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Dairy Talk

RSS By: Jim Dickrell, Dairy Today

Jim Dickrell is the editor of Dairy Today and is based in Monticello, Minn.

BST more eco-friendly than organic

Jul 09, 2008

By Jim Dickrell, editor

A new study, published last week by the National Academy of Sciences, turns conventional wisdom on its head:

Milk produced using BST is far more friendly to the environment than milk produced organically. The reason is basic biology. Milk produced using BST takes far fewer resources than milk produced organically.  

In simplest terms, organically-raised crops produce less feed per acre and organically-fed cows produce less milk per lactation. Therefore, to produce the same amount of milk, you need more acres of organic feed and more organically-fed cows.

And the numbers aren’t even close.

To produce the same amount of milk, you need 33% fewer BST-treated cows than organic cows and 35% less land area. At the same time, the fewer BST-treated cows will excrete 45% less nitrogen, 39% less phosphorus and reduce overall global warming potential with fewer methane emissions by 19%.

The study, funded by Cornell University, concludes: “[Our] study demonstrates that use of BST markedly improves the efficiency of milk production and mitigates environmental parameters including eutrophication potential, acidification potential, greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel use.” For the complete study, follow this link.
The Cornell air emissions findings concur with a 2006 British study comparing organic and conventional production systems. Click here to read more on the study
These studies are more than mere academic exercises. World food demand is rising along with environmental concerns. In the United States, population will grow to 377 million by 2040 to 2050, up some 70 million from today. To meet the 3-A-Day dairy requirement of all these folks, U.S. dairy production will have to climb 48 billion lb., a 25% increase over current production.

Couple that with the fact, yes, the fact, that global warming is real. Even Bush Administration officials now concede that point, reports Newsweek in its July 7 issue. (Recent flooding in Iowa, which helped push corn to $8/bu, is a likely result of global warming and climate change, says Tom Karl, director of the National Climatic Data Center. He was lead author of the Bush Administration’s “Climate Change Science Report.”)
Over the coming decades, the dairy industry will be asked to do two things: Produce more milk but with fewer environmental impacts. As the Cornell and British studies show, achieving both will be increasingly difficult if we do away with production- enhancing technologies. “Anything that gives us an increase in milk yield—long-day lighting, cow comfort, Rumensin, reducingmastitis—will reduce dairy’s carbon foot print,” Jude Capper, lead author of the Cornell study, tells Dairy Today. 
Dairy processors should keep this in mind before forcing their producer-suppliers to go BST-free. These processors are painting themselves into a corner, and they’re taking the rest of the industry with them. 

The Dairy Talk column is part of the Dairy Today eUpdate newsletter, which is delivered to subscribers biweekly and includes dairy market analysis, dairy nutrition information as well as the latest dairy headline news. Click here to subscribe.

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COMMENTS (1 Comments)

Mark Varner
I wasn't surprised by the findings of the two studies. Many production-enhancement technologies, like rbST, are attractive because they help the dairy cows be more efficient at producing milk. That's why Monsanto's bST product, Posilac, is so popular. The idea of a 'carbon footprint' is an attempt to compare the environmental impact of different farming or manufacturing approaches. Dairy scientists have known for a long time that cows supplemented with bST are more efficient at producing milk, so it comes as no surprise to me that bST supplemented cows would have a 'smaller carbon footprint.' Those cows are just more efficient at producing milk, and the scientific reasons why have been well established.

Some people ask me why consumers are willing to pay more for milk labelled rbST-free or organic. When I speak with consumers who pay more for milk that is labeled as rbST-free or organic, I've found that they do know that there is no difference in the milk. These are casual conversations, and not a part of a scientific study. These people are willing to pay more because they think that dairy farmers who don't use rbST or are producing organic milk are somehow better for the ecosystem or environment as a whole, and they often say that they are willing to pay more to help support those farmers. Of course, farmers who choose not to use rbST receive only a very small fraction of the price difference, and the recent research study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences clearly demonstrates that rbST-supplemented cows are more 'environmentally friendly.'

9:53 AM Jul 9th

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