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US milk industry fights back

America's milk industry is fed up with all the sourness over dairy.

As Americans continue turning away from milk, an industry group has been pushing back at its critics with a social media campaign trumpeting the benefits of milk. The association said it needed to act because attitudes about milk were deteriorating more rapidly, with vegan groups, non-dairy competitors and other perceived enemies getting louder online.

Julia Kadison, of Milk Processor Education Program, which represents milk companies, said the breaking point came last year when the British Medical Journal published a study suggesting drinking lots of milk could lead to earlier death and a higher incident of fractures. Even though the study urged a cautious interpretation of its findings, it prompted posts online about the dangers of drinking milk.

"I said, 'That's enough'. We can't have these headlines that 'Milk Can Kill You' and not stand up for the truth," Kadison said.

She said MilkPEP's consumer surveys had indicated a noticeable deterioration in attitudes about milk over the preceding year or so, although they declined to give specific survey results.

The "Get Real" social media campaign was launched in conjunction with the National Dairy Council and Dairy Management Inc, which represent dairy farmers. The campaign aimed to drown out milk's detractors with positive posts about the product on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere. Milk brands, their employees and others in the industry posted the messages and directed people to a website where they could get more information.

Online ads also touted the superiority of dairy milk over almond milk, which is surging in popularity.

The campaign came as milk's dominance in American homes continued to wane as beverage options proliferate. According to data from the US Department of Agriculture, people drank an average of 14.5 gallons of milk a year in 2012. That's down 33 per cent from the 21.8 gallons a year in 1970.

Total milk sales volume had declined 12 per cent since 2009, according to market researcher Euromonitor International.

One factor chipping away at milk's dominance is the growth of non-dairy alternatives. While soy milk's popularity has faded, retail sales for almond milk were estimated to be up 39 per cent in 2014, according to Virginia Lee, a packaged food analyst with Euromonitor.

Meanwhile, the USDA recommended adults get three cups of dairy a day, including options like fat-free, low-fat milk or calcium-fortified soy milk. And the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which represents nutrition professionals, supported the Get Real campaign and its push to underscore "the decades of research reinforcing low-fat milk as one of the most nutrient-rich beverages available".

But milk's wholesome image nevertheless was being muddied by diet trends and divergent attitudes about nutrition. Many who follow the popular Paleo diet, for instance, shun dairy because people didn't drink it during the Stone Age.

Animal welfare groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are also a thorn in the milk industry's side. On its website, PETA noted that "no species drinks milk beyond infancy or drinks the milk of another species" and details the cruel conditions dairy cows are often subject to.

MilkPEP previously has tried different tactics in hopes of battling milk's decline.

In 2007, the group started promoting chocolate milk as a recovery drink for athletes. In 2014, the industry dropped its "Got Milk?" campaign featuring famous people sporting milk moustaches in favour of a campaign called "Milk Life" that focuses on the everyday benefits of milk.