Cows and dairy products have been part of human existence for almost 10,000 years. In this episode, we focus on not taking our 4-legged friends for granted and imagining the nutritional, environmental and social consequences of a world without dairy cattle.
The synergy between humans and cows is deeply rooted in history and year by year, it becomes stronger. Dairy products provide humans with 39 essential nutrients, turning milk into one of the most precious and highly consumed food. In fact, as FAO reports, in 2020 the global milk production reached 860 million tonnes, within that more than 80% was produced by dairy cattle. In addition, despite their unavoidable but decreasing GHG release, cows’ role in the ecosystem and circular bioeconomy is gaining importance. So, what would happen if these animals and consequently dairy products, no longer existed?
The incomparable nutrient richness of cow’s milk
The first consequences to be outlined are those on human health. Though before starting, it is necessary to understand what milk is from a nutritive perspective.
Milk represents one of the most affordable nutrient-dense food for humans whose importance, within a balanced diet, cannot be ignored. Besides being among the largest providers of energy, dairy products also supply significantly high-quality protein and micronutrients, including:
Thanks to this nutrient richness, not only is dairy labelled by FAO as an important component of a healthy diet, but it is also scientifically related to positive health outcomes, clearly displayed in the infographics below:
Therefore, not surprisingly, milk can contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goal “Zero Hunger”, aiming to achieve global food security and poverty reduction through the supply of dairy products, showing itself to be a lifesaver in those regions of the world where high-quality protein is scarce.
With this backdrop, the disappearance of cow’s milk from the human diet would unavoidably mean a decrease in energy and essential nutrients availability, which should be sought in other products, through a careful and detailed eating pattern.
This process could be harder than it seems. In fact, replacing dairy milk with plant-based one, may not measure up nutritionally. For example, almond and rice milk contain, respectively, 98% and 92% less protein than cow’s milk.
The consequences would be even more severe in the world’s poorest nations, where reliable research and valid alternatives to cow’s milk might not be available. The data shows that in developing countries, mainly subsisting on vegetarian diets, the rates of wasting and malnutrition are demonstrably higher than in regions with regular access to dairy. These issues would therefore become more and more prevalent, due to the drastic deterioration of protein quality.
No more cows, no more natural fertilizers
From health implications, we now shift our focus to the environmental considerations. Here there are three main impacts to be explored:
A society without cows: breaking the co-existence after 10.000 years
Among the major impacts of a world without cows, there would also be an aftermath on society, both from an economic and cultural perspective.
Approximately one billion people worldwide derive their livelihoods from dairy farms or the dairy industry and, in many rural regions, cattle are the main source of income.
Dairy farming also contributes to female emancipation. In developing countries, in fact, women can own livestock and are involved in the collection, processing and marketing of dairy products. Moreover, 37 million female leaders run dairy farms around the world.
Therefore, losing dairy cows would also mean threatening a delicate balance within society, leading to severe consequences for the economy, as well.
After witnessing the key role that dairy cattle have been playing for 10.000 years and the dramatic impact of their disappearance from our planet, our biggest advice is to be grateful for your precious herd and take the maximum care of them. Remember that healthy and well-treated cows provide a high-quality milk for equally outstanding products, and this Italian farm is a perfect example. Make also sure not to miss our next blog episode, it will be helpful, too!
Date: 22 February 2021