Dairy products are promoted by the dairy council, doctors and many researchers as maximum good-for-you foods. Dairy products can be healthy for many folks, barring lactose and other allergy issues because it contains lots of great vitamins and minerals and can help ward off numerous diseases and other negative health issues.
That said, conventional dairy products create some negative eco-issues. While there’s no die-hard proof that organic dairy is more nutritious, conventional dairy does create problems for people concerned with hormones and supporting sustainable farming methods.
Here’s how to make sure your dairy products are eco-friendly…
1. Avoid rBST: Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin (rbST) is an artificial stimulant given to cows. It increases milk production but puts stress on the cows. It also shortens a cow’s milking life. It’s not necessary and it’s been banned in many places (not the U.S.). There’s a debate about rbST though. A newer study shows that cows given rSBT produce a substantially larger amount of milk which in turn reduces the amount of cows needed, which in turn reduces planet impact. In my opinion I’d still avoid rbST though. We put many unnatural things into our bodies already and this hormone is an easy one to reduce simply by purchasing rBST free dairy.
2. Look for organic dairy products: Look for the USDA Certified Organic Seal which means you’re more likely to be buying milk with less additives from cows fed organic feed and the farmers focus on sustainable farming methods. This last July, the USDA announced new rules for organic milk and meat. The new rules took years to develop and amend the National Organic Program (NOP) regulations to clarify the use of pasture in raising organic ruminants. Finally the USDA has decided that to be called organic meat and milk must come from livestock that spends at least four months of the year grazing on pasture and that 30 percent of their feed must come from grazing. Note that these standards, even the new ones, could be better.
3. Go local: With most food products, local is almost always better because it supports people in your community and cuts down on shipping emissions. As directly related to dairy it also helps to ensure you’re getting super fresh and healthy product.
4: Look for a shorter shelf life: Pasteurization of diary products is necessary to kill off harmful microorganisms that produce disease, can ruin dairy products and possibly make you and your family sick. However, some pasteurization methods go overboard. For example, UHT process kills almost all microorganisms and allows for a shelf life that’s unusually long, so that’s an advantage but it also zaps some of the vitamins. Look for milk and other dairy featuring the HTST process which means the milk has been pasteurized to kill many, but not all organisms, so the shelf life is shorter, but it also insures that the milk is produced locally and still has all the vitamin potency.
5. Dairy is not just milk: When buying sustainable dairy consider all the products you eat, not just milk and cheese. Milk is found in cheese in processed snacks and sandwiches, yogurts, various salad dressing, ice cream and some frozen yogurt, liquid coffee creamer, butter, milkshakes, pancakes, whip cream, cream cheese, sour cream and lots more. Make sustainable choices for all your dairy needs.
Need more advice?
- The following list of rBGH-free dairy products by state at Sustainable Table covers local dairy products that are free of artificial bovine growth hormones. You should note that if a product is rBGH-free on the list it does not mean that it was produced sustainably or with a high regard for animal welfare.
- Take a MUCH more in-depth look at sustainable dairy or a look at the background of dairy.
- Take a look at organic soy milk.
Also read: Can you trust organic dairy products?
[cow image via Organic Valley]