By Alexis Baden-Mayer, Katherine Paul
There are plenty of reasons to boycott milk from factory farms, beginning with your own health. Dairy cows raised on grass pastures produce milk that is higher in omega-3 fats, vitamin E and beta-carotene than milk from cows raised on grain. Milk from grassfed cows also contains five times as much conjugated linoleic acid, an unsaturated fat which protects against heart disease, aids in weight loss and may prevent cancer and diabetes, than milk from grain-fed cows.
Milk from factory farms, or Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) that comes from cows raised on genetically engineered grains and pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones—not exactly a recipe for healthy milk.
But it’s not just your health that benefits when you boycott milk from factory farms. Industrial dairy farms, with their endless streams of waste, are a public health risk. Just one dairy-producing state, Wisconsin, produces cow manure in quantities equivalent to the human waste produced by the combined populations of Tokyo and Mexico City. New Zealand has a name for it: dirty dairying. And according to a Natural Resources Defense Council fact sheet, manure from dairy cows contaminated Milwaukee’s drinking water with Cryptosporidium in 1993, killing more than 100 people, making 400,000 sick and resulting in $37 million in lost wages and productivity. Water contamination from dairies can also cause blue baby syndrome and miscarriages.
As for the health and well-being of the dairy cows that produce your milk, despite the pretty pictures of happy, grazing dairy cows on milk cartons and company websites, cows raised on factory farms endure intense, sustained cruelty. And most are eventually slaughtered for meat.
According to 2007 data provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), factory farms produce more than 80 percent of milk sold in the U.S. Organic milk sales account for only four percent of the market. The best way to shift those percentages is for consumers to boycott the industrial milk machine, and force the market to produce more alternatives.
Here are some basic guidelines to get started:
- Buy USDA certified organic milk, but read the label.
- The best organic milk available nationwide in stores is from grassfed cows or goats. It doesn’t contain artificial vitamins, nutrients created through mutagenesis, or synthetic ingredients. Organic Consumers Association (OCA) recommends Organic Valley’s Whole Milk Grassmilk.
- The organic milk with the highest level of animal welfare comes from Animal Welfare Approved farms. Unfortunately, few farms are certified to this standard.
- Unpasteurized milk is more nutritious than pasteurized milk, but buying raw milk is illegal in most places.
- Going vegan is the surest way to boycott factory farms. The best non-dairy milk is organic hemp milk. OCA recommends Manitoba Harvest’s Hemp Bliss.
Buying certified organic milk is a good way to avoid the worst aspects of factory farms. Organic standards don’t allow the routine, preventive use of antibiotics. Farmers have to give sick dairy cows antibiotics if they need them, but they can’t sell their milk as organic until the antibiotics have left the animal’s system. That means organic dairies aren’t contributing to the public health crisis that’s causing 23,000 people in the U.S. to die every year from antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Organic standards for milk also don’t allow the use of the genetically engineered growth hormones rBGH or rbST, which are associated with lower nutritional value, and higher levels of pus and IGF-1, a growth factor linked to cancer. Organic standards also don’t allow the cows to be raised on genetically engineered feed, which means the animals don’t suffer from the deformities, sickness and deaths common in animals raised on genetically engineered grains.
So to avoid milk from factory farms, the first step is to go organic. But not all organic milk is created equal. You’ll also want to look for “grassfed organic,” which has a number of advantages over “pasture-raised” organic.
It’s safe to say that all organic dairy cows are “pasture raised.” Organic rules for pasture-raised set a minimum standard requiring cows to get at least one-third of their diet from grazing on pasture for at least one-third of the year. You’ll need to read the claims made on the milk carton and on dairy brand websites carefully to see if they’re meeting or exceeding the organic pasture requirements.
If your organic dairy farm doesn’t make any claims beyond “pasture raised,” then you can expect that it’s just meeting the minimum standard. Horizon Organic and the store-brand organic milks fall into this category. For a review of organic milk brands across the country, check out the Cornucopia Institute‘s Organic Dairy Ratings. The report is a little out of date—it’s from 2008, before the organic pasture rules were finalized—but it’s useful to know which brands have been doing the right thing all along.
Milk from dairy cows that are “grassfed” is superior to milk from “pasture-raised” cows. Under the USDA’s definition of “grassfed,” dairy cows must be raised on grass and forage exclusively, for their entire lifetimes. That means a higher quality of milk. So look for “grassfed” on the label. But also know that while the “pasture-raised” claim must be verified by a third-party certifier, verification of the grass fed claim is voluntary.
Organic Valley is the first brand to distribute nationally a 100-percent grassfed milk, called Grassmilk. The OCA encourages consumers to choose Grassmilk over “pasture-raised” organic. But we would also like to see Organic Valley take the extra step of earning a “USDA Process Verified,” an “American Grassfed,” or a Food Alliance Certified “Grassfed,” seal, any of which would serve as verification of the brand’s claim that all of its cows meet the USDA’s definition of “grassfed.” More....