The Dirty Underbelly Of The Dairy Industry

I’ve written extensively about the differences between raw grass-fed milk and dairy from cows raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), explaining the many health and environmental benefits of the former and the risks associated with the latter.

Contrary to popular belief, pasteurized CAFO milk is NOT safer than raw milk from a healthy, grass-fed cow raised according to organic standards. Data shows that illnesses linked to raw milk are minimal, and far lower than those from pasteurized CAFO milk.

The reason for this has to do with the abnormal diet fed to CAFO cows. Grass is a cow’s natural food. Corn (nearly always GMO) and other grains, which are routinely fed to CAFO livestock, are not.

When cows eat grains, their body composition is altered and so is their milk, resulting in an inferior nutritional profile. Pasteurization also destroys many valuable nutrients — many of which have notable benefits for your digestion and immune function.1

Interestingly, cows, like humans, fed a high-grain diet will die prematurely. Many times a grain-fed cow’s life expectancy will be decreased by more than 50 percent. This is not typically an issue however, as the animals are sacrificed long before that time.

Pasteurized CAFO Dairy Far More Likely to Cause Disease Than Raw Milk

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) frequently cites raw milk as a leading cause of foodborne illness outbreaks and deaths. However, if you look at the actual data, you will not find ANY deaths linked to raw milk in the U.S.

You can get the whole story in my previous article, “How the CDC Transformed 21 Raw Milk Illnesses Into 20,000.” In the U.K., not a single case of illness from drinking raw milk has been reported since 2002.2

Meanwhile, just last year, ice cream from Blue Bell Creamery — the third-largest ice cream maker in the U.S. — sickened 10 people with listeria; three died as a result. The price for causing three deaths? A mere $175,000 fine.3

Raw dairy farmers have been put out of business for mere suspicion of contamination. Even in the absence of a complaint of contamination, farmers and consumers are often harassed over the buying and selling of raw milk.

Such is the case in Harris County, Texas, where the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance and raw milk consumers claim they’re being threatened by public health officials even though they’re not doing anything illegal. As reported by YourHoustonNews.com:4

“Raids have taken place at raw milk drop points to stop consumers from picking up raw milk. The raw milk consumers and producers are in fear of being shut down or fined by authorities.

‘Generally, when the health department has a concern about a business, they will talk to that business and they will go through the concerns.

What’s been happening is that they have been showing up in Katy with the sheriff’s deputies and in Austin they showed up with the police,’ said Judith McGeary, executive director of Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance. ‘This isn’t how food inspections are handled typically. It is very out of line.'”

Clearly, the attack on raw milk is aimed at controlling the dairy industry, NOT to save you from yourself, should you be convinced that raw milk is a healthy food and choose to go out of your way to obtain and drink it!

Use of Agricultural Chemicals Has Skyrocketed

Pesticide-producing giants like Monsanto, Dow and Syngenta promised their genetically engineered (GE) seeds (also referred to as genetically modified organisms or GMO) would allow farmers to reduce the amount of toxic chemicals used on their crops, leading to a greener, more environmentally-friendly agriculture.

The idea that chemical technology companies would act against their own self-interests by selling seeds requiring less of the chemicals that are the backbone of their profit centers should have been identified as a lie from the start, but many bought the sales pitch hook, line and sinker.

Today, with data showing the truth in black and white, it is high time everyone realizes that GE crops DRIVE the ever-increasing use of toxic chemicals on our food supply, making not only our food but also our soil and water more toxic — a fact that, ultimately, has serious ramifications for human health and all other life on Earth.

According to a recent report by the organic advocacy group Regeneration Vermont, use of herbicides and synthetic fertilizers on Vermont dairy farms nearly DOUBLED between 2002 and 2012.7

In 2002, Vermont farmers used 1.54 pounds of herbicide per acre. In 2012, they used an average of 3.01 pounds per acre.

pesticide-use
Pounds of pesticide used per year in Vermont. Data from the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets. Source:VTdigger.org

Herbicides May Pose Serious Threat to Our Children

While atrazine is the most commonly found herbicide contaminant in the U.S. water supply, many other weed killers are also associated with water contamination and pose very similar health risks. As reported by VTdigger.org:8

“Seven of the active ingredients in use — atrazine, simazine, acetachlor, alachlor, metolachlor, pendimethalin and glyphsate — have been linked to birth defects, developmental defects and contaminated drinking water … Five of the chemicals have been banned by the European Union.”

On June 6, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a new risk assessment for atrazine,9 concluding the herbicide cannot be used safely even at lower concentrations.10 It is currently up for public comment and is not expected to be finalized until 2017, but it may well lead to tighter regulatory limits and possibly even an eventual ban, based on the level of concern found.

The report, “Vermont’s GMO Legacy: Pesticides, Polluted Water and Climate Destruction,”11,12 notes that the use of nitrogen fertilizer in Vermont has nearly doubled as well, rising from 8.9 million pounds in 2002 to 16.5 million pounds in 2012, applied to a total of about 92,000 acres of farmland.

Impact of GE-Fed Dairy Cows

While there are many problems with CAFOs, the use of GE feed makes everything worse. As noted by Will Allen, one of the founders of Regeneration Vermont and author of the report, “There is no reason to use GMO corn.” Indeed, dairy farmers could opt for conventional corn or, even better, organic.

The cows would still suffer health problems since corn is not a natural food for them, but at least this would reduce (or eliminate in the case of organic corn) the amount of toxic herbicides contaminating the environment and ending up in the milk supply. Allen points out that the dramatic increase in herbicides, combined with GE seeds that are pre-treated with pesticides against pests that aren’t even a problem, is really irresponsible.

“Allen also criticizes what he describes as the state’s hypocritical stance on GMO labeling,” VTdigger.org writes.13 “While state politicians have defended Vermont’s GMO food labeling law against attacks … they have done little to effect policy that would help dairy farmers shift to organic methods …14

Vermont’s GMO labeling law has left a false impression that it ‘solved’ the GMO problem in the state. ‘Nothing could be further from the truth,’ Allen writes. ‘While we are forcing the labeling of Cheetos and Spaghettios, the state turns a blind eye to GMO corn used to feed cows that produce milk for Agri-Mark and Ben & Jerry’s. GMOs are about more than a (consumer’s) right to know. It’s also about the GMO impact on the environment and the monopolization of the food supply.”

Organic Farming Pays

Nationwide there are about 2,200 organic dairy farms, most of which have fewer than 200 cows. The “get big or get out” mentality has reduced the number of dairy farms in the U.S. by 60 percent over the past two decades.16 Despite that decline, the total milk production has increased by one-third — a feat attributed to CAFOs, which often house more than 15,000 cows and often use drugs to promote abnormal increases in milk production.

At that scale, you simply cannot raise cows according to organic, grass-fed standards. However, family dairy farms that decide to go organic often end up profiting. As reported by Epoch Times:17

“The pricing of organic milk is separate from the conventional milk market … [O]rganic prices have so far offered much greater stability … Organic Valley is the largest organic dairy cooperative in the country by far, with 1,800 family farm members. The price Organic Valley farmers earn includes a good profit …

The Buck family [in Goodhue, Minnesota] used to farm conventionally, but made the transition to organic in order to avoid spraying chemicals on the farm … [Ruth Buck] explained that the farm has the right number of cows (120) for the land (100 acres). ‘Everything balances out, and you don’t need to push the cows,’ she said.”

According to Darin Von Ruden, an organic dairy farmer and president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, organic dairy farmers typically have a profit margin of 5 to 10 percent when first starting out. Once established, they can make anywhere from 15 to 20 percent profit.

This is in stark contrast to conventional farms, which typically have a profit margin of 1 or 2 percent; a particularly good year might yield a 7 to 8 percent profit margin. The reason CAFOs are still so profitable is their sheer scale. But as just discussed, all this cheap milk comes at a terrible price.

Where to Find Raw Milk and Healthy Yogurt

Getting your raw milk from a local organic farm is one of the best ways to ensure you’re getting high-quality milk. If you’re still unsure of where to find raw milk, check out Raw-Milk-Facts.com and RealMilk.com. They can tell you what the status is for legality in your state, and provide a listing of raw dairy farms in your area.

The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund22 also provides a state-by-state review of raw milk laws.23 California residents can find raw milk retailers using the store locator available at www.OrganicPastures.com.

Yogurt is another dairy product that can do more harm than good if you stray from raw grass-fed dairy as the base. To identify the best commercial yogurts available, refer to The Cornucopia Institute’s Yogurt Report and score card. Their investigation found many products being sold as yogurt do not even meet the standards for real yogurt!

Top-rated yogurts are generally VAT pasteurized at relatively low temperatures and are made from raw milk rather than previously pasteurized milk. While not as advantageous as making yogurt from raw milk in your own home, it’s certainly better than most commercial yogurt. As a general rule, you’ll want to seek out organic yogurt made from 100 percent grass-fed milk. Also make sure it’s made from whole (full fat) milk, not low-fat or skim.