The price of peas

Green peas plant-based milk on a white wooden table.

Pea protein is cheap and has a global supply chain. We can all agree on that. However, it might not be as good for people to drink as a replacement for dairy milk, as the multinational companies that are promoting it claim. It’s low quality protein versus high quality protein in dairy products. This seems to be the case in most alternatives to dairy products.

Dairy has been promoting high quality, low cost proteins inherent in milk, but then again, it seems to be a battle of the giants – firms can argue that they’re just giving people what they want when they develop a pea protein based beverage. Or coconut-based product, which, unless you live in a country where coconuts are grown, has to be shipped or flown in to get to your refrigerator.

I feel like consumers often get half the story. The move to get vegan products into people tramples the nutrition and health aspects underfoot – not to mention the actual carbon footprint story of dairy.

Julian Melletin, writing in the upcoming issue of Dairy Industries International, warns about how these non-dairy products offer green credentials, and claim to be carbon neutral. This is also used by other plant-based products as well. He does offer some hope for enlightenment.

He says researchers are looking at a better metric called GWP* (Global Warming Potential), which identifies the different effects of different gases. Methane acts differently in the atmosphere to carbon dioxide (the biggest greenhouse gas, resulting from fossil fuel use). The current methods of calculation risk eliminating practices such as ruminant agriculture that are not causing climate change. Methane is a short-lived flow gas, which breaks down within 10-12 years and is absorbed by pasture, while carbon dioxide is a stock gas that stays in the atmosphere for thousands of years and is the real culprit.

My real fear is that we will wind up looking at consumer health issues 20 or 30 years down the road that could have been prevented through better nutrition and use of dairy products. A thriving global industry that supports local farmers, offers few food miles and proper nutrients could be wrecked by peas and coconuts, and the species and the planet would be worse off as a result. Then those peas would be very costly indeed.

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