A new survey commissioned by the European Milk Forum (EMF) found more than half of respondents (52.5%) believe their health and wellbeing would be negatively affected if dairy products were suddenly no longer available.
The survey results are being published by the Dairy Council for Northern Ireland as part of their EU Sustainable Dairy Programme to illustrate the role that dairy products play in a nutritious sustainable diet.
It was also found that 63% of Northern Ireland consumers believe the dairy sector can help feed the world in a sustainable way and over half (56%) believe the sector plays an important role in creating a more sustainable future. This sustainability is evident in the local dairy sector which has reduced the carbon intensity of producing a litre of milk by over a third since 1990 and the sector is continuing to work to improve its environmental credentials further through efficiencies, applied research and adopting new technology at both the farm and processing stages.
The United Nations has defined the four pillars that make up a sustainable diet as: Health, Economics, Society and Environment with all four playing their part in ensuring the diet is nutritious, affordable, environmentally sustainable, and culturally appropriate.
As Northern Ireland moves towards a carbon neutral society to meet future climate change commitments, consumers are becoming more aware of the impact their purchasing decisions are having on the environment. Environment is only one of the dimensions to look at when trying to achieve a sustainable diet. The nutritional benefits of dairy products are hard to replicate through other food groups and removing them can often lead to more expensive diets and poorer nutrient intake.
Dairy Council NI Nutritionist Dr Carole Lowis explains,
“Dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese are very rich in nutrients and make an important contribution to a healthy sustainable diet. In Northern Ireland the dairy food group is the largest contributor to intakes of calcium, iodine, vitamin B2 and vitamin B12, supplying around a third for adults and even more in children and teenagers.
“Around 55% of iodine intake for children aged 4–10 comes from dairy produce and it is also an important provider of protein, potassium, and zinc. These nutrients cannot be easily replaced, and some are already in short supply – for example, a fifth of teenage girls don’t get enough calcium and vitamin B2, and a quarter have very low intakes of iodine. A fine balance needs to be struck when tailoring a low carbon, environmentally friendly diet – we can’t lose sight of the need for a diet which provides the necessary nutrients for a balanced healthy lifestyle when considering sustainability.
“Dairy therefore has an important role to play in a sustainable diet that is healthy, acceptable and affordable.”
The survey also found that while many NI consumers place importance on the environmental credentials of their food, quality and taste is of higher importance. When respondents were asked what the most important factors are when purchasing food, 64% answered taste and only 22% said carbon footprint.
Launching the survey results, Chief Executive from the Dairy Council Dr Mike Johnston MBE said,
“Environmental sustainability is linked to economic and social sustainability, which is of vital importance in maintaining vibrant rural communities and livelihoods. There around 3,200 dairy farming families and over 2,200 people employed by dairy processors across Northern Ireland, the sector is worth almost £1.5 billion annually to the Northern Ireland economy.
“As well as producing high quality, nutritious food, Northern Ireland dairy farmers are responsible for countryside management. Improvements and investments in new technologies by farmer and processors has led to a 34% reduction in the carbon intensity of a litre of milk since 1990. The sector is confident it can continue to reduce emissions through sustained collaboration with local scientists and advisors at AFBI and CAFRE, implementing the latest research and investing in new technology.”
See more on sustainability dairy here
The contributions of dairy to the NI diet can be seen here