Dairy Products

In agriculture, dairy production is a large economic sector. Arla is one of the largest dairy groups in the world. Thirty years ago, there were 37,000 farmers producing 5.5 billion liters of milk in Denmark. There are now 3,500 farmers left, producing almost as much dairy products. The production of dairy products increases the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. The following is good to know for a conscious consumption of dairy products.

  • Cattle only live on grass. However, there is a limit to how much milk a cow can produce on grass food alone.
  • The production and consumption of milk has decreased by as much as 31% since 1995. This is good from an environmental point of view.
  • In 2019, approximately 730 million liters of milk were produced in Sweden. We also drink almost 1.5 liters of milk per person / week. This corresponds to 70 liters per person / year.
  • Dairy products come from cows that emit methane gasses, which have a negative impact on the climate.
  • Consuming dairy products in moderation is therefore preferable. Nowadays, there are also several herbal alternatives to cow’s milk; oat milk, soy milk, rice milk and almond milk to name a few.
Climate impact
  • Together with crops, we also import a lot of nitrogen and it is our soils that have to take care of the nitrogen. This can lead to major emission problems. Nitrates are washed out into the soil and ammonia is spread in the air. The nitrates can also reach our groundwater, which then becomes nitrite in our bodies which is a suspected carcinogen.
  • Milk production causes emissions of the greenhouse gas methane from the cows’ feed digestion and from the storage of liquid manure.
  • Nitrous oxide is also emitted from the production of mineral fertilizer nitrogen, storage of manure and from the ground.
  • In the Netherlands, the earth is so burdened that the government threatens to ban milk production.
  • Huge areas of rainforest are cut down to grow soy for animal production in Europe. It is problematic to say the least. Read more about soy as feed here. In addition, cows can only absorb 1/3 of the energy in soy or grains. From a global perspective, we waste enormous resources by feeding cows grain to gain higher milk yields.
  • In Swedish milk production, one kilo of milk gives rise to about 1.5 kilos of greenhouse gasses and there is no major difference between organic and conventional milk. However, it differs when looking at the aspects of biodiversity and ecotoxicity – where organic farming shows more positive results.
  • In the case of organic KRAV-certified production, however, the feed must be organic, which means that the use of plant protection products and fertilizers is less than in conventional cultivation.
  • Oatmilk affects the environment less than cow’s milk, because less land is required. The oatmilk also does not need cattle to manufacture its product, shows a scenario analysis from SLU.
  • Hard cheese has a greater climate impact per kilo of finished cheese than milk, as much as 10-15 kilos of greenhouse gasses. This is because ten kilos of milk are needed to produce one kilo of cheese.
  • Packaging and transport from the store to the home are also important for the climate impact of dairy products.
Fair trade
  • The EU spends € 45 billion on agriculture every year. And instead of securing our own food production, we now have a large surplus of dairies in Europe. Hence we try to export milk to other parts of the world.
  • In order to export the milk as efficiently as possible, it is converted into a dry product in an energy-intensive conversion process. It enters new markets as a cheap product and takes out small farmers in, for example, China and Africa.
  • Researchers have found that the decisive factor in the war on hunger is not high productivity but access to food and the opportunities for local production. The best way to meet this is small farms around the world.
Advice for conscious consumption of dairy products
  • Replace cow’s milk with alternatives made of oats, rice, soy or almonds.
  • Otherwise, choose organic and locally produced dairy products.
  • Dairy products can be intensively processed and contain many additives. If you do not want to pay for water and additives, you should avoid flavored products and light varieties.
  • Choose products with a small proportion of packaging. The classic milk packaging that looks like a brick is preferable to the newer oblong packaging and packaging with plastic cork.
  • When sorting packaging with a screw cap: sort the screw cap as plastic packaging and the packaging as paper packaging.


Page updated 2021.