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Thursday, July 22, 2021

Horse milk is trending. Here’s why it shouldn’t be

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Horse milk is making the rounds and receiving fierce criticism, but how is it different from cow’s milk, and why is nobody talking about its price?

ITV presenter Phillip Schofield tried horse milk on yesterday’s This Morning, cheered on by his co-presenter Holly Willoughby. Schofield, who said he’s an oat milk drinker, dreaded it going in, finding its scent akin to salmon. He took a sip, raised his eyebrows, and concluded, almost weakly: “I don’t like that.”

Schofield said it has a note of coconut to it but it’s too watery, and it’s just not for him. The clip was represented with a lower-third that read: ‘The latest health trend: horse milk’. It’s received a lot of backlash on social media, but the fact that horse milk made it to national television isn’t surprising.

A day before, This Morning’s Josie Gibson visited a farm in Bath to milk a horse and then drink it, which left Schofield and Willoughby shocked. Horse milk, or mare’s milk, has been making the headlines recently. The Times called it “ready for its heyday”. The Independent’s Ruper Hawksley said his “stomach turned a degree or two” when he heard about the milk. The Sun, which first reported the story, labelled its flavour as “oaty, almondy and slightly sweet”.

While mare’s milk is common in Central Asia, it’s still quite niche in Europe. Its popularity is ascribed to the perceived health benefits, which include its richness in whey protein, vitamin C and iron, and ability to boost the immune system. Frank Shellard, the farmer Gibson visited and the first to commercially produce horse milk in the UK, says it cured his daughter’s eczema.

The business, called Combe Hay Mare’s Milk, has 14 mares that produce 12 to 14 litres of milk daily. Shellard says it’s helped his 30-year-old daughter’s skin problems since she was 12. He also claims that horse milk is drunk by 30 million people globally.

But the backlash has been fierce. Facebook users left comments calling it “another way to exploit animals” and pointing out that there has been no mention of the foals, the ones the milk is naturally meant for. On Twitter, the ITV clip was labelled a “disgrace” and accused of being “encouraging the abuse of animals”.

The negative response was inevitable, especially from people who are vegan and in a time when the lifestyle is unstoppably growing. But, as one user noted on Facebook, the difference between cow’s milk and mare’s milk isn’t stark, but the “human perception” is.

mare's milk
Source: Facebook

Jane Allin from Fund for Horses highlighted the dark side of the nurse mare industry: “Originally, these mares served to nurture rejected foals or those whose mothers died in childbirth.” But she added that this practice has deteriorated into a “lucrative quest to breed the ultimate horse”.

This gave rise to overbreeding, which she called a pandemic, as it led to increased horse slaughter. Once the mares have given birth, they are leased out to breeding farms to act as surrogate mothers, leaving their own foals behind. If those offsprings are lucky, they make it to a rescue farm. But more often than not, they’re taken for slaughter.

Horse’s milk, like cow’s milk, is made for its own species. Mares are artificially and forcefully impregnated just like cows are. They’re taken away from their foals, exactly how cows are removed from their calves.

So why is horse milk any worse than cow’s milk? This new trend has met with tremendous criticism, but it’s nothing compared to the well-known ills of the dairy industry. The Internet is outraged at this, yet a majority of it still drinks cow’s milk. But if we’re talking morals, there isn’t a difference between the two.

There is one other aspect that nobody seems to be talking about, and it makes the popularity of this horse milk seem highly counterintuitive and almost hypocritical. Time and time again, plant-based milk has been criticised for its higher price than dairy. It’s higher in coffee shops and in retail, and it’s been earmarked as one of the major pillars of the ‘veganism is expensive’ argument.

Sure, alt-milk can be relatively higher priced. But mare’s milk, at least the one Shellard is selling, has a skyrocketing price. For a litre of horse milk, you’ll be out £26. That’s £13 for less than a pint. For contrast, the most expensive plant-based milk you can find in the UK is Rude Health’s Ultimate Almond. And that’s £4 for a litre — less than a sixth of the cost of horse milk.

It really does beg the question: given the animal rights issues, is that even worth it? What exactly are you paying for? The vitamins? You’re better off buying Koko’s Super Milk for £2.19. The protein? Alpro’s High Protein soy milk has you covered for £1.65. The dairy intolerance? Any vegan alternative will serve you well.

They’re calling horse milk a ‘trend’. If the response is anything to go by, it looks to be just that. Schofield thinks it tastes like salmon. I suspect it’s fishy in more ways than one.

Anay Mridul
Anay is the managing editor of The Vegan Review. A journalism graduate from City, University of London, he was a barista for three years, and never shuts up about coffee. He's passionate about coffee, plant-based milk, cooking, eating, veganism, writing about all that, profiling people, and the Oxford Comma. Originally from India, he went vegan in 2020, after attempting (and failing) Veganuary. He believes being environmentally conscious is a basic responsibility, and veganism is the best thing you can do to battle climate change. He gets lost at Whole Foods sometimes.