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Oat and soy milks are planet friendly, but not as nutritious as cow milk

Producing a single liter of cow’s milk requires about 9 square meters of land and about 630 liters of water. That’s the area of two king-size beds and the volume of 10.5 beer kegs. The process of making a liter of dairy milk also generates about 3.2 kilograms of greenhouse gases.

With milk’s global popularity, those costs are enormous. In 2015, the dairy sector generated 1.7 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases, roughly 3 percent of human-related greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.

Making plant-based milks — including oat, almond, rice and soy — generates about one-third of the greenhouse gases and uses far less land and water than producing dairy milk, according to a 2018 report in Science.

Fueled by a growing base of environmentally conscious consumers, a slew of plant-based milks has entered the market. According to SPINS, a company that collects data on natural and organic products, $2.6 billion of plant-based milks were sold in the United States in 2021. That’s a 33 percent growth in dollar sales since 2019. “Food industries have realized that consumers… want change,” says food scientist David McClements of the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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