Sunday, January 30, 2011

Organic Milk Companies Abiding by the Letter of the Law...Barely

Although getting back to a nourishing, clean diet is essential for our health and wellbeing, I think it is imperative that my readers know there is an organic industry. Simply labeling a product "natural" "organic" or "____-free" does not guarantee the product will nourish your body or that the product is even safe. In the organic business, marketing can be as unethical and misleading as other companies.

This article here: breaks down some of the ways organic companies can mislead us. But adding another twist to the confusing array of misinformation, the author made an inaccurate assertion about antibiotics in cows and the milk they produce.

The amount of antibiotics in our livestock (and thus, in our water, soil and food) has becom so alarming that even the FDA released statements on it. These articles will fill you in on the situation:

Here is a comment about antibiotic use in milk-cows:

 "I am a mother of 7, and am always on the alert for frugal tips. Our family also produces organic grass fed beef at Alderspring, so I'd like to comment about organic production from an organic producer's point of view.

1) Antibiotics: under the organic rule, animals cannot be given antibiotics at any stage. If an animal must be treated with antibiotics, it is removed from organic production. Under commercial production, antibiotic residues do show up in milk. Here is dairy webpage (not a pro-organic one) that discusses the reasons for this:
There are other reasons for wanting to avoid antibiotic use in animals, the primary one of which is the loss of antibiotic effectiveness from overuse, which causes the production of "superbugs" or antibiotic-resistant organisms.

Use versus non-use of antibiotics is a substantial difference in organic production, requiring a completely different production paradigm to grow organic that involves a comprehensive health care, immune-building, stress reducing approach. Organic producers use these other approaches because their primary goal is health, not the treatment of disease through antibiotics. You are right that big producers simply ship those sick cows and write off the loss; but small producers like us try very hard to maintain the organic status of each animal because it is profitable and because it is right.

Antibiotic use is not occasional in typical farm production; it is rampant. I'm not sure about the rate in dairies, but in feedlots it is not uncommon to treat 100% of the beef animals with antibiotics.
2) Hormones: Commercial dairies are allowed to use recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) in production, which increases the efficiency of feed conversion to milk, and increases the amount of milk each cow produces; organic dairies are not allowed to use rBGH (similarly, most commercial beef is raised with growth-promoting hormone implants, organic beef is not). The Eastern Union and Canada have both banned rBGH. You can Google rBGH and learn quite a bit.

3) Pesticides, herbicides, etc. Commercial production allows for the use of these chemicals, both directly on the animal (insecticides and parasitides) and on the feed they eat (herbicides for weeds, pesticides for bugs, fertilizers for growth promotion). These are all regulated by the USDA, but as someone that has been involved in agriculture all my life, off-label and mis-label applications occur. In organic production, none of these things are allowed (although I know "cheating" occurs). Neither the animal nor the feedstuffs may be chemically treated under organic production.

Now, that said in support of organic, as an organic producer myself I think Horizon abides by the letter of the law (barely) rather than the spirit. Therein lies the reason for their high shipment/slaughter rates (a local organic dairyman here has an average age of 10 for his cows--more than three times the average age in the typical dairy, either commercial or large-scale organic--because his cows are healthy and long-lived). The access to pasture is a huge and important issue. Horizon primarily produces in big dairies, and the access to pasture is a joke (your squash court example is apt). Many of these dairies are in deserts--they may have access to pasture, but there's not a green blade on them."

Remember that most baby formulas are manufactured using typical cow milk. I write about it here:

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