14 July 2008

dairy-air: milk production sources exposed

You're in the dairy aisle, trying to figure out which milk to buy. You spot the organic label and think, I can trust this -- it's organic, it's better for me and the environment. And the cows are happily grazing in green pastures. Wrong again! That USDA Organic label is not always so forthcoming, especially in the world of dairy production.

Now you might be thinking, why is she bursting my milky bubble? I thought I had this organic, hormone- and antibiotic-free milk thing figured out. Yeah, me too. Until I started digging a little deeper into the manure pile of dairy greenwashing.

The biggest brands you might recognize in the supermarket milk game are Horizon Organic and Organic Valley. I had heard a couple of years ago that Horizon didn't have the lily white reputation they claimed to have, that they weren't any better than conventional because they sourced their milk from factory farms. So they've been off my list for a while.

But I thought I could trust Organic Valley, with their barefoot CEO reeking of humble beginnings and honest behavior. Boy did I fall for that one! Recent reports say Organic Valley decided to source from a 10,000 head cattle operation in Texas where "some" of their cows are exposed to pasture. Doesn't sound like a small-scale, sustainable family farm to me. Honestly, the news broke my butter-loving heart. And that CEO-sans-shoes, George Siemon, says,

"Sometimes you have to make compromises; that's just the nature of business," ... "I made the decision to buy the product, and I'm willing to take the heat." (source: The Capital Times)
Sorry, George, but that's not a compromise I would have made. I semi-admire Siemon's willingness to "take the heat," but what irks me is his lack of responsibility to his customers who actually care what they're feeding themselves and their families. (More at Grist)

Large-scale dairy production is neither healthy nor sustainable.
Like many things that seem reasonably priced on the sticker, factory farming poses hidden costs to society. Here are just a few (source: Union of Concerned Scientists):
  • Water pollution from manure runoff
  • Oxygen-depleted coastal regions (from runoff)
  • Air pollution from manure
  • Methane release from manure lagoons
  • Negative health impact on surrounding communities (plus the smell, egad!)
  • Antibiotic-resistant pathogens (like MRSA)
  • Grain subsidies
  • Pollution prevention subsidies
So which dairies can you trust?
One way to ensure your hard-earned buck is going toward better milk products is to visit your local farmer's market. There you can meet face-to-face with the farmers and ask them all about their practices. Many farms even encourage visits so you can see first hand where the stuff is coming from.

Find a farmer's market near you

No farmer's market in your area? Here are some small-scale dairy brands (and the products they offer) you may have seen in your supermarket:

And then there's...
Stonyfield, though recently under scrutiny due to dairy farm wages (and now majority owned by Groupe Danone), maintains their support for small-scale farms.

BAAaaa don't forget goat's milk!
I love goats and anything made with their milk. Goat's milk is said to have greater health benefits than cow's milk, like promoting better mineral absorption (e.g., calcium, magnesium). It's also more easily digested than moo milk. (Other health advantages here.)

Wanna try? Look for these goat-ee-licious brands:

More about large- vs small-scale farming:
If you've got the time, here's a comprehensive report from the Union of Concerned Scientists about the economic and environmental costs of CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations).

A great resource that's keeping organic farmers honest is the Cornucopia Institute, an independent watchdog organization that advocates small farming practices.

Everyone must be on the same dairy wavelength today, 'cause as I was writing this post, this came through from Manhattan User's Guide:

So let's see if we've got this straight: the Monsanto company produces a synthetic growth hormone called Posilac, used by some dairy farmers, which juices cows to produce more milk. Lots of people don't want this in their milk, for compelling reasons. Dairy farmers that do not use the recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) almost invariably state that on their milk carton labels. You, the consumer, get useful info. But since the FDA would not allow Monsanto to ban rBGH labelling nationally, the dirtbags have been going state-by-state to pass legislation that would ban the labelling. They're now trying to do it in New York; they need to be stopped.

future wasteland

What will happen to the thousands of gas stations across the nation once renewable technology replaces the combustion engine? ZeroCarbonista proposes that they will be obsolete and thus become plots of wasted land. It brings to mind the nearly extinct drive-in movie theater, weeds busting through the cracks in the pavement where cars packed with necking teens and families once parked.

But what about all of the antiquated cars? Will there be an opportunity to hack our rides, swapping out the petro-driven engine for a battery-operated one? Or will there be an influx of dated machinery, destined for the scrap heap? Let's hope we have the foresight to find a new purpose for the old machines, and their fueling stations, when the time comes.

[Treehugger's take here]