk?

Since Cow Milk provides some nutrients that are hard to find in other foods, it remains a major part of many people’s diets, not only in the form of liquid milk, but cheese, ice cream, yogurt, and butter, to name a few. Cows, like all animals, eat and drink, but very little of what they eat goes into the actual production of Cow Milk. According to Natural News, it takes some 2,000 gallons of water to produce one gallon of Cow Milk, roughly twice as much as that required to produce a gallon of Almond Milk. Add in other risks to the environment that cows represent, such as pesticides and greenhouse gas emissions, it comes down to a choice that we have to make, perhaps out of three options.

Recall that, no matter what you choose to eat, there will be a cost. If you have to drink milk, Almond Milk seems to be the lesser of the two evils to the environment, but both Almond Milk and Cow Milk, as well as any other milks, have their cost. Perhaps the best would be to avoid milk altogether, look for proper nutrition from other sources, and drink water, instead.

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  1. 2000 gallons to raise them. It takes 10 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of milk from there on out. You must remember that cows produce milk for years to come, and almonds are one time use. You need to clarify that it takes 2000 gallons to raise them, not to just produce one gallon of milk.

    • I highly doubt that it takes 10 gallons of water/1 gallon of cows mile once they are raised. Is this taking the water needed for their food into consideration?

  2. One point that they did not cover is that the dairy industry is a huge contributor of green house gases. Almond trees breath in CO2, and exhale oxygen. Trees are a carbon sink which is a big plus in their favor.

  3. fredriklinge I suppose it depends on where the water is coming from. Regarding crops watered by the rain, any runoff would still have to be treated for human consumption. On the other hand, some crops, such as the almond crops in California (could be the same for grasses and grains in other places) are watered via irrigation is practiced, and huge quantities of water are diverted.
    In that case, the water cost is huge, and downstream ecosystems are seriously unbalanced.

  4. LoneWolffe I can see that the grasses and other feed consumes water while growing also, but surely, if the milk is organically produced, the water these grasses will consume doesn’t come from a treated, precious water source – it comes from the sky? ..at least that is generally the way grasses grow here in Denmark.. 🙂

  5. fredriklinge True, Bessy may “drink” 150 liters per day, but don’t forget water associated with feeding her, that is, how much water is required to grow the grains and grasses. That’s the high water-price.

  6. It sounds rather extreme that the cow effectively needs 2000 parts water a day to produce one part milk. That would equal to a regular danish cow needing 40 000 liters, or 40 tons of water a day, to produce it’s 20 liters of milk. A high-performing dairy-cow drinks about 150 liters a day. 
    Of course there is the fodder, and some other elements in the equation, but I find it really hard to believe that this should amount to anywhere near 38 500 liters of water a day, per cow. Actually, I would even find it hard to believe that it should amount to more than 100% of the cows direct need for water. 
    How is this calculated? 

    Best regards, 
    Fredrik Linge



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