A TIDE of veganism is rising amongst younger consumers – and unless the UK dairy industry does more to bolster its healthy image, it risks being swallowed up.

Speakers at this week’s Semex dairy conference in Glasgow were unanimous that the anti-dairy messages being tied up with 'healthy' lifestyle fads had to be vigorously countered if the industry was to have a viable future.

Trade body Dairy UK declared itself up for the fight, with its chief executive, Dr Judith Bryan, announcing to delegates that it, along with AHDB, was launching a £1.2m dairy promotion campaign in tube and railway stations from next month: “We need to put dairy on the front foot,” she stressed, urging dairy farmers themselves to take to social media and twitter to champion their case.

Dr Judith Capper, a livestock sustainability consultant – and winner of the Dairy Industry of the Year award last year – noted that while the number of people professing to be vegans had grown by 261% between 2006 and 2016 to around 542,000, this still accounted for less than 1% of the population.

She stated: “But this is not getting way from the fact that they have very loud voices, very vocal and keen to put their message over. There is a need in the dairy sector for some myth-busting. If consumers don’t buy our products – milk, cream, butter, cheese etc – we will not have a dairy industry in five to 10 years."

But Dr Capper added that she was against opposing the vegan movement head on – that would, she said, only allow anti-dairy campaigners to set the agenda and leave the industry constantly on the back foot.

What was needed was strong representation of the industry’s health and environmental message, which would put the industry in the driving seat. However, she admitted that it would be no simple task to counter much of the graphic, and sometimes ill-founded messages which were being put about.

“For every negative piece of information which is put out, five positive ones are needed to counteract it,” she said.

NFU Scotland vice-president, Gary Mitchell, welcomed the Dairy UK move but questioned whether levy body, AHDB – which, it emerged, also part-funded the £1.2m campaign – was doing enough to promote the sector.

He said: “Is the levy money being taken from producers being used wisely? I’m not 100% sure. I don’t need people telling me how to rear calves. There are plenty consultants out there and organisations like the Scottish Dairy Hub who can help us on practical points, such as how to look after our calves.”

Professor Patrick Wall, professor of public health at Dublin University, questioned who was actually funding the vegan campaign, and highlighted the widely spread social media claim that two glasses of milk a day 'leads to an early death', and the 'fashion' of having an allergy to milk.

Said Prof Wall: “We also have a US firm going into production next year with a cow-free milk product called Perfect Day. It is animal-free milk. They have cut out the middle-man, as in the cow.

"Milk is a natural product that comes straight out of the cow, then we add vitamins and minerals to it. When does it stop being a wholesome natural product and become a processed food? This is something to watch,” he said.