Veganism is the fastest growing consumer food trend in history. The trend to veganism is driven by personal preferences around diet which might be influenced by animal welfare concerns, environmental concerns or a view that a plant-based diet is simply healthier than one which contains animal products – that is meat or dairy.
With the increase in veganism and the rapid development of food manufacturing technologies, there is also a greater number of food alternatives available to traditional products like meat and cheese. More and more these products are effectively replicating the taste, smell and feel and cooking characteristics of a good steak or melted cheese on toast.
The trend has many in the livestock industry worried. Does the rise of veganism and replacement food technology pose a real threat to animal based food products, particularly dairy?
In general terms, it seems unlikely. A study by the Tesco supermarket chain in the United Kingdom has shown that while individual consumption of meet products, in particular, has reduced, total meat consumption has remained relatively static. It is estimated that dairy products have something like 98% penetration in British households – a statistic which is likely to be very similar for Australia.
From a health and nutrition perspective, it is quite clear that a balanced diet which includes vegetables, meat and dairy products is the most beneficial for the vast majority of the population. An over-emphasis of any particular component of the balanced diet is likely to lead to specific health problems. In the case of red meat dominated diets for example, that includes intestinal cancers and heart disease. The major health implications for vegans are related to lower amounts of some key micronutrients – vitamins B-12 and D, calcium, and long-chain n-3 (omega-3) fatty acids. A specific health issue which has been documented for vegans is a higher risk of broken bones related to the dietary impacts on bone density and strength. For the vast majority of informed consumers, that means dairy will continue to be an important part of their diet.
Veganism is the fastest growing consumer food trend in history.
It is important that the dairy industry continues to monitor and understand the potential impact of increasing veganism on the sector and to effectively respond to animal welfare and environmental concerns about animal agriculture, as well ass reinforcing the benefits of a healthy, well balanced diet. However, for the foreseeable future it is not likely that veganism will have a substantially negative impact on the dairy sector.