The Third Session of the 13th National People's Congress will be held on May 22, according to a May 21 report in “NEWSCHINA.” Li Cuizhi is a representative of the National People's Congress and director of the quality inspection and control center of Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group Limited by Share Ltd. A national “Lifetime Milk Drinking” strategy is part of the national strategy to provide milk for all students from kindergarten to high school. It is also proposed that the cross-border e-commerce tax rate be equated with the general trade tax rate. Infant formula milk powder should be removed from the cross-border e-commerce list.
Milk for All, "Lifetime Milk Drinking" is a shocking food policy proposal. The harsh lesson of the COVID-19 epidemic is that a single enterprise cannot bear the human cost, social cost, and incalculable economic losses of public health or ecological crisis. That is why we believe that all initiatives relating to public health, especially children's health, must be based on the best scientific research available today and on our country's dietary traditions as the basis, especially at the national strategic level.
Based on current empirical research in nutrition and ecological sustainability, we have good reason to worry that if Li's proposal is adopted, it will significantly increase the risks of China's public health and environment, compromise our efforts to improve the health of the entire population, save energy and reduce emissions, and run counter to the construction of ecological civilization and "The Healthy China 2030" plan.
First, at the public health level, we can look at the latest research from the world's leading scholars. Professor Walter Willett, a top authority on nutrition and former head of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard University, and his colleague published the paper "Milk and Health" on February 13, 2020, in the prestigious health journal “The New England Journal of Medicine.” The article states that milk is not an essential food for everyone—instead, it has nutritional benefits and risks. Milk is healthier than red meat and high-sugar drinks but not as healthy as foods of plant origin.
Therefore, the paper recommends that in countries and regions where the majority of food production is capable of providing human nutrition regularly, people should choose foods of plant origin (such as tofu, nuts, beans, broccoli, etc.) that give the same nutrition but with less risk so that they can avoid milk's adverse effects on the body. For example, adults associated with high intakes of milk have a higher risk of fracturing their bones and developing certain cancers. As a result, Chinese society has evolved to the point where milk's nutrition is unilaterally emphasized, but its risks are ignored. Milk is packaged as a "lifelong" good drink for all. However, it is not healthy for the body, while it may only benefit the businesses as it increases business revenues.
Additionally, nutrients aren't all that's needed to be healthy. For example, almost all wildlife products may contain some beneficial nutrients, but that doesn't mean that eating wild animals leads to good health. Another example is that when we read a nutrition label, there are no antibiotics or hormones listed. Still, these harmful substances affect our bodies and the environment (and thus become environmental toxins that continue to harm our health).
In the case of milk, how cows are farmed is also very impactful. The density of animals in industrial farming systems is so high that there is an increased risk of infectious diseases and antibiotic abuse. If we continue to increase the number and density of domestic animals to provide milk for everyone, we will start to develop a public health crisis.
Secondly, industrial cattle farming is one of the most significant contributors to climate change. This is a fact that has been repeated over and over again in countless scientific studies and at global climate change forums. If the world's farmed cattle were to form a single nation, they would rank third among all nations in terms of carbon emissions, which is higher than the carbon emissions of all the world's fuel-using vehicles combined.
As we all know, China has made a solemn commitment to reduce its carbon emissions and has worked very hard to do so. The government, industry, and the public have been working collaboratively in industrial sectors, such as the clean energy, to mitigate carbon emissions. At a time like this, promoting such a high-carbon emission industry as dairy farming would make the country's energy conservation and emission reduction much less effective. It's also disrespectful to the efforts of other industries attempting to reduce the use of energy.
Third, from the Chinese traditional dietary culture, from ancient times to the present, the Han people have never formed the habit of drinking milk. Ancient Chinese books have often mentioned animal milk, but it is often used as medicine. The milk of different animals is carefully divided into cool and warm, but it has never been stated that everyone should drink milk, especially liquid milk.
Therefore, the current way of drinking milk for the Han culture is a foreign custom or the result of the industrial food system's transformation of our food culture. There is no native cultural dynamic for all people to drink milk in China. Furthermore, many studies have shown that lactose intolerance is an overwhelming problem among most of the world's ethnic populations, including those in East Asia. Scholars have further argued that "lactose intolerance" is a common and normal human condition (unlike mammals that do not drink milk after growing up). The reason it is perceived as a "problem" is the result of Western-centric thinking.
The so-called "one glass of milk strengthens a nation" makes a simplistic correlation between the tall physique of white people in developed Western countries and dairy products, but ignores the fact that the people of India, often considered "underdeveloped" in South Asia, also have a long-standing culture of milk consumption (though this culture has been built on the natural harmony of "Ayurveda" rather than in the idea of industrial production). Drinking liquid milk directly is a relatively new habit, even among white people in northern Europe and North America. They live in the frigid regions where dairy products are traditionally used. Professor Walter Willett's nutritional research shows that the countries with the highest milk consumption also have the highest fracture rates among adults (bones that are more fragile rather than "stronger").
Fourth, if it were made a policy, universal milk consumption would be a denial and restriction of the public's right to green consumption. In summary, the public has the right to make choices based on knowledge of the health and environmental risks brought by milk. For many people concerned about the health and environmental risks, who are "lactose intolerant" and have more healthy plant-based food choices, it is crucial to be aware of milk's health and environmental risks and make informed choices. They have the right to say no to dairy products.
Of course, other people should also have the right to consume milk. But once "milk for all" becomes a national strategy, the dairy industry will likely seize valuable public resources, making healthier and less risky agricultural products lose policy support, including funding and, most importantly, valuable agricultural resources. With arable land and freshwater resources becoming increasingly scarce in China and worldwide, shouldn't we make way for healthier, smaller carbon footprints and more biodiversity-rich food production instead of dairy farming?
Fifthly, universal milk consumption would significantly increase the risk to our food security and food sovereignty. It is evident that humans cannot have enough pasture to provide for such vast numbers of cows. Therefore, large-scale industrial farming relies heavily on forage farming. With limited arable land, we must first ensure human rations rather than using precious land resources to grow fodder crops. As a result, we are bound to become heavily dependent on imports for our feed crops, which will pose a considerable risk to food security and food sovereignty.
On this point, the wisdom of our ancestors is available for reference: an important reason why the Chinese diet is traditionally vegetarian is that we are farmers, we are bound to the land, and we want to use our most precious agricultural resources to produce human food directly, not to grow fodder to feed animals to feed people. This is a more inefficient way to support human beings. To this day, thinking this way about coexisting with nature is still reasonable from the perspective of a "community of human destiny.”
Sixth, globally, we see that milk consumption in Europe and the United States is on the decline. More and more people are drinking less milk and eating less beef for health and environmental reasons. For example, at the University of Cambridge, carbon-intensive red meat is no longer provided in the canteens (excluding residential colleges).
On the other hand, the global dairy industry (including Chinese dairy companies) has also realized that in the future construction of ecological civilization, the living space of milk products will gradually shrink, so attempts have been made to transform plant milk production. As a result, we see that China has taken the lead in the field of new energy, putting them ahead of other countries in many respects. However, in the food sector, is it really necessary for us to promote "milk for all" and do more to support an industry gradually declining in developed regions?
The sustainability and healthy development of food enterprises cannot be separated from ecological sustainability, even in their development. Advocating that the whole population drink milk, which contradicts the future theme of "health" and "environmental protection," will only increase the enterprises' policy risks. In the event of public health or environmental crisis, the results would be disastrous for the industry, especially for the small and medium-sized farmers held hostage by big businesses.
In summary, promoting milk for all as a public policy is poor behavior: it is selfish, short-sighted, and puts commercial interests ahead of human and planetary health. History will prove that giving up the extremely rich plant-based diet—which the Chinese people are so proud to be a part of—to consuming animal products produced by industrial farming would be a health disaster, an ecological disaster, a cultural and economic disaster.
We call on dairy and related enterprises to change their mindset, take public health and ecological sustainability as the core values of corporate development, and seek real long-term growth. We call on the government to fully evaluate public health risks and ecological risks in food policies based on science, reject "milk for all" and "lifelong drinking milk" for the public’s benefit. We also call on the public to actively participate and speak out for the sustainable future of ecological civilization, healthy China, and a community with a shared future for humankind.
There is no way to let the entire nation drink milk for the rest of their lives!