A new study proves what we have suspected all along: Organic dairy farming practices lead to happier & healthier cows, higher quality milk and a decreased impact on the environment when compared to conventional dairy farms. Conducted by Dr. Charles Benbrook of The Organic Center and titled "A Dairy Farm's Footprint: Evaluating the Impacts of Conventional and Organic Farming Systems," the study compares milk and meat production and revenue, feed intake and waste volume of well-managed organic and conventional dairy farms.
Not shockingly, researchers discovered that cows on organic dairy farms are healthier and less stressed than conventional cows, largely thanks to a more natural, forage-based diet instead of the grain and ground-up bones that usually pass (but shouldn't!) as cattle feed on factory farms. Organic cows require fewer breeding attempts (1.8 - 2.3 attempts per calf) than do conventional cows (3.5 attempts) and also produce milk through twice as many, shorter lactations than do hormone-infused conventional cows - all while living longer (1.5 - 2 years). Milking cow replacements on organic farms are 30-46% lower than those of conventional farms, drastically reducing the resources required and waste created by the would-be replacement cattle. The study also shows that cows on healthier, forage-based diets produce far less waste than those on conventional dairy farms, and that most organic farms reduce manure methane emissions by 60-80%.
In short, happy cows that eat healthy diets produce better milk and less crap; they are more fertile and have a longer lifespan as well. And (shocker): organic dairy farms are better for the environment than conventional dairy farms.
Funded by the Packard Foundation, the study was the first comprehensive analysis of the environmental impact of organic dairy farms. Working with The Organic Center, a team of dairy specialists developed the "Shades of Green" calculator to come up with the numbers we've listed; this operational model is freely disclosed and accessible for those interested in learning more about this 92-page study.
Many of you have no doubt already switched to organic dairy, but if you haven't, you might want to consider spending an extra dollar or so per gallon, particularly if you have children or adolescents who may be more sensitive to the hormones and pesticides that conventional milk contains, such as the infamous bovine growth hormone. To learn more, read the Health Risks of Refined and Processed Milk. In another study written about in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition researchers found milk from grazing grass-fed cows contain more conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, than cows fed processed grains.
Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the EU and every other developed nation in the world has banned milk that contains this hormone, also called recombinant bovine somatotropin (or rBST or rBGH). Originally developed by Monsanto (the grocery giant that also sells sterile seeds to starving African farmers), this hormone is produced through a genetically engineered E. Coli. A U.S. court of appeal recently ruled that milk with rBST has increased levels of the cancer-causing hormone IGF-1 as well as lower nutritional quality. And if that isn't enough to make you go organic, consider this: conventional milk has a highly increased somatic cell count– that's a pretty way of saying that conventional milk contains much more pus.
Do you know what you are putting into your body?
Just say no to synthetic hormones in your food. Heady research studies like this can inform the populace, but it is only when consumers start demanding that their food be free of poisons and chemicals and start speaking with their wallets that grocery manufacturers will wake up and begin responding to the call of the dollar. Whether you do it for the cows, for the environment, or for the health of you and your loved ones, choosing organic milk is a simple and easy step towards a better earth for all.
image: Tambako The Jaguar