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Farmers 'concerned' about rise in plant-based milk alternatives

Cows grazing near one of the Bath & West entrances

Dairy farmers in the South West say they're worried about the rise in sales of plant-based milk alternatives and are urging shoppers to support local milk producers.

It follows new research by Mintel which found one in four shoppers are now trying things like soya milk.

Last night the region's biggest farming event came to an end at the Bath & West showground with calls from the industry to 'shout from the rooftops' about the health and environmental benefits of dairy products - in the face of claims being made by the promoters of plant-based alternatives.

Figures on ‘alt-milk’ compiled by market analysts Kantar and published by AHDB Dairy show the non-dairy market is still a tiny fraction of the dairy one -  about 4.4% by volume and ten per cent by price with 651,000 litres vs 14.8 million litres and £269m vs £3bn.

Soya products retail at around £1 a litre, about twice the price of a litre of whole milk at 48p - with oat drink more than three times the price at £1.80.

Research from Mintel, published earlier this year, found that although interest in plant-based products had increased with 23 per cent of shoppers trying them at least once, It found 97 per cent of consumers still drank milk in the first three months of 2019.

Speaking at the Dairy Show Andrew Branton, chairman of the South West NFU’s regional dairy board, said: "The show is a great opportunity to showcase the best of dairy. 

"The nutritional value of milk when it is sold at less than half the price of so-called alternatives should be shouted from the rooftops.

"Amongst other health benefits, milk provides 74 per cent of the recommended daily amount (RDA) of vitamin B12, 31 per cent of our calcium RDA and 14 per cent of our protein RDA (based on 200ml of semi-skimmed milk). Source: Dairy UK

"The environment is often cited as a reason to try an alternative to milk, but plant-based drinks are often produced using imported products and industrial processes, despite the wholesome scenes depicted on the cartons.

"A report from the All Party Parliamentary Dairy Group highlighted how the environmental benefit of plant-based products is often misunderstood.

"To say a reduction in dairy consumption equals a reduction in environmental impact is too simplistic, as the environmental impact of food substitutes also needs to be taken into account. 

"There is a real risk of replacing dairy with nutrient-poor products, high in calories and with an important environmental cost."

Click play to hear Alex Stevens, the South West regional policy adviser for the National Farmers' Union, speaking to reporter Tom Owen

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