Tomas Pietrangeli has been head of Arla UK since April 2016.
The CEO of Arla UK has attacked the so-called ‘scare stories’ used to discourage consumers from enjoying dairy-based foods.
Defending the virtues of dairy, Tomas Pietrangeli said that milk was “a unique, natural and nutritious product that plays an important part in our diets”.
It comes after a National Osteoporosis Society survey found that nearly a fifth of UK consumers aged under 25 had sought to reduce the amount of dairy in their diets, adding weight to earlier research that discovered almost a fifth of 16 to 24-year-olds claimed to be intolerant to cow’s milk.
But the charity warned consumers against cutting dairy out of their diets entirely, saying the lack of calcium could have serious consequences on bone health in later life. Consumers who avoid dairy are more likely to have weak bones, and more vulnerable to breaks and fractures in the future, the society said.
Now Pietrangeli, writing on LinkedIn, has urged everybody involved with the industry to ‘get our facts straight’ before making claims about dairy.
“Not a day goes by it seems when there isn’t some new scare story about what we should and increasingly shouldn’t be eating,” Pietrangeli said. “Dairy is no exception… the endless cycle of claim and counter-claim is prolific.
“For every research report trumpeting the health benefits of dairy you can find another that says the exact opposite. Sometimes you even see the same data being used to prove different things. The debate is fierce and feelings run high. That passion is to be applauded and as the UK head of a dairy cooperative, it should come as no surprise that I feel passionately about dairy. I believe strongly that milk is a truly unique, natural and nutritious product that plays an important part in our diets. I’m biased of course, but so are those equally zealous who sit in the opposite camp.
“And it is a lobby by the way. You only need to look at some of the recent advertising campaigns to see that this an orchestrated and well-funded effort to endorse, often aggressively, a certain way of life. That’s their prerogative and while I dispute many of the claims, people are free to live and eat however they choose and for many an alternative lifestyle is incredibly rewarding.”
Analysis: ‘A no-holds-barred attack’
It’s a bizarre diatribe from the head of Arla in the UK, the country’s largest dairy company both by turnover and milk pool. It’s not unusual for food companies to defend their products and their position in the market, sometimes aggressively, but this is a no-holds-barred attack from Tomas Pietrangeli. Without naming names, he implies that the media and industry lobbyists are using ‘scare stories’ to put consumers off eating and drinking dairy.
In nearly 140 years of business, Arla has invested heavily in sustainability, animal welfare and delivering value for its farmers, each of whom owns a small stake in the cooperative. Its farmers ‘have nothing to hide’, he says. But this latest statement is unlikely to have an impact on his critics, although his description of the dairy-free movement as ‘an orchestrated and well-funded effort’ to push consumers towards ‘a certain way of life’ is unlikely to pacify rivalries.
Also in his 750-word article, Pietrangeli acknowledges that he isn’t in a position to criticise dairy alternatives; Arla produces a range called Lactofree, which includes several different types of cream, milk, cheese and yogurt. But instead he recognises that “you can be healthy living a vegan diet”, just as “you can also be healthy living one with dairy in it too.
As part of his statement, Pietrangeli pointed out five ‘record-straightening’ facts about dairy.
They include the fact that milk is naturally high in a variety of nutrients and vitamins, typically in greater quantities than non-dairy foods (gram for gram). He says the same about calcium, with plant-based drinks needing to be fortified unnaturally to incorporate calcium.
Pietrangeli also says that dairy is recommended, in some form or quantity, by health authorities throughout the world. “Nowhere is the reigning medical wisdom to exclude dairy,” he said.
“Some (not many) people need to exclude dairy because of proven intolerances and others want to because of preference. That’s fine – we produce our own Lactofree range so we are not against choice. You can be healthy living a vegan diet, we just think you can also be healthy living one with dairy in it too.
“What I am against is an overly emotive debate which clouds consumer decision-making and it doesn’t help that, in this country and others, there is a lack of joined up guidance on the precise amount of dairy that should be consumed. We need clarity and a mature dialogue from all sides of the debate and from policymakers and the medical community. Like everything to do with diet, the key is balance. Sadly, the dairy debate needs this too.”
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2017