Guest Post: It’s Okay to Buy Plain ‘Ole Milk

Today’s guest post comes from Joanna Samuelson Lidback, a Vermont dairy farmer and a friend of mine from my undergraduate days at Cornell. I invited Joanna to submit a post about the differences in organic and conventional milk from both a farmer’s and a consumer’s perspective. I’m glad that she accepted, because I think her voice is important. Most of us buy milk every week, and yet when was the last time you sat down with a dairy farmer and talked with her in-depth about her farming practices?

Joanna’s story is personal; she’s writing about her family history and her livelihood. I expect that some of you will disagree with her conclusions about the value of organic milk, and that’s OK. I hope her post raises the level of awareness around farming practices in general and stimulates respectful discussion about our buying decisions. And if anyone is interested in submitting a guest post with another view, I always welcome that, as long as it is backed by science and/or personal experience.

Without further ado…

It’s Okay to Buy Plain ‘Ole Milk

By Joanna Samuelson Lidback

I was pretty excited when Alice asked me if I wanted to take a stab at this topic. In an effort for full disclosure up front, my husband and I are dairy farmers and fall into the conventional category, though we don’t use rBST either. We do support all dairy farmers, however, and support offering choices for consumers when it comes to food. I tried to remain as neutral as I could as I wrote this post, which was itself a lesson in humility for me. I have friends who are organic dairy farmers and of course did not want to offend them in my writing. I do have great respect for what they do and the added layers of management to maintain certified organic status. And oh, by the way, I’m not usually as research-oriented as Alice is, but I gave it a shot!

My husband dairy farmer (DF) and I have a 30-cow dairy farm. That means we milk 30 cows. We also raise our own “youngstock” (young animals not yet in the milking herd) plus a few steers; so we have a total of about 65 head of cattle that we care for, both Holsteins and Jerseys at our farm. The Jerseys go back to a 4-H dairy project that I started with my family when I was a kid. They are all registered with names and unique personalities. Some of them have been with me for a long time, with one family going back to the very first calves we owned. The Holsteins are my DF’s and they too have their own personalities but numbers instead of names, as they are not registered. We do have pet names for some of them, though, typically related to appearance or something that happened – like Pip, Slurpy and Whitey. Regardless, they are all now “our” girls.

My guess is that as you approach our place and see our girls grazing our rolling green hills in Northeast Vermont, you would maybe assume we are an organic herd. We are not, and I will get into the why not at the end of this post.

The Prices of Milk in the Store

The average price of a gallon of “conventional” whole milk was $3.63 in March 2012. Organic milk was $4.02 per half-gallon or $8.04[1] for a full one. I wanted to get those figures out there so we know exactly what we’re talking about – a cost more than double. If you’re a family of five and buying five gallons a week, those dollars add up fast. It’s been a pretty hot topic lately – given the shape the economy is and has been in, is the added expense worth it?

If you ask me, I’d say no. Of course I would, you might say – we produce milk that is not organic. But I know there are some people who choose the certified organic label for other items and extend that preference to milk, which is certainly okay too. But in my opinion, I think it’s irresponsible to make people feel guilty if they don’t want to or can’t shell out the extra cash for the label without an adequate explanation, especially when budgets are tight.

When companies sell products, they’re obviously looking for an edge. This comes in the form of price or quality, for example, but ultimately their edge is based on consumer perception. Labels and other retail packaging are often used to convey a claim to alter the perception of the product in order to sell more or to sell at a higher price. This often leaves products without special labels looking somehow inferior with no adequate explanation. It underscores the importance for food and nutrition professionals to communicate science-based facts about food to the general public.

So then, what does the certified organic label on milk mean and why is it so much more expensive?

Milk is Milk

Firstly, there is no significant difference in the composition of milk that comes from cows that are raised with organic practices or those that are from conventional farms[2]. The same nutrients and hormones exist in both, both are safe to consume and BOTH are free from antibiotics. Interesting to note, there is no way to test milk to determine whether it was from an organic farm or a conventional farm – or one that uses rBST or one that does not. Bottom line, milk is milk.

Because of the combination of nine essential nutrients, milk – organic or otherwise – packs a powerful punch for a healthy diet. The USDA and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences define an essential nutrient as a dietary substance required for healthy body functioning. The nine found in milk are: Calcium, Potassium, Phosphorus, Protein, Vitamin D, Vitamin A, Vitamin B12, Riboflavin and Niacin. Sometimes, there can be a very slight difference in fat and protein levels between organic and conventional milk, but this is thought to have more to do with the cows’ diet than any other factor[3]. You might see this same difference in milk amongst different brands or from a local, seasonally grazed herd that may or may not be organic.

When it comes to safety, all milk sold in stores is processed to kill harmful bacteria – either through pasteurization or ultra-high temperature processing. However, milk, along with many other food products, is not a sterile product and thus some tolerance is allowed for bacteria counts. In a study examining the composition of milk from organic and conventional farms, the bacteria counts were lower in conventionally labeled milk[4]. However, the difference was minimal, and both were far below the federal limit.

Along those same lines, hormones are present in all milk – organic, rBST-free, conventional, chocolate, strawberry, coffee, skim, 2%, etc. The same study found a few small differences in hormone levels between conventional and organic milk. While organic milk was slightly lower in IGF-1, it had higher progesterone and estrogen concentrations than conventional milk. However, these differences are not likely to be biologically significant in humans consuming organic or conventional milk.

Finally to be absolutely clear, all milk on the shelf in the grocery store is free of antibiotics. Taking it a step further, organic farmers pledge not to use antibiotics on their cattle. If they do, the cow must leave the herd. On a conventional farm, the farmer is allowed to use antibiotics to treat a sick cow. However, the milk she produces is withheld from mixing with the rest of the herd’s until it is tested and shown to be clear of the antibiotic. Many tests are done on the milk in its journey from farm to store shelf to ensure that there are no antibiotics present. The farmer risks losing his/her license to sell milk if antibiotics are found. This is not an area where farmers like to mess around!

Paying for the Farm Practices Promised

It’s really the steps before the milk is on the shelf that you pay for when you buy the organic label. That’s where the difference in price comes from. The USDA has attempted to reign in label claims by creating an official certification program for organic foods. It is more expensive to operate within these standards, and organic farms must stay in compliance. Otherwise, they risk losing the ability to use the organic label and the premium that comes with it that helps to cover their higher costs.

The list of regulations organic producers must follow is found on the USDA’s National Organic Program web site. Generally, organic cows must eat organic feed grown with only the use of pesticides approved for organic use[5], use organic medicine, graze organic pastures, etc. In fact, a recently updated regulation is a new pasture requirement that has made many large organic dairy farms review their operations. Organic dairy and beef cattle, as well as other ruminant livestock (like goats and sheep), must spend at least 120 days each year on pasture (vs. being fed in a barn or feedlot). While there is no acre-per-cow requirement, the animals must receive at least 30 percent of their dry matter intake from the pasture during the grazing season. In hot, arid climates, this has meant more costly irrigation to provide enough pasture to meet this requirement. This may affect the availability of organic milk in certain areas. Along the same lines, organic feed is not always available locally. That can mean more truck miles spent shipping these items in and potentially increasing the carbon footprint of organic milk production.

While farm practices and philosophies may differ, the concern and care for the animals remain a top priority for dairy farmers. Keeping the cows healthy and comfortable goes a long way in their ability to produce milk. A wise farmer once said, “Take care of the cows and they will take care of you.”

Show Me the Money!

While it’s true that you pay a premium for organic milk at the store and a farmer receives a higher milk price for organic milk, the economics of farming still come into play. Organic farmers pay more for organic grain and other organic inputs, which doesn’t necessarily leave them in a better profit position than conventional farmers. This past year in particular inputs are up for all dairy farmers – feed, fuel, crop needs, repairs, supplies, etc. At the same time, the organic milk price on the farm has not gone up as quickly. This has put a strain on farms, making the idea of milking more organic cows not exactly attractive.

Another similarity organic and conventional milk share involves pay prices. Just because you pay a higher price at the store and it increases from time to time does not mean that the farmer gets that premium. Organic milk has enjoyed huge gains in consumer consumption over the past few years. Recently, there has been a shortage of organic milk which has contributed to a rise in prices at the store. Despite half gallons of organic milk up 14 cents from December 2011 to December 2010, farmers only saw 6 cents of the increase[6]. Farmers are paid by the hundredweight (100 pounds, cwt.) for their milk, so the equivalent is $1.25 of $3.26 per cwt.

Meanwhile, conventional dairy farmers had an increase of nearly $3.00 per cwt. during the same time period[7]. This is an important area where the two styles differ. Organic farms typically contract for a certain level of milk production with a processor, thereby getting a fairly predictable price for a certain time period. Conventional dairies are left more to the whim of market forces, which means they get higher high prices and lower lows. Today, as we get into for planting feed for the 2012 crop, conventional producers are gearing up for lower pay prices with higher costs of production while organic producers can take a little more comfort in their price, although they too will continue to have elevated expenses.

We Choose Not to be Certified Organic and Here’s Why

I’ve enjoyed writing this post as it’s offered me an opportunity to review why we do things the way we do. Our reason for choosing to remain conventional is simple – we want to have all management tools available for our use. A good example is the use of antibiotics for medicine. If we have a cow that gets sick, which is not often, we want every option available to us to make her well again. It would not be sustainable on our 30-cow dairy to send away every cow we treat with antibiotics, never mind that there are generations of cows behind her owned by us or our family members. I really can’t imagine saying goodbye to one of my girls because we were nursing her back to health; it seems counter-intuitive to me.

This is not to say that we do not support organic dairy farmers. We respect their choices and are happy to see the land put to productive use. At our farm, we also promote sustainable farming methods in an effort to maximally preserve our operation. We are excited about raising our family here and love the idea that maybe our son might be interested in taking over. Now I’m getting carried away – he is eight months old this week.

I believe that all dairy farmers strive to produce an equally nutritious and high quality product. In the end, whether it’s organic or not, chocolate or skim, lactose free, the important thing to me is that you drink milk and feel good about it. As the saying goes, “It does a body good.”

Author Bio: Joanna dairy farms with her husband in Northeast Vermont. She is also an ag professional and new mom to TK. Joanna graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Applied Economics and Management and has an MBA from Babson College. Her blog is farmlifelove.wordpress.com.

_______________________________

REFERENCES


[1] Milk Marketing Order Statistics: Retail Milk Prices. USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. March 2012.

[2] Vicini et al. Survey of Retail Milk Composition as Affected by Label Claims Regarding Farm-Management Practices. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2008: 1198-1203.

[3] Walker et al. Effects of Nutrition and Management on the Production of Milk Fat and Protein: a Review. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research. 2004.

[4] Vicini et al. Survey of Retail Milk Composition as Affected by Label Claims Regarding Farm-Management Practices. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2008: 1198-1203.

[5] A list of substances allowed and prohibited for use in organic crop and animal production can be found on the National Organic Program website. http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/nop

[6] Maltby. Organic Pay And Retail Price Update for April 2012. April 5, 2012. http://www.nodpa.com/payprice_update_04_05_2012.shtml

[7] Federal Milk Marketing Order One. Market Administrator’s Bulletin. December 2010 and December 2011. http://fmmone.com/

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89 thoughts on “Guest Post: It’s Okay to Buy Plain ‘Ole Milk

  1. Awesome post, especially as someone who buys everything organic to the very big detriment of our family budget. It’s clear I don’t know nearly enough about what exactly I’m buying.

  2. Yeah but she owns a tiny family owned dairy farm! How do I get milk from those when I’m just outside of a major US city?? The “conventional” milk coming from the huge conglomerate dairy farms cannot be comparable to the milk she is producing.

    • Anyann, I do think it’s important to note that 98% of U.S. dairy farms are family-owned. A large farm does not equate to one corporate owner with several non-family employees doing all the work. As Joanna mentioned in her awesome post, dairy farming is often times a family tradition, and it is not uncommon to find two, or even three generations of a family all making their living on a farm. The more family members that chose to work on the “home farm,” the larger the farm has to be to support those individuals and their families. My family farm is what some would consider a “large farm,” milking almost 300 cows with almost 600 animals on the farm in total (including youngstock), but my two parents and three younger brothers (two of them with families of their own) are employed full-time by the farm. The additional animals allows multiple family members to earn a living doing what they love at the place we grew up. Our cows have names (and numbers, for identification purposes), and we can all walk through the barn and the animals are individuals to us, despite the number of them. My point is not to talk about my family’s farm individually, but rather to state that our case isn’t that uncommon in the dairy industry. Farmers love their cattle!

      • Lindsey, your farm sounds very much like ours. We have 320 milking cows and it supports our family, my brother’s family, and my retired dad. I was raised one of seven children on our farm, was active in 4-H, and carried my love of cattle into an animal science degree from Michigan State–now am the manager of our farm, still name our cows also–and during the non-winter months, most of the adult cattle spend part of the time outside grazing on 100+ acres of divided pastures. The point is, we incorporate modern technology and best practices, along with “old” and sustainable methods–our goal is to have dairy cattle that LAST and are productive as long as possible, so we treat them well–they are our livelihood. I would be reluctant to categorize large farms as “bad” or producing less quality milk than small family farms. All dairies regardless of size are under the same regulations for milk quality, suffer the same penalties for exceeding bacteria counts/etc., and are offered premiums for top quality milk, so it’s business sense to maximize milk quality. My hope is that consumers can read between the lines, and realize that Joanna’s “milk is milk” is true, and continue to make dairy part of their family’s diet, in whatever label and price they are comfortable with.

  3. HI–Thanks for this post. Very interesting. I think to many people, “organic” is short-hand for healthy cows, given free range, grazing on pesticide-free pastures, being treated kindly, on smaller farms, creating less pollution, etc. Of course, it’s not that simple, and your post points that out very well!

    I do have a few follow-up questions:

    It sounds like you have a wonderful, small family farm, and I was wondering if your farm serves the local community or is part of a collective? What is the distribution system for your milk? How typical is your farm? My image of conventional dairy farms is of large lots owned by big agribusiness, where the cows aren’t grazing on pastures, but are in feedlots, hooked up to milking machines, living miserable lives and causing lots of pollution (manure run-off, methane gas).

    I was wondering if you have a citation demonstrating that both varieties of milk are free of antibiotics? From what I’ve read online, there has been quite a controversy about testing cows (at slaughter) and milk for antibiotic levels, and I wasn’t able to tell what the current status of testing is. And I think it’s important to note that a major concern with the overuse of antibiotics in animal husbandry is that it’s leading to antibiotic-resistant bacteria….”superbugs” that can’t be treated by antibiotics and therefore can make people very sick or even kill them.

    Also, what about pesticide levels in conventional milk compared to organic?

    Last, I think it’s important to point out that Vitamin D is supplemented, not naturally occurring, in milk.

    Thanks for your time!

    • Good points from Kamellia73. After reading this and crafting a nice comment, I did a little more searching online and found that bovine growth hormone is rBST. I didn’t realize that. Anywho. Avoiding rBST is the main reason I buy organic milk for my 2 year old… How do I know which conventional brands don’t use it? There’s probably no way, right?

      • Hi Chicken Nuggets and Elmo, thanks for your comment. For a milk company to make a claim about rBST, there is very specific labeling requirements. The label would probably say something like this, “Our farmers pledge to not use rBST” with additional FDA language elsewhere. So, yes, there is a way! Thanks.

    • Thanks for your questions, kamellia73. I’m glad I piqued your interest! Our milk is sold through a cooperative that we are members of, Agri-mark. We’re pretty close to Cabot, VT so I think a lot of times our milk goes there to make Cabot cheese. A truck comes and picks up our milk every other day. It’s held in a “bulk tank” at a certain temperature in between pick-ups.

      As far as how typical our farm is, well, I’m not sure how to answer that. There are lots of dairies out there with different attributes – in all shapes and sizes. We have friends who have 12 cows, 120 cows and even 1,000 cows. We know people who do a great job at all of those levels, who are conscious of cow comfort and health while being environmentally responsible using sustainable practices. It’s really not in their interest to be otherwise, though as with anything, there are a few bad apples out there.

      As far as antibiotics in milk, I found this video made by the Ohio Dairy Farmers. Maybe this will help? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgx2Y4zENNQ

      And then as far as pesiticide residues are concerned, I meant to cover that but looks like it got overlooked! Sorry about that. Here is a link to a report put out by the Organic Center. It shows that pesiticide residues were found in both conventional and organic milk in testing done in 2004 and 2005. http://www.organic-center.org/reportfiles/OrganicOptionReport.pdf

      I hope this helps! Thanks again for your input and questions.

      • I think its important to note that Organic farms of all varieties (Fruit, Vegg, Animal) can and do use pesticides. They are limited in what varieties of pesticides they can use but approved pesticides are still used.

        We choose to eat a blended diet, and I focus more on avoiding overly processed foods and those containing GMOs than conventional growing methods. Sure I’d love to eat only local, organically grown foods but that would also put limits on what foods we have available to us in the winter time (we also live in New England).

        Thank you for a well written and thought out article and the link to the milk source site.

    • I grew up on a 200 cow dairy, and now background raise Holstein steers, since we had to sell the dairy business when I was 15. I am also a Veterinary Technician, and have mixed feelings about the uses of antibiotics and pesticides in cattle feed, and take the possible of drug resistance very seriously. I can testify about my personal experience with medicated feed in my Holstein steers. Since I buy bull calves from multiple dairies (up to 400 calves a year- not a factory farm), I have to take great measures to ensure that my calves stay healthy. I use medicated feed on a limited basis. My milk replacer is medicated with antibiotics for the control of scours (baby calf diarrhea), which can become fatal overnight. It has made a huge difference in the survival rate of my calves (in 2012 only 4 of my calves have died due to scours, versus about 50 by this time last year). I also use oral antibiotics when the scours becomes severely clinical in my calves, which is very rare. My calves are fed this milk replacer twice daily until they are 3 months of age. At that time they are switched to feed that my farm produces. At about 2.5 months of age my calves begin on a “starter feed,” which is high in protein and sweet tasting to encourage them to try the new food (they are reluctant to eat food that has to be chewed because they are used to living off of milk). This is also medicated with a pesticide. This pesticide prevents flies from laying eggs on my calves rear ends when the defecate, and also prevents it on their fecal piles. I can honestly say that at this time in 2011 I was picking maggots off of the rear ends of my calves daily because the flies were so bad. Since we switched to this medicated starter feed I have had only one small case of maggots on a calf. So for the first 3 months of my calves’ lives they are fed medicated feed and it makes a tremendous difference. I love “my boys” very much, and my main reason for using medicated feed for this limited amount of time in my calves’ lives was to increase their comfort and overall health, because I hate seeing them suffer from scours and maggot infestation. I hope this helps. Thanks for reading.
      -Kendal from VA

      • Thanks for sharing, Kendal. This was a good way to illustrate how and why farmers use certain medicines. It sounds like you care about your calves a lot.

    • kamellia73- I also have a conventional dairy farm. we milk 75 cows, and have 120 total animals on the farm. It is my husband and me doing all of the farm work, with a small amount of “help” from our three year old son. :)

      I would like to address your concern for the “conventional” carbon footprint. Because of the amazing advances in technology, conventional farms actually have a smaller footprint per-cow than that of organic animals. Conventional farms are able to use technology making the animals more efficient without compromising their safety. Organic farms require more land and feed per animal to make the same amount of milk. They also produce more manure while making the same amount of milk since they are not able to utilize the nutrients in feed as efficiently as those animals housed on conventional farms.

      Our cows, if treated with an antibiotic, are tested to be completely free of all antibiotics before her milk is put in with the rest of the herd. Then, once the milk truck picks up the milk from our farm it is tested to ensure there is NO antibiotic residue. And finally, once our milk gets to the processing plants it is tested yet again. There are so many safeguards to ensure that no milk with antibiotic residue goes onto your shelves.

      Also, your concern for “superbugs” is definitely a valid one, however, that is why we work very closely with our veterinarian to ensure that antibiotics are being used safely and effectively without being overused. Just as superbugs are bad for us, they are equally as devastating for our animals, so we are very careful about how and when we use antibiotics. I truely believe that being unable to use antibiotics on my animals if they are sick is inhumane. I will not stand by and let my cow suffer because some people are a bit misguided and think that because I use medicine to treat my cow it will cause the milk she produces to be unsafe the rest of her life.

      I would also like to point out that all animals, conventional or organic, are milked the same way. Conventional are not ” hooked up” to milking machines any more than organic ones are.

      And finally, yes, vitamin D is supplemented..but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any in milk to start with. Milk does naturally have Vit D, more is just added to it to increase the amount.

      I appreciate your interest in this subject, and I hope that I have answered some of your questions adequately. Sometimes we as dairy farms fall short when it comes to helping the public understand just how and why we do what we do. :)

      • On the issue of vitamin D, which is actually a steriodal hormone, it is in all milk but much is destroyed in the pasturization process and has to be added back in. It is not only essential for human life, it is the only way the calcium can be absorbed by the body. Without it the calcium would just pass through the body.

        On the note of super bugs, there is some evidence to support prophylactic use of antibiotics can lead to some superbugs. This issue is taken very seriously by most farmers as they too realize that reistence puts their animals and family members at risk also. But also understand that all the anti-bacterial soaps, hand cleansers, and the like are creating superbugs at a much faster rate.

        Just my two cents.

      • Lisa, I appreciate your comments and the perspective–especially the part about the carbon footprint–I’d heard that before, but you have a clear way of explaining a topic that anyone can understand. It’s hard to not take some of the negative comments personally, when uninformed (and sometimes very well-educated) people generations removed from a farm just assume that “big” farms are factory farms that are just looking at numbers and profits and don’t care about the well-being of their animals. In the dairy biz, making a profit automatically means you ARE taking care of them–the bad apples weed themselves out in the long run. And, I’m not part of the “big” farms, but I don’ like seeing them attacked.

    • kamellia73: the controversy regarding antibiotic residues is a meat issue that has bled over into the milk industry simply because dairy animals are involved. When you give an animal an intramammary antibiotic (through the mammary system), there is typically a 3-7 day withdrawal period (her milk cannot be marketed). The time length varies based on the antibiotic used (backed by the decades of research that were done before the product could ever be marketed – it is truly a longer process than approval for use of antibiotics & medications in humans). The withdrawal time for an intramammary antibiotic is shorter than for an antibiotic that is given in a muscle or vein because the mammary system is flushed out at least twice per day when the cow is milked. When an antibiotic is in the muscle, the body has to remove the residues that are left – which takes a significant longer time (up to 30+ days). Also be aware that in a cow, there is a blood/milk barrier – an antibiotic that is given in a cows muscle cannot cross that barrier into the milk glands. With that said, any cow that is given an antibiotic (by any means) has a milk-withholding time that must be followed. The same is true for the meat side. However, the difference is the milk industry has a 100% testing standard in which all milk is tested for antibiotic residues before processing and marketing. The meat industry does not have this same standard…which is why we find ourselves in this situation. A few bad apples have spoiled the bunch. They estimate that less than 2% of the beef sold has been contaminated with antibiotics. That is a very small number considering the billions of pounds of meat consumed each year. Is it perfect? No. But the reality is that there is no perfect system. Even as I say the milk industry has 100% testing, realize that humans make mistakes and equipment fails.

      I hope that clears up the meat/milk antibiotic issues in the headlines of late.

      • Just to clarify the math, you said: <> To give a conservatively low number: 1% of 1 billion is 10 million. So your numbers suggest that each year, tens of millions of pounds of antibiotic-contaminated beef is sold. I have no idea if that’s right (or a serious issue, etc.), but I’m not sure I’d consider it “a very small number.”

      • Sorry, it deleted my quote–the quoted text should be:
        “They estimate that less than 2% of the beef sold has been contaminated with antibiotics. That is a very small number considering the billions of pounds of meat consumed each year.”

  4. Thanks for this informative post. I have a toddler who drinks a lot of milk, and usually buy organic, so it is good to know exactly what goes into making it organic.

    When I don’t buy organic, I often will buy, when it’s available, a non-organic milk from a more local farm rather than the organic from a farm that might be further away. Does this make sense in terms of shopping based on good farming, and environmental, practices?

    Also, one other reason I buy this particular brand of local milk is that it comes from Jersey cows, and the label says that this type of cow produces milk that contains something like 20% more protein. Is this true?

    • Hi Jeanna LC. Thanks for your comment. I think there are a lot of great reasons to buy local – supporting the local community, local jobs, etc. I like to buy a local brand as well. As far as Jerseys go, if you ask me, they’re the best breed ever. :) Seriously though, it’s true, they do produce milk that has a higher percentage of protein in it than average. Enjoy!

  5. Nice post and I would buy milk from this farm. For me, my choice to buy organic milk is due to my concern about keeping cows in feedlots. Organic milk is the only “easy” way for me to buy milk from cows who, in my opinion, are kept in the better husbandry situations. I am sure there are many small farms that pasture their cows, but it’s had to know which ones these are. I am also concerned about the pesticides used on the feed that the cows get. I would be fine with a cow being treated with antibiotics and then returned to the herd once there were no residues in her milk.

    • Thanks for your comment, Sarah. I’ve actually visited feedlots before and can tell you that the cows seemed content, well-fed and maybe a little on the lazy side loafing around. These farms typically have management systems in place to care for/monitor their cows. And as I understand it, European organic standards actually do allow for the medicinal use of antibiotics which I think is interesting.

  6. Thank you for this great guest post. I especially appreciate the plain-talk explanations of why organic can be problematic too. And I also echo some other comments that this small dairy farm can’t be compared to Big Corporate Milk, with cows that never see the light of day. I also have questions about how the milk industry that supports veal consumption? There’s lots of calves born in order to keep milk production going…I know there’s a link there- I just have never seen it explained very well.
    However, I think there is quite a bit of evidence that we as Americans have too much milk/cheese in our diets, organic or not. There’s emerging evidence linking dairy to prostate cancer and ovarian cancer. http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA400175/Does-Milk-Cause-Cancer.html And that milk does not, as we have all been taught, help prevent bone fractures. http://www.thechinastudy.com/la-timesarticle.html As a family we are “nearly” vegan- which means that our animal protein comes from small amounts of dairy and our own eggs. Following the recommendations of the largest epidemiological study of human nutrition ever conducted, The China Study. But as always, I’m glad to learn something new about the organic process and thankful to read other thoughtful comments.
    Thanks.

    • Thanks for your comment, Girl Replanted. I’m not sure I can answer the veal consumption question but I can tell you that while we sell our holstein bull calves which are bought by all types of buyers, we have also started to raise our jersey steers to sell locally. We are already a grass-fed herd and there seems to be good demand for that type of meat.

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  9. Joanna, did you do a semester in New Zealand? If you did, I would find it very interesting to see a post on bringing in more management ideas from New Zealand. We produce more milk per cow then NZ, but they do it at a far lower cost and we can’t compete with them on the world market. Plus, they’re doing it without subsidies! The cost of milk and meat from livestock has not kept up with the increases in fuel, iron such as equipment. It doesn’t matter how efficient we are if it’s not profitable. Unfortunately many people try grazing and think it doesn’t work because they are lacking the management. It’s a minimum of a 5 year learning curve, dairy cattle and finishing cattle are the highest nutrition class requiring the best feed. I know around me, many who do graze only use their poorest land for pastures. If you’re producing milk or finished beef on pasture it needs to be done on the same type of land you raise your crops on. A local dairy farmer recently told me he couldn’t turn his 150 cows on on pasture, they’d tare it up. I kept to myself thinking, “yeah, if you don’t know how to manage pasture.”

    • Hi Ben – Yes, I did spend a semester in New Zealand. It was great and I learned a lot. There are actually grazing groups around that meet and discuss different topics/strategies, etc. Nice to hear from you!

  10. Firstly: the way this small dairy farm is operating is not necessarily representative of the majority of the milk that is sold in the supermarkets. If all milk cam from farms like this, I completely agree that organic is not necessarily worth all that much extra. And by the sounds of this, I’d be more than happy to buy from this farm.

    To me, the issue is less about organic vs not organic. To me it’s about freerange vs animals raised indoors, grass fed vs corn fed, it’s Jersey vs Holstein, it’s local vs carted all across the country, it’s raw vs pasteurised and homogenised, (I know, I know, it’s illegal and soooo dangerous….)

    I pay a premium for raw milk produced organically by a small farm only about 20km down the road, from a herd of freeranging Jersey cows. And I am happy to pay that price for a multitude of reasons: I believe it is healthier for the human consumers and for the cows, amongst other things, milk from grass-fed cows is higher in Omega3s, I believe it is better for the environment as it’s stays local, I believe it is better for the animals compared to the larger commercial dairy farms.
    Also, the issues with organic vs not organic is not only about antibiotics in the milk. It’s also about pesticides being used on the cow’s feed and grass. Not only have I seen studies that proved that there were pesticide and herbicide residues in non-organic milk, I also want to support a system that does not use tons of chemical fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides.

  11. Jello Joanna…. how happy I am that our friend Jennifer invited you to write and share your blog. Like yourself, my husband and I had a small dairy of registered Holsteins in Fort Covington, New York. We milked 25 cows with the balance of young stock to make 50 head.
    Recently, I was a chaperone at a youth forum where the youth participated in workshops. Being a retired Health Educator, I attended a workshop that was titled: The Hidden Truth: What’s In our Food. The title was intriguing because I thought I might learn something new. Early in the presentation, the presenter suggested we need to be careful about “dairy”. Of course, I asked why? She indicated, that we have to be careful about what “factory” farms are putting in their milk. She indicated that the factory farms were putting antibiotics in the milk. Clearly, I told her that she need to stop right there.

    I asked her, if she had a child that was sick … what would she do? She said, that she would try something natural. And, I asked, if that did not work… then what? She indicated that she would probably take her child to a doctor.

    I informed her that as a Dairy Farmer, we would do the same for our cattle. If antibiotics are called for then we would do what we have to do to regain the health of our cattle. Furthermore, I told her that as milk production specialist that we have “mandates” to follow. We are allowed to ship milk from “treated” cows whether we milk, 30, 300, or 3000. In addition, I shared that each time the milk truck comes to our farm and every other farm… a sample of milk is taken from our tank to prove that our milk does not have antibiotics.

    She was quick to tell me that I have my opinion and she has hers….. in the evaluation of the workshop to the organizers of the youth forum, I shared by disappointment with this specific presenter. It was highly unfortunate that here we had “young” minds that are being “molded” with information that is not accurate.

    Furthermore, I have enjoyed the opportunity to share this with you as your “blog” is right on. We need to …. EDUCATE, EDUCATE AND EDUCATE…..

    I have admired the South West Dairy Farmers ( http://www.southwestdairyfarmers.com ) who have created “mobile” classrooms. That is bringing the “cow” to the schools, malls, etc.
    I would love to take up the opportunity to have a similar project in the North East…. Do you suppose there might be a few “sponsor” dollars to create such a project?

    As a retired Health Educator, our children need to learn not only about the “nutrients” provided in milk but also what a better “bang” for their “buck” than consuming sugar laden beverages.

    Thanks… again!

    • Hi Connie, thanks for sharing your experience here! I’m glad you were there and spoke up when you did. You’re absolutely right. We need to educate and get our own side of the story out there and we’re the only ones who can do that. I’ve heard of the mobile classrooms in the Southwest. I think it would be a great idea for our milk promotion boards… what do you think?

      And what a neat combination – a health educator and a dairy farmer. Cool!

    • As a retired Health Educator, our children need to learn not only about the “nutrients” provided in milk but also what a better “bang” for their “buck” than consuming sugar laden beverages.

      Yet chocolate milk contains 3 tsp of sugar per serving. Sugar laden beverages, indeed. 71% of milk served at US schools is chocolate milk.

      • Indeed! I get so tired of people touting flavoured milks and sweet yoghurts as healthy to my children and citing the “added calcium and vitamin D” (added to the naturally occurring amounts) as the reason for it being so “extra special healthy”. These days they often also add Omega 3s and all kinds of different substances.
        If it is full of sugar, it is NOT healthy and nobody should tell my children that it is. And natually occurring vitamins are not the same as synthetic vitamins, so I think they should be differentiated on the label.

        I see chocolate milk as a treat, same as ice cream. Not a healthy beverage. I’m not saying my children never get them, but it’s certainly not a regular thing.
        I am glad that my children are milk-oholics meaning they absolutely adore plain milk. We go through a lot of it.

      • Hi Sylvan, Sorry I did not see your post last night. I’m not sure where you’re going with this but thanks for weighing in. According to the FDA, most kids in the U.S. don’t get enough calcium and many fall short of the other essential nutrients milk offers. I would think at the very least, drinking milk even if it’s chocolate that still contains these nutrients – added or otherwise – is better than drinking the often higher calorie soda or juice?

      • “I would think at the very least, drinking milk even if it’s chocolate that still contains these nutrients – added or otherwise – is better than drinking the often higher calorie soda or juice?”
        Ice cream is made with milk, too and has those nutrients, too. Should we also see it as a healthy food? Or is it a treat?
        When compared to soda – especially coke – yes, flavoured milk would be the better option (marginally). But just because it’s better does not make it good – or healthy.

    • Just a note, there is a mobile classroom in GA/FL and AL. I’m not sure who all sponsors it, but I do know that dairy producers have a significant role in it’s existence. I’ve seen it at several locations throughout the year. There is a young lady that literally travels the south with a few cows and this classroom. It truly is a venture worth exploring!

      • Thanks for the reply. I am looking for “contacts” from perhaps Milk Cooperatives that will help sponsor… a “mobile” classroom.

      • Hey Connie. I’ll throw in a couple of suggestions. Get in touch with the State Dairy Extension Specialists in your region. They’d be housed at the land grant universities, typically in an Animal Science Department or College of Ag. They are a huge source of information and contacts. (If they don’t have a state specialist on staff, ask if there are any dairy professors in the department) I would also query them to find out if there are any dairy producer associations and contact info for them. I always found the producer associations very willing to sponsor anything that would help educate the public and tell their story. There may also be some Dairy Herd Improvement Associations in the area that would be willing to take part. Good Luck!

        • Thanks again Kristy… for the information regarding potential contacts for a start up to a mobile dairy classroom…. I will pursue some of those avenues.

          Actually, I need to share…. one of my former students and classmate of our boys is now a Pre-K teacher. As she knew we had a farm, she wondered where she might acquuire a “wooden” type cow…. “like something that is found a fair” that she could show the children how to milk a cow. She said that her next unit was going to be about farming.
          I told her that I could do better than that. Although, we did sell our cattle last May. We did not sell our cattle trailer. I have some friends who are willing to lend me one of their cows. So, I guess you can say… I have a start with the “mobile” classroom. I am excited to bring the cow and possibly a “calf”. Connie

      • Ladies! Great convo going on here. I have some info for you on the mobile dairy classrooms. The one in Georgia is sponsered by the Georgia Milk Producers and the Agricultural Commodity Commission for Milk…checkoff dollars I believe. Same thing in the Southwest and also New Hampshire, believe it or not! Basically these are all made possible through the state or regional dairy promotion boards – the folks who get to decide how the promotion funds that are deducted directly from our milk check are spent. I believe they are open to consider projects. I think the best way would be to go through a cooperative, that has a member to represent it on the promotion board and go from there. Here’s a link to the mobile classrooms I mentioned. Georgia: http://www.milkcow.org/ Southwest: http://www.southwestdairyfarmers.com/schedule/ I’ve also heard of Farm Bureaus have mobile agriculture “classrooms” too. Hope this helps!

  12. Joanna… Quick correction to my blog… was typing to fast….

    We definitely are “not” allowed to ship milk with antibiotics… should have re-read before I entered…
    Thanks
    Connie

    • Joanna… Thanks for the quick response….Since the youth forum, I have relished the idea of moving forward with a “mobile” classroom. I would like to pursue this idea more vigorously… perhaps approach Agri-Mark and other cooperatives for support. Connie

      • Connie- you may also want to look into the Ag in the Classroom program (http://www.agclassroom.org/state/index.htm) to see if your state has any programs. I know here in WI, there is an essay contest for 4th graders with a specific topic each year, and a in-class presentation available for 2nd grade classrooms given by volunteers associated with the program, usually farmers or other people in the farming industry.
        Also, just asking a local farmer to share his/her story with the kids and answer questions for them is a great idea, and I know a lot of farmers who are very willing and excited to share what their farm is like (and even bring in props, samples of the food the cows eat, or even a cow or calf for the kids to see up close). My husband loves when school groups ask to visit his family’s 550 cow farm, and often goes into classrooms to give presentations.

  13. I absolutely loved your ‘article’. You did a great job explaining. My family of 5 does the ‘same’ thing with the beef we are raising in Oregon. We treat them well, have pet names, and truly care about them. We know where each animal came from, what they eat, & anything else about them! I believe only good can come from educating the consuming public. Hopefully they, in turn, will support their local and smaller producers financially as well as politically !

  14. Very well written and informative post. Thanks so much for sharing this. It is very heartwarming to hear how well Joanna and her family treat her cows. As any breastfeeding mother could attest, their milk production is dynamically affected by diet, stress, etc. Coming from an Indian ayurvedic tradition where cows were kept as part of the family (and even considered sacred), and milk was extracted only after the calf was fed, I imagine that the same would hold true for cows?

    Many groups have come out against the pasteurization and homogenization of “modern dairy” and instead advocate drinking raw unprocessed milk (ie, Weston Price Foundation). There are numerous dairy farmers who have posted in the comments section, so I would love to hear your guys’ thoughts on this…

    • Hi SJSMD, thanks for your comment. Raw milk is a hot topic and I think you’ll find opinions vary among dairy farmers on this issue. The concerns for potential outbreaks of foodborne illness is very real, yet there are those who still want raw milk despite the risk. For my DF and I, we do not sell it nor do we drink our own raw milk as we feel more comfortable drinking milk that has been pasteurized. This is not to say that we disapprove of those that do – goes back to supporting for food choices. Now, if we could only get our own pasteurizer :)

      • Hi Joanna
        We are dairy farmers here in Georgia I really enjoyed your article as it is a question that we get asked about a lot.
        On the pasteurizer issue I use a double boiler method to pasteurize our milk. Basically it’s a large stainless steel bowl containing the raw milk sitting on a pot of boiling water until the milk reaches 161 degrees for 30 seconds. I got the time and temp off a USDA website. Then I pour the milk into quart size jars and cool them in ice baths. I got that method from Mythbusters as they said it was the quickest way to cool beer! I used to buy store brand milk as I thought I would have to buy an expensive pasteurizer but this method uses equipment I already have in my kitchen.

        On the rBST issue when we joined our cooperative we signed on to produce rBST free milk. Our coop does this because all the major supermarket chains (Walmart, Kroger, Publix, etc) that they market to demand rBST free milk. Generic milk is not always labelled as rBST free but it actually is in the major chains.

        Here in Georgia more info on the mobile dairy classroom is available at http://www.milkcow.org it is really cool and even though our boys “work” with us at the dairy they love to watch the cow being milked when they see her at a fair or show. Obviously presentation is everything to them!!!

        I hope you and your family continue to enjoy dairying as much as we do!

  15. It’s amazing to me how this post has gone viral, and I’m so thankful for it. I found it via Facebook from a dairy farm friend.

    My history: I grew up on a dairy (300+ milking head). I went to college and have a BS in Animal Science, a BS in Ag Education and a MS in Dairy Science. I married into a dairy family. My in-laws have a 200+ milking head dairy. My husband works for the university overseeing research in production animals. I worked for the university as an educator for 8 years before leaving. I currently work for a consulting firm in which I travel the country working with farms of various size (25 head to 5000 head), in all different types of facilities (grass, ‘feed-lot’, barns, robotic milking, etc.) Our goal as a company is to help producers improve the safety and quality of milk produced on their farm and to utilize animal health monitoring systems to recognize illness at the earliest possible stage. I added all of that history so that everyone understands my perspective. Despite all of that – first and foremost, I am a consumer!

    I’m intrigued by many comments regarding ‘factory farms’. Yet, no one has ever given this buzz-word a meaningful definition. Many believe that it is a non-family type, corporate owned operation with some owner/manager that lives in NYC with a bunch of underpaid, non-caring employees that mistreat animals, keep them malnourished, and loaded up with medications to simply keep them alive. When you use that term, this extreme example immediately pops into most people’s minds. Others believe that a ‘factory farm’ simply has a large number of cows. What exactly is the number in which a farm would cross the threshold into a ‘factory farm’? 100? 400? 1000? 5000? If a family of 7 owns 1000 cows, does that make it more or less acceptable than a family of 2? I will reiterate an earlier comment that 98% of the dairies in the U.S. are “family-owned” operations. There are very few ‘corporate’ farms. And of the few that I have interacted with, they are not the ‘evil-farmers’ that most people make them out to be. They have highly educated and trained managers and very good employees.

    My point of my posting is a request to stop using buzz words and define what it is you are hesitant, scared or worried about. As I stated, I’ve been all over this country and Canada and worked with farms of every size and style. I’ve seen farms with 25 cows in which I knew in my soul those animals would be better off if they were put out of their misery. I’ve been to farms with 5000 cows and have been immensely impressed with the level of comfort, nutrition and animal health – not to mention how the employees handle the animals. I’ve been to organic farms and vowed I would never drink their milk due to the conditions of the milk house and how milk is produced/stored. How animals are treated, fed, maintained, etc. does not have very much to do with the size of the operation or how they are housed. It has EVERYTHING to do with the caliber of the person that owns them.

    Also another point I’d like to make. All farms milk their cows at least twice per day. Some farms milk three times per day. In robotic milking farms, cows CHOOSE to be milked when they want, and many visit the milker 5-6 times per day. All cows are milked by machine now, with a possible exception of a few people that milk no more than 2-3 cows by hand daily. Do not vilify producers for using machines to milk cows. We do not ‘suck’ milk out of cows. We do not shoot them up with medications to make them milk. They are cow sized breast pumps.

    And lastly, a point on antibiotics in milk. NO MILK SOLD ON THE GROCERY STORE HAS ANTIBIOTICS IN IT! EVERY single tank of milk that gets shipped is tested at least twice before it’s processed. Sometimes, even more. Milk is the one food product where there is 100% testing for antibiotic residues. If a producer ships a load of milk that tests positive for antibiotics, not only does he/she not get paid for the milk he produced, he must also buy every gallon of milk that was mixed with his….which can be upwards of $10-15,000….because the plant must dump the milk. And the farm cannot market milk until they can prove there is no longer a contamination in the herd (additional loss because cows are still being fed and milked….another $10 – $40,000).

    Please be assured that every jug on the market, conventional or not, is safe. I cannot say that about raw milk as they do not have the same testing standards before marketing. I’m not trying to throw them under the bus, but there is a distinction in what is tested for antibiotics, and what is not.

    Sorry for the long comment. I truly appreciate this post and hope that it will help educate consumers.

    • Kristy, thanks for your well thought out comment! You raise some excellent points. I, too, have been fortunate to have visited many different types of farms and can echo similar sentiments. Keep up the good work!

      • Your point about raw milk is totally valid. As they are not allowed to market it for human consumption here (Austtralia), it is not tested the same way. Which is why I would never buy it without knowing exactly where it came from.

    • Amen, Kristy! “How animals are treated, fed, maintained, etc. does not have very much to do with the size of the operation or how they are housed. It has EVERYTHING to do with the caliber of the person that owns them.” You should be a spokesperson for the dairy industry! p

      • I have been at different points in my life, and will always be an unpaid spokesperson. But at times I find it difficult to ‘hold my tongue’ in certain situations. Guess I’ll never be a politician either! But I’m also a consumer, and I have no problem taking producers to task either!

    • Hello Kristy,
      In my previous blog… the term “factory farm” surfaced at the youth forum that I had attended where the “presenter” use the term to make her reference.
      Like you said, there are individuals who utilize “buzz” words and do not
      define the meaning of such.
      I have to agree with you that there are individuals out there who call themselves farmers and their animals would be better off with somebody who really would care about them. These people give the true dairy farmer a “bad” name and reputation.
      Thanks
      Connie

    • Great comment! I have been reading through all the posts to see if anyone addressed that. My husband manages a 4000 cow dairy farm and I am sad when people jump to conclusions without ever taking the time to educate themselves on what really happens there. The farm even offers tours free to the public- they’re not trying to hide anything.

      Another comment regarding what one woman said about run-off: large farms are held to a much higher standard by the government, and often have less run-off than a pastured dairy as they must keep their manure tightly managed.

      Great article, I am so happy this is out there!

  16. Interesting article. I used to drink A LOT of milk as a kid and young adult, but now not as much. Because of that I buy organic because it seems to last A LOT longer than non-organic (at least that’s what the dates on the cartons say.) I was just wondering why this is?

    • Hi Brooks – This has to do with the type of processing that is used. Organic milk uses Ultra High Temperature while other types use Pasteurization. I think there are links to how these processes work in the post. Thanks!

      • Not all organic milk is UHT treated. If that’s the only organic milk you can find, i’d personally prefer using plain pasteurised milk.

    • Wow, Sylva, this is a lengthy article. I will have to study it in sections. My initial impression is that it is negative towards the dairy industry, but that the students are making an effort to be fair. My final verdict is out yet. This may take parts of several days to read, as I don’t have the luxury to sit down and read it all at once, with a dairy farm and family to keep track of! Thanks for the link.

  17. Pingback: Guest Post: Organic Versus Conventional Milk: Health Issues And Environmental Perspectives | Science of Mom

  18. Pingback: Organic Versus Conventional Milk: Health Issues And Environmental Perspectives (Guest Post at Science of Mom) | SquintMom.com

  19. Pingback: Perspectives « Farm Life Love

  20. Does anybody have the specific citations for USDA organic regulations concerning antibiotic use in dairy animals?

    I’ve read a variety of (uncited) claims, from simply needing to wait until the antibiotics are “cleared from the animal” (http://cloverstornetta.com/clos-kids/ask-clo/) to “the milk is discarded long after the recommended time” (http://www.redwoodhill.com/our-farm/organic-natural) to waiting one year to “No antibiotics or growth hormones can ever be used” (http://strausfamilycreamery.com/field-to-bottle/organic-farm-practices). (I wasn’t sure what this blog post was suggesting–“cow must leave the herd”/”saying goodbye”?)

    I hope somebody else knows better and can provide more citations and insight, but my best guess is to look at the USDA’s National Organic Progam (http://goo.gl/efpZS). E.g.:
    – Sec. 205.238(b)(2) seems to say that certain parasiticides are ok if at least 90 days before milk production: “Parasiticides allowed under Sec. 205.603 may be used on: Dairy stock, when used a minimum of 90 days prior to the production of milk or milk products that are to be sold, labeled, or represented as organic.”
    – Sec. 205.603 lists some other types of drugs (that I have no idea what they do), too, often with much shorter waiting periods, e.g. Sec. 205.603(a)(5)(ii) milk discard period of 8 days for Butorphanol (painkiller?)
    – Sec. 205.236(a)(2) (“Milk or milk products must be from animals that have been under continuous organic management beginning no later than 1 year prior to the production of the milk or milk products that are to be sold, labeled, or represented as organic”) sounds like it requires one year after use of antibiotics not found in Sec. 205.603; but then it sounds like Sec. 205.236(a)(2)(iii) overrides this: “Once an entire, distinct herd has been converted to organic production, all dairy animals shall be under organic management from the last third of gestation”

    I hope somebody can help parse the USDA National Organic Program language–this is the one issue that has ever bothered me about organic regulations, and I guess now is a good time for me to reexamine it. (Well, also the unfortunate fact of organic certification costs being relatively higher for smaller operations; hopefully someday I can get to know a local cow or goat dairy personally, but short of that, I’m ok with buying certified organic and humane.)

    • Hi Dave – I don’t have specific knowledge of all of these regulations, but I think I can interpret them a bit based on my knowledge of dairy production.

      Many drugs, chemicals, and nutrients are allowed by the NOP standards, as you point out. These include parasiticides when necessary to prevent an outbreak, where more holistic methods have failed. They also include pain-killers, anti-inflammatory drugs like Tylenol, disinfectants, nutrients (glucose, vitamins, minerals), and medically-indicated hormones. I didn’t see any antibiotics – a different class of drugs – on the list you cited, though I only skimmed it briefly. I’m guessing that there are data showing how long it takes for many of these substances to clear the milk, if they enter the milk at all. Many others, like glucose, really wouldn’t be a concern.

      My understanding of Sec. 205.236 is that for a farm building an organic herd and working towards certification, milk could only be sold as organic after the cow had been managed as organic for 1 year. Once the entire herd has been converted to organic production, then all animals would have to be managed as organic starting during pregnancy – that is, BEFORE birth. You have to raise calves as organic before they can become organic milk-producing cows. That’s my understanding, anyway, though I could be reading it wrong.

      In Joanna’s case, if she was running an organic herd and one of her cows got a bacterial infection (mastitis is not uncommon, even under the best management), treating that animal with antibiotics would mean that the cow would have to be sold to a conventional herd.

      • Thanks–this was also confirmed in an email from the Clover Stornetta Director of Food Safety & Regulatory Affairs (“You are correct, if the cow requires the use of antibiotics for humane reasons then that cow can never go back to an organic herd.”)

        Considering a small producer with strong attachment to a particular line of cows, I can certainly empathize with the decision not to get certified for that reason (among others).

        As a consumer, I hope that one clause could get removed from the NOP (esp. since it sounds like they don’t have it in Europe? haven’t verified that myself though), or else hope to get to know a dairy that’s organic other than that one point, but for now it seems like buying organic certified and humane certified is still my best option given my preferences, since it provides reassurance (albeit far from perfect) about animal treatment, agrochemical usage, antibiotic usage, etc.

        Thanks again for the opportunity to think about this issue again, from other perspectives in addition to my own role.

        • Hey Dave – The no-antibiotics policy in the NOP doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. It seems silly (maybe even inhumane) to deny modern medicine to our agricultural animals, particularly in the case of antibiotics in milk where it is easy to test for residues and dump the milk for a certain withholding period. I understand the overall goal of reducing antibiotic use in farm animals, and I think it is a good one, but I don’t think it is necessary to eliminate them. Even for large organic dairies, having to punt every treated cow off to a conventional farm doesn’t seem like a good big-picture, sustainable solution. I still certainly understand your choice as a consumer, all factors considered.

      • Hey there- Just thought I would chime in here. I was very interested in this topic last summer- there are no antibiotics allowed in organic livestock production in the U.S. They are allowed in European and I believe Canadian standards albeit with longer withholding periods for the meat and milk. Why U.S. organic producers are not shouting out about this sort of boggles my mind. Personally, just doesn’t seem right to me. This is the biggest reason holding us back- denying modern medicine that is proven safe to use in a responsible way. Thought I’d share. Thanks!

    • Quick correction: above, I cited Clover Stornetta, Redwood Hill, and Straus, implying that they are all certified organic. Correction #1: Clover has a non-organic line of products, too; presumably their quote refers to their non-organic-certified milk (ambiguous on the web page). Correction #2: Redwood Hill’s creamery is certified organic (I’m not sure what that means?), they say their farm is “organic” (they have an organic certified orchard), they are humane certified (which requires feed free of antibiotics and hormones, among other stipulations), but they do not always get organic hay, *and* they use antibiotics when necessary.

      This excerpt from their reply email addressed the antibiotic issue:
      “Howerver, if one of our goats gets sick and we have to use an antibiotic to save its life, certified organic law requires that she would have to be removed from the herd. Because we do not have a second farm that we could move her to, we would have to lose her forever. Our goats are all prized show goats, some of them national champions and breed leaders – we are not willing to sell or give away any of our goats because she had to be treated wtih an antibiotic.”

  21. I think the take-home story running through most of these comments is this–farms that remain in business have to do a lot of things right–animal care is chief among them–cows are our livelihood and we treat them humanely and well, because we love God’s creatures and are good stewards. If we don’t (ie–the “bad apples”), our farms will ultimately fail. These are the farms that mis-use antibiotics, mistreat the cattle–and there is no magic category that these fall into–these farms can be huge, medium, or small, owned by families or corporations, organic or non-organic.
    I also think with the latest conversation thread about why the USA’s organic standards cannot mirror Europe’s more closely, especially on the issue of using antibiotics on a case basis, to save a life, and NOT HAVING to remove said animal…this has a lot of merit as well as common sense.
    The media is much at fault for misinforming the public, and some of these negative perceptions that appear in these comments are hurtful–before you judge, visit a farm and walk in our shoes a while.

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