WE ALL know animal products can create environmental and welfare problems. On the whole, though, many of us simply don’t think about it.
But it is getting tougher to do so. Veganism, which rejects all animal products, is rarely out of the headlines. Likewise its critics: think of Piers Morgan theatrically gagging on live television after biting into a vegan sausage roll and food writer William Sitwell resigning as editor of Waitrose Food magazine after mocking vegans. All this is evidence that the issue is on the public radar.
Until now, most of the pressure over animal products has been piled onto meat and fur. The dairy industry, meanwhile, has largely been let off the hook. In fact, there is emerging evidence that people who quit meat often switch to cheese, suggesting that they see it as less environmentally and ethically troubling.
Dairy is shielded to some extent by a bucolic image of cows grazing happily in fields and trotting off to be milked. This isn’t an image the industry is anxious to dispel. If anything, it actively promotes it in its packaging and marketing. But most of the time the reality is very different (see page 30).
In many respects, dairy industry products – especially cheese and butter – are as bad if not worse than meat when it comes to global warming and animal welfare.
It is tempting to make jokes about big cheese, in the same way that we call out big tobacco and big oil. That would be going too far. But the dairy industry is part of the problem to an extent that most people don’t realise.
Nobody has the right to tell other people what to eat. As a 21st‑century Voltaire might think: “I disapprove of what you eat, but I will defend to the death your right to eat it.” But with rights come responsibilities. We should all choose our diets wisely, in full possession of the facts. ■