Why is there milk in everything?

When first switching to a plant-based diet, you might find yourself hovering in supermarket aisles checking ingredients lists… but to your surprise, you may find yourself putting your favourite bag of chips back on the shelf, after finding some form of milk listed in the ingredients…

So why do so many unexpected products contain dairy? There are a few reasons for this. You might be thinking one of those reasons is because the milk products add flavour or improve the product somehow, but most often, this is not the case.
Did you know, a lot of ‘non-dairy creamers’ contain milk?!
Milk Powder
Before we get into it… What is a ‘subsidy’? A subsidy is a sum of money granted by the government or a public body to assist an industry so that the price of a commodity or service may remain low or competitive. So what does that mean for dairy? And what has this got to do with my Doritos? Let’s start with a brief history…

Overproduction In The US

Similar to the UK, during WWII the U.S massively increased their production of dairy to help feed their armies. Farmers practically upended their businesses to become part of the dairy industry, clearing crops from their farms and focusing on producing dairy to meet the demands brought on by the war.
Bettmann Archive: Getty Images 2
When the war ended they were left with a huge surplus of milk and little demand for it. The government-subsidised the industry by purchasing the surplus that dairy farmers could not sell. And the demand continued to rise because there was no limit to how much farmers could sell to the government.
Over demand
By the 1980s the US government was spending $2 billion a year buying surplus dairy and turning it into cheese, butter and dehydrated milk powder and storing it. As dairy farmers produced more and more milk, stockpiles ballooned. As anthropologist Bradley N. Jones notes, eventually the stockpile hit over 500 million lbs, stored in hundreds of warehouses in 35 states. *2

Dairy Laws In Europe

In the late 20th century, the EEC (now the EU) was an organisation that controlled pricing, subsidies and common rules concerning competition for agricultural markets. Essentially, they were able to:
  1. Make sure the price of dairy remained consistent,
  2. allocate government funds to make sure dairy was profitable for farmers and
  3. to create rules that meant the competition would not become a problem.
Some of these rules included (and still apply today) making sure the use of words like cheese, milk, yogurt and cream was only used for dairy milk. And if the dairy was not bovine (i.e. from cows) such as goat’s milk and sheep’s cheese, they could not, by law, simply write ‘milk’ or ‘cheese’ on the packaging.
Credit sergeyryzhov

“In 1968 the EEC introduced Regulation (EEC) No 804/68 on “the common organisation of the market in milk and milk products”.[1] It was noted that “intervention measures” were necessary to “enable the best return to be obtained from milk proteins.” Provision was made for the EEC to purchase milk, butter, cheese, skimmed-milk powder and casein at an “intervention price,” and dispose of it in a way that would not interfere with the ‘balance of the market’, including by storing it and marketing it on special terms.

What does this mean? …well in other words, these regulations outlined that the EEC (European governments) should:

  1. Buy surplus dairy from dairy farmers and get rid of it without selling it to the public (because selling to the public would interfere and reduce the overall value of dairy, making it less profitable for dairy farmers).
  2. Do special marketing for the dairy industry at the cost of the taxpayer
  3. Guarantee sales for dairy farmers
If the dairy industry or governments around the world were to simply sell this surplus dairy to the public, they know this would affect the price of milk overall and reduce its value. So instead, many governments agreed to purchase it and offload it to other food manufacturers.
Milk Manufacturer

What Has This Got To Do With My Snacks?

During the inception of many snacks products as we know them today, governments from around the world were offering manufacturers dairy products at incredibly low prices, making it more profitable for these manufacturers to use dairy in their seasoning and binders than plant-based ingredients.

The Bottom Line

If a producer of snacks (like crips for example), is offered dairy milk from the government very cheaply, or perhaps even free, using that milk rather than a plant-based flavour binder is going to have a positive impact on their bottom line profit.

“...such industrial uses (of dairy) must compete with very cheap industrial products, such as cellulose (plant fiber), soybean protein, etc., and unless such products replace some expensive products heretofore used, the economics of such utilization may not be sound.”

American Dairy Association in October 1945 (How to support the dairy industry and utilise dairy products in a post-war)
To this day, almost every government in the world subsidizes its dairy industry in some way, making milk products (like milk powder & whey powder) unproportionately cheap when compared to plant-based products like soy.

So, next time you are at the supermarket, only to find yet another product unnecessarily containing dairy, you can now take comfort knowing it’s the world’s government’s making this happen, not the snack producer…. Oh wait, that is not comforting at all…

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