Members of Congress are ready to let off some steam and celebrate summer. But instead of attending this year’s International Dairy Foods Association’s annual Capitol Hill Ice Cream Party, they should cool off with a delicious dairy-free ice cream social.
It would certainly be healthier treat than the Capitol Hill Ice Cream Party. Last year, the event served about 1,500 gallons of ice cream to members of Congress—some who might even be co-sponsors of the DAIRY PRIDE Act, which if passed would only allow the word “milk” to be used for products “obtained by the complete milking of one or more hooved mammals.”
But the DAIRY PRIDE Act’s last-ditch effort is not enough to turn the tide on the popularity of plant-based milks ranging from almond, soy, and coconut to pecan, flax, and quinoa. In fact, U.S. nondairy milk sales have grown 61 percent since 2012, while U.S. dairy sales are expected to decline 11 percent between 2015 and 2020.
Why? A recent survey found that 50 percent of U.S. dairy consumers are ditching dairy and choosing alternatives because of health concerns. Thirty-five percent say it’s because of lactose intolerance, 26 percent say dairy sensitivity/allergy, and 24 percent say to reduce saturated fat consumption.
Instead of the DAIRY PRIDE Act, Congress should help dairy producers transition from cow’s milk to plant-based alternatives to meet consumer demand for healthier products. A recent report from Rabobank, which specializes in food and agriculture financing says, “The results over the last five years have favored dairy players who have invested in milk alternatives across the supply chain—from planting almond trees to buying brands.”
Of course, Congress isn’t the only branch of government promoting dairy products. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPlate give the American public the impression that dairy products are mandatory, which is not supported by the body of scientific evidence. Although calcium is an essential nutrient, it is available from many other more healthful foods, such as beans, green leafy vegetables, tofu products, breads, and cereals.
Dairy products harm a significant portion of the U.S. population who suffer from lactose intolerance, which causes bloating, diarrhea, and gas. The National Institutes of Health estimates that 30 million to 50 million American adults are lactose intolerant, including 95 percent of Asians, 60-80 percent of African-Americans and Ashkenazi Jews, 80-100 percent of American Indians, and 50-80 percent of Hispanics.
Scientific evidence also shows that dairy products offer little if any protection for bone health and increase the risk of breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers, cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s disease, cognitive decline, and early death.
What Capitol Hill really needs is an ice cream social like the one Elmhurst, a former dairy, is hosting in New York this weekend. After 92 years of supplying cow’s milk to 8,300 grocers and 1,400 public schools in New York, Elmhurst shut down operations, but reopened and is thriving by selling only dairy-free plant milks.
Even better: The Dietary Guidelines say most individuals in the United States would benefit from increasing their intake of whole fruits and recommends choosing them over ice cream. Congress should skip the dairy industry’s Capitol Hill Ice Cream Party and chill with One-Ingredient Banana Ice Cream instead. Now that would be cool.