Evaluating the National Dairy Council’s Vegan Diet claims

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Evaluating the National Dairy Council’s Vegan Diet claims

NDC CEO Zoe Kavanagh
I don't think it's forever. We all know people who have tried the vegan diet but have dropped it because it is too expensive and that there are too many restrictions

Zoe Kavanagh, CEO National Dairy COuncil


The following is a critical response to comments made by National Dairy Council of Ireland (NDC) CEO Zoe Kavanagh in a newspaper article released on March 4th 2019. The article was published in the Farming section of the Irish Independent & features Kavanagh commenting on veganism as being a “passing fad” which “will only last two to three years”. For the purpose of the below response, one must be aware of the clear difference between a Plant-based diet and a vegan diet. The article in question uses both terms interchangeably, but it is integral to long term health that one understands the difference between the two.

The reader should note that the below is not an impassioned piece invoking animal rights, anecdotal arguments or thinly veiled emotional appeal (e.g. We all know, everyone knows etc.) to win or spark a debate. Credible nutritional research is cited and presented alongside various government and media sources to highlight the lasting nature of a mass global long-term shift towards plant-based food products, and a continued decline of the dairy industry. The below directly specifies key points which the NDC press release fails to reference, whether that be by accident or design. All sources are directly linked for clarity.

The claims

Each claim made by NDC and CEO Zoe Kavanagh is stated below counter-arguments which are referenced for further reading. It should again be noted that all claims made in the article are anecdotal at best and no facts, figures, or scientific references are given of any kind to qualify the statements made:

Veganism is a “Passing fad lasting 2 -3 years” Even if one were to completely exclude all credible nutritional research (which is discussed below and throughout this website) veganism is the next big food trend has already been considered to have gone mainstream. A key indicator of its increased future growth is the large scale capital investment into plant-based & animal product alternative startups. Venture capital funds all see veganism and plant-based as a sector poised for explosive growth. It will not simply last 2-3 years.

The diet is “Too expensive” It is claimed that without government and EU intervention via subsidies, most Irish Dairy Farmers would go bankrupt. Without these subsidies, milk would command a higher price, likely reducing demand even further. Notwithstanding the subsidy argument, one should always consider health an investment, not a cost. At the time of writing this article, 1 litre of Avenmore Supermilk milk costs €1.49 in Tesco; 1 Litre of Almond Milk costs €2.49, making it 59% more expensive. One can save money by purchasing dairy milk, but must also consider the longer term consumption consequences. A Swedish study which followed dairy consumption of 100,000 participants over 20 years found that milk drinking women had increased levels of heart disease, cancers and even death with every increased glass of milk. 3 glasses of milk/day was associated twice the risk of death. One must always look at life in the long term and how short term decisions can affect it.

Dairy would beat veganism in a “true debate every day of the week” The sum of all evidence presented in this website (which is referenced to credible, non-commercial sources) refutes this claim regardless of a lack of defined motion or clarity on what a “true debate” actually entails. I am willing to debate any member of the NDC who wishes to engage in what is referred to as a true debate and I am open to any motion put forward.

The bigger picture

Ireland is a country with a long history and tradition of dairy farming. The industry employs over 18,000 dairy farmers who produce over 5.4 billion litres of milk annually. 85% of this output is exported, generating over €3 billion in revenue and making Ireland the 10th largest exporter of dairy in the world. Nutritional arguments aside, the comments of Kavanagh and the NDC highlight an alarming disregard for the global statistics on dairy falling consumption. US dairy consumption has fallen 40% since the 1970s , a trend which is accelerating rapidly with US milk consumption down a further 22% in the last decade. In the UK dairy consumption is down 30% in the last two decades. In January 2019 the Canadian government drastically reduced recommended dairy consumption its new dietary guidelines which provoked a similar response from the Canadian Dairy Industry. Vegan milk is predicted to comprise 50% of the milk industry worldwide in the next 2 years. The NDC has a responsibility to the farmers it represents to at least acknowledge the aforementioned trends. Farmers are dependent on dairy for their livelihood, and as awkward as the conversation may be, the long term viability of their industry and therefore livelihood is very much under threat. Basic commercial logic is to monitor consumer demand and in the case of dairy, demand is in decline. To ensure long term economic survival, the NDC should work alongside farmers to offer alternative strategies or potential income streams outside of dairy.

Key Take-Away

Dairy is an industry in decline and based on the above sources, has been for decades. The National Dairy Council are attempting to halt falling sales as consumers shift to the growing number of plant-based alternatives. Unfortunately for them, they are up against a mass global shift backed by economic & nutritional research, environmental concerns, and even celebrity involvement to name but a few factors. Celebrity involvement should never be a deciding factor in changing one’s diet or lifestyle, but its impact must not be dismissed in this case.

Finally, it is important to note that the National Dairy Council and Zoe Kavanagh are not “evil” nor are they attempting to consciously mislead the public towards health problems. They are simply entities striving to survive in a capitalistic system, and protecting a regular income source is the only method by which to achieve this. Like all humans, they are operating from the best information they have, which in this case is the flawed and outdated health claims on dairy, which were widely accepted for centuries until recent years. The best thing one can do for their health is to educate themselves from credible scientific resources which are independent of commercial interest. Visit our resource guide to learn more.