Soya & Non-Dairy Milk

Ethical shopping guide to Soya & Non-Dairy Milk, from Ethical Consumer

Ethical shopping guide to Soya & Non-Dairy Milk, from Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

The report includes:

  • Ethical and environmental ratings for 18 non-dairy milks including soya, rice and oat
  • Best Buy recommendations
  • The problem with soya
  • Company profiles


This article is part of a Special Report on the Dairy Industry.  See what's in the rest of the report.

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Our ratings are live updated scores from our primary research database. They are based on primary and secondary research across 23 categories - 17 negative categories and 6 positive ones (Company Ethos and Product Sustainability). Find out more about our ethical ratings


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Best Buys

as of Nov/Dec 2012

As our ratings are constantly updated, it is possible that company ratings on the score table may have changed since this report was written.

Best Buys for soya milk are: Plamil, The Bridge, Soyatoo! and Granovita.

For other non-dairy milks the Best Buys are Good Hemp, EcoMil, The Bridge, Oatly and Rice & Rice. See the table below for who makes what.

to buy

Image: Milk


image: Dairy Free


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Non-dairy milk


Soya-based products dominate the non-dairy milk market, but plenty of other options are available, including hemp, oat, quinoa and almond milk. 


Image: soya milk in shopping guide


Hanging at the bottom of the ratings table are the biggest companies. Holland and Barrett, for example, is now owned by a notorious private equity company called the Carlyle Group which has extensive investments in the arms and petrochemical industries. Companies specialising in natural and organic products float around the top. Many of the more ethical products will be available from your local whole-food shop; the rest can be found online. Supermarkets tend to favour brands produced by US dairy giant Dean Foods, such as Alpro and Provamel.




A controversial crop


It could be portrayed as one of the great ironies of modern food politics: soya, present in the cupboards and fridges of most whole-foodies and vegetarians, is a crop which is fuelling the deforestation of the Amazon and has been the driving force behind the conversion of land to genetically modified crops for years. But the cause of this environmental destruction is demand for animal feed, not vegan foods. A feature by Eve Mitchell from Food and Water Watch explains more.

German campaign group Rainforest Rescue are calling for the European Union to stop soyabean imports from South America:

"South America's tropical forests are being cleared to make room for gigantic soy plantations that are edging ever closer to human settlements. The plantations mainly consist of monocultures of genetically modified soybeans produced by the Monsanto corporation. Crop dusters circle over the plantations to spray the plants with Roundup – a highly toxic pesticide also made by Monsanto. People in the affected areas become ill and even die as the soil becomes contaminated and their drinking water polluted." 

The good news is it's fairly easy to avoid South American soya in soya milk. We've summarised what we've found out about companies' soya sourcing policies in the table overleaf. Most companies claim that the soya milk they sell does not come from genetically modified crops – if it did, it would need to be labelled – but some provide more robust assurances than others. Opt for European-sourced soya where you can.


Harmful or healthy?


Contradictory claims are made about the impact of soya on health. Providing medical advice is a leap Ethical Consumer does not intend to take. If you're concerned about these issues and intend to do your own research we advise that you keep two things in mind.

Dairy equivalents to soya-based products come with their own questionable health impacts, and watch out for corporate connections to organisations making positive health claims.

Suffice it to say that all things are better eaten in moderation, and the less processed the foods you eat, the better. Soya milk is usually made from the whole bean and is therefore less processed than other soya foods.




Who makes what, soya sourcing & GM policies





Milk type


Soya sourcing and GM policies

Alpro   Non-organic soya, organic soya, almond, hazelnut, chocolate   Non-GM soya sourced from France and Canada, organic soya from Brazil and China. Says has traceability systems certified by Cert ID, and additionally by IBD and Certisys for organic products. Also Chinese & Brazillian soya certified by EcoSocial®2. “Alpro does not source soybeans grown on ancient rainforest land, and farmers must comply with the Basel Criteria for Responsible Soy Production”.
Delamere   Organic soya   Organic & non-GM. “The beans come from sustainable sources, with the guarantee that there is no tropical deforestation in the production of Delamere SOYA”. Told Ethical Consumer soya sourced from China.
EcoMil   Almond, Sesame, Hazelnut, Quinoa, Amaranth, Chufa Muesli   Non-GM. Has traceability programme “throughout the whole production process, starting at our suppliers and raw materials”.
Good Hemp   Hemp milk   Not applicable.
Granovita   Organic Soya, organic sugar free soya   Soya “organically grown from EU Agriculture”, certified by by DE-001-Öko-Kontrollstelle.
Holland & Barrett   Unsweetened and sweetened soya   “We insist that all of our products are free from genetically modified organisms”. No further information.
Kara   Coconut + Calcium, Coconut + Calcium with vitamins, Coconut + Chocolate   Not applicable.
Oatly   Oat Organic, Oat Enriched, Oat chocolate   Not applicable.
Plamil   Organic soya   “Plamil are against the use of genetically modified ingredients so we use only selected organic soya beans certified by Ecocert. This certification ensures the use of non genetically modified soya beans”. Told Ethical Consumer soya beans sourced from France.
Provamel   Soya, almond, hazelnut, oat, rice-coconut milk   All organic & non-GM. “We do not grow soya in the rainforest”. See also Alpro.
Rice & Rice   Rice with almond, vanilla, cocoa, vegetable calcium.   Sells ‘Soia & Soia’ soya milk in Europe. “The soya used comes from Italian farms and is thoroughly GMO FREE”.
Rice Dream/Soy Dream/Oat Dream   Rice milk: organic, with calcuim, chocolate, vanilla, hazelnut almond praline. Oat milk with calcium. Organic spelt milk.   “Rice Dream is made from only non-genetically engineered rice. All varieties of Soy Dream are made from non-genetically engineered soy.”
So Good   Soya, also with flavouring   No information.
Sojade   Soya natural, with calcuim, with chocolate   Non-GM soya, sourced from France.
Soya Soleil   Soya sweetened/unsweetened   Non GM-soya beans, according to Ocado. See also Alpro.
Soyatoo!   Demeter Soya Alive, Milli! natural or vanilla soya sprout drink   “ only processes soybeans from certified organic farming (EU Regulation 2091/92). only enters into contracts with farmers and importers that can supply a GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) analysis and an EU organic farming certificate for their products, and can prove the identity of their soybeans, from seed to harvest. currently processes organic soybeans from Austria, Brazil, Hungary, Italy and France”.
Sunrise       No information.
The Bridge   Rice, oats, soya, kamut, almond, buckwheat, spelt, quinoa.   Organic certified.






Company profiles


Holland & Barrett was bought by American food supplement company NBTY Inc. in 1997, which was in turn purchased by one of the world's biggest investment companies, the Carlyle Group, in 2010. For a private equity company the Carlyle Group has acquired a surprising degree of notoriety. Michael Moore's 2004 documentary Fahrenheit 911 highlighted the Bush and the Bin Laden families' involvement with the firm. Perhaps the Group's most interesting investor is the Mubadala Development Company, owned by the Government of Abu Dhabi. The Group's former employees include a number of political heavyweights, including George Bush Senior and John Major. Many of its investments are military – ARINC Ltd., for example, is a major supplier of weaponry and military communication systems to the US army. Because of Carlyle's investments the company is said to be the 11th largest defence contractor in the United States.(5) It also owns 25 different companies involved in fossil fuel extraction and processing, including offshore drilling and coal mining.(6) In August 2012 it was announced that the company would acquire a majority share of Getty Images, the world's biggest distributor of stock photos.(7)


Dean Foods is a massive dairy company in the USA, reported to control up to 90% of the processed milk market in some states.(8) Such market concentration breeds anti-competitive practices and the company has been embroiled in price-fixing lawsuits potentially involving thousands of farmers.(9) It has contributed to controversy in the organic farming industry in the US by buying milk from factory farms certificated as organic(4) – something which small organic farmers are understandably not happy about. Organic watchdog organisation the Cornucopia Institute has filed legal challenges against the company for violating organic standards.(10) One of the company's environmental initiatives at a farm in Idaho is an anaerobic digester which captures animal 'waste' from approximately 4,700 dairy cows. The amount of energy the company claims it sells back to the grid as a result is sufficient to power 700 homes for an hour!(11)

Dean Foods currently own the Alpro, Provamel, Soya Soleil and White Wave brands. It announced an initial public offering of shares in the The WhiteWave Foods Company in August but is likely to maintain a majority share.


Hain Celestial's brands span 'natural' bodycare products such as Jason and Avalon, foods including Linda McCartney, Realeat and Lima, and drinks including Celestial Seasonings, Rice Dream and So Good soya milk (Kallo Foods distribute these non-dairy milk brands in the UK). It has been criticised for using hexane-extracted soy lecithin in its Earth's Best organic soya-based baby formula in the USA.(4) Hexane is a petrochemical solvent and environmental pollutant about which campaigners say the health risks for consumers are little known.


GranoVita is linked through its ownership structure to the Seventh-Day Adventist church. It traces its origins back to 1899, when German Christians living near Hamburg "united to produce and sell healthy vegetarian foods, believing that the care of the whole person (body, mind and spirit) was of vital importance. Based on their understanding of the Bible, they recognised that humans are responsible in the eyes of God for maintaining their physical health".(12)


Royal Wessanen is a leading Netherlands-based organic foods company whose brands include Clipper, Whole Earth and Kallo. It also owns a frozen foods division and the American Beverage Corporation, both of which sound decidedly less wholesome. ABC's delights include ready-mixed cocktails in frozen pouches. We're waiting for the British launch...


Triballat Noyal is a family company which has been operating in France since the 1950s. It produces cheese and butter from local farms in France as well as the Sojade and Sojasun brands of soya products. The company's website offers an interesting summary of its ethical concerns – Ethical Consumer assumes something must have been lost in the translation... "Our company culture, dedicated to men fulfilment, strongly supports the commitment and passion of our teams for an efficient, flexible and friendly service to ours customers. With a full respect for men, nature and environment, Triballat Noyal is dedicated to be an active company for a world of serenity and natural balance."


Good Hemp Foods was created by a Director of Photography and a Producer when they met on set while filming. Their common farming background led them to starting a farm together in Devon. After successfully growing hemp for fibre they began producing culinary hemp oil and a range of other hemp products, including hemp milk. Its hemp protein powders are suitable for vegan bodybuilders.


Plamil Foods Ltd has been providing alternatives to dairy milk since the 1960s. It is a vegan company and now its range also includes animal-ingredient free mayonnaise and chocolate. They manufacture their products in their own factory, in the seaside town of Folkestone, Kent. All the energy used to make its products is sourced from 100% renewable sources.


Tribeca-May produce the Sunrise brand of soya milk. It is somewhat unclear how the company evolved from its previous form, Soya Health Foods, which was dissolved in 2010. Along with a new company came a new brand of non-soya 'Go-rilla Drinks'.


Probios, whose name is derived from the Greek words meaning 'in favour of life', is an Italian company that has been operating since 1978. It specialises in organic, macrobiotic and gluten free foods and its range includes pasta, desserts and drinks.





4 'Behind the Bean: The Heroes and Charlatans of the Natural and Organic Soy Foods Industry', Cornucopia Institute, 2009  The Social, Environmental, and Health Impacts of Soy 

11 Dean Foods 2010 Corporate Social Responsibility Report 



This article is part of a Special Report on the Dairy Industry.  See what's in the rest of the report.




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