As part of its campaign calling for climate labelling on all food and drink products in the UK, Oatly recently hosted a debate where it invited a “Big Dairy Executive” to explain their stance on the subject.
Despite the spot being open to dairy executives from across the EU, and the 26 million views received by Oatly’s campaign launch video on social media, the company received just one response from the dairy industry — and it wasn’t from an executive.
“Sadly, no Big Dairy execs wanted to talk about climate footprint labelling with us”
Bryce Cunningham is a farmer from Mossgiel Organic Farm in Ayrshire, Scotland, who told the Daily Record that he “felt that Oatly’s claims were unjustified”. Mossgiel is working to reduce its carbon emissions, with the aim of reaching net zero by December 2025. The farm does not use single-use plastic and claims to have high animal welfare standards, which include raising its cows on pasture.
Rise of zero-grazing
While these efforts are commendable, it is clear that Mossgiel does not represent the dairy industry as a whole; a DEFRA survey in 2011 (cited in a report by World Animal Protection) indicated that just 30% of UK dairy farms graze cows outside in the warmer months. Intensive “zero-grazing” farms, housing hundreds or even thousands of cows that never graze at all, are becoming ever more common; the government does not publish official figures on this subject, but research into planning applications (also cited in the World Animal Protection report) has found 97 confirmed zero-grazing farms across the UK and a further 43 suspected operations.
Furthermore, studies consistently indicate that the environmental impact of plant milks is far lower than dairy. According to research from the University of Oxford, dairy typically requires more than ten times as much land as oat milk, while generating more than three times as many emissions.
“Big Dairy needs to change”
“We feel let down by our industry in that Oatly invited the ‘suits’ and ‘big wigs’ to take part in this event, but none showed up so we felt obliged to compete,” Cunningham told the Daily Record. “With climate change on everyone’s agenda, and sustainability at the forefront of the mind of the consumer, it’s never been so important to have these discussions in an open forum.”
Oatly clarified that Cunningham had applied only to take part in the climate labelling debate, not for the free advertising space the brand is offering to any “Big Dairy” producer willing to publish its climate footprint numbers.
“Sadly, no Big Dairy execs wanted to talk about climate footprint labelling with us,” said Caroline Reid, Director of Sustainability EMEA at Oatly. “However, we did get one reply from Farmer Bryce who runs a small dairy farm in Scotland. Whilst an oat drink company and a cow’s milk company might not agree on everything, there is one thing we do agree on: Big Dairy, and our food system, needs to change. We’ve offered to pay for Farmer Bryce’s Product Climate Calculation for being cool enough to reach out to us in the first place. So, whilst he isn’t the Big Dairy exec this whole campaign was aimed at, we were delighted to discuss openly with him all things climate footprint labelling and his thoughts on a food system that works for both people and planet.”