Saturday, June 5, 2010


Milk, from which ever sources it comes, has been recognized as a food par excellence though those who are vegans probably may disagree with such a conclusion. But when it comes to man-made milk from agricultural ingredients, comparisons are invariably made with milk from cattle and it is unfair to expect that any man-made milk can replace "nature's own milk" in terms of nutrition and healthiness. It is unlikely that milk from cow or buffalo will ever be displaced in the diet of humans, especially children by soy milk or any other artificial milk like product. There are of course some advantages for soy milk because of the high nutrition content of the bean, especially in terms of phyto nutrients and unsaturated fatty acids.

Manufacturers of plant based milk preparations like soy milk have an economic stake in raising doubts about animal milk and the debate that is raging in Europe and the United States, between the advocates of animal milk and soy milk, can at best be termed as ridiculous. It is true that dramatic increase in soy milk consumption is happening in many countries during the last three years and the soy beverage market has been able to move from the confines of natural food stores into the supermarket chains. The double digit growth of soy milk industry in some countries can be the envy of others. The debate appears to be wandering into not so relevant issues like social justice, attitudes toward animals and the environment, the dangers of genetic engineering of soy, use of hormones for acceleration of milk production in cows etc.

"World Milk Day" is being celebrated all over the world and this occasion is used to stress on the importance of milk in human nutrition. Though a significant segment of the population in some countries, especially in the Orient prefer soy milk over animal milk and there are many who cannot consume the latter because of lactose intolerance. Deficiency of the enzyme Lactase causes such intolerance syndrome and soy milk is the only other alternative. Casein based synthetic milk is commercially produced for whitening tea and coffee beverages but casein is a component derived from animal milk.

Activists belonging to the "People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)", a world wide voluntary service organization striving to sensitize human beings about the importance of being considerate to animals have launched a counter campaign appealing people to desist from consuming animal milk. According to them milk is produced by a mother for its off springs and not for others to enjoy and nourish. This may sound outlandish to many sensible people but there is some substance in the arguments of PETA that humans are invariably "inhuman" to animals bordering on persecution. Probably industry dealing with animals for milk, egg or meat must revamp its current handling practices to accommodate and respect the views and sensibilities of animal lovers. The argument by PETA that milk is harmful to humans flies in the face of mountains of well documented scientific studies that milk is the most complete food humans can have. The health afflictions cited as reason for shunning milk are not because of milk per se but due to over indulgence and can happen with any food consumed by man.

Even if plant based milk like products are able to capture the market beyond the current 1% share, it is a question of time before consumers return to animal milk, just like the realization that mother's milk is the best for the infants. The milk production in India which crossed the 100 million ton mark recently offers a valuable lesson to the western countries in that decentralized production through millions of dairy cattle owners is the only answer to all the problems being faced by them as cited above. There is nothing like an integrated agricultural farm with a few milk yielding cattle, be it cows or buffaloes, reared under humane conditions with high personal care, with the dairy industry, whether cooperative or private, providing ready out let to the market for the fluid milk at remunerative prices.Surely a product like soy milk has no chance against such a formidable rival as the cattle milk in a country like India.


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