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On the Udder Hand

RSS By: Chris Galen,

Chris Galen is the Senior Vice President of Communications for the National Milk Producers Federation .

Time’s Toxic Residues

Aug 25, 2010

The current issue of Time magazine – certainly at the front of the line of organizations we call the mainstream media – has an extensive assessment of organic food.  Specifically, it asks the question of whether organic foods, and food production, is better for people.

Drilling down to dairy foods (and specifically, fluid milk), the article concludes that yes, organic dairy products are better, and here’s where the reporting goes off the deep end as Time renders the verdict in the case of organic vs. conventional milk :

Verdict: Go organic if you can; the extra chemistry in commercial cows is just too much.

Time bases that conclusion on the fact that “Cows that produce organic milk are not treated with antibiotics or hormones; this is especially important, as drug-resistant bacteria and early-onset puberty in girls continue to be on the rise.”

Nowhere does the article say what “extra chemistry” may be present in conventional milk.  In terms of hormone levels, the Journal of the American Dietetic Association asked that very question two years ago, and in a peer-reviewed research paper, found that hormone levels were consistent between organic and conventional milk.  If anyone has studied milk in this country and found different and purportedly better hormone levels in organic milk, I would like to see their research [sounds of crickets chirping].  Organic milk has growth hormone levels the same as conventional, otherwise those cows wouldn’t lactate. 

 In terms of antibiotic levels, no one outside the dairy industry seems to know or care that every tanker load of milk is tested for antibiotics to prevent residues from entering the food chain.  Last year, more than three million residue tests were conducted, and fewer than one milk tanker truck in 1,000 tests positive; those loads of milk that do are dumped at the cost of the farmer. 

The thing is, I see these pro-organic milk arguments show up in media interviews all the time.  That’s time, small case, as in not just Time magazine, but in interviews that supposed health and medical experts give.  And that rationale they inevitably cite for preferring organics is hormone levels in milk, even though they, as purported experts, never cite any data to back up their conclusions.  Is this journalism, or is it just wishful thinking because other right-minded people believe in the same thing – which is not necessarily believing in the facts?

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COMMENTS (6 Comments)

psyguy - emerald city, NE
Growing grains to feed cows is more resource intensive than grasses when you consider that places that cannot support grains can still grow grass. That is, rather than diverting the land to grow grains for animal consumption the cows can be fed on naturally growing grass while keeping the grains for human consumption. Grains require more water as the poorly sourced article pointed out. is that not so? last time i checked the sand hills of Neb require irrigation to grow corn but the grass that grows naturally can feed the cows. In addition, the article also pointed out that grain fed cows require antibiotics to an extent that grass fed cows that grow more slowly don't.

the flaw in the final paragraph analogy is that reducing meat and dairy consumption doesn't "consign" anyone to starvation. medical treatment is a necessity; a glass of milk is not. People have been subsisting on mostly plant diets for eons thank you. what "consigns" people to starvation is when valuable crop land is diverted to meat and dairy resources when that land could have fed more people if they just ate the grains themselves. In fact, its the increasing trend of industrializing nations to shift from traditional diets to more western, energy expensive diets, that makes food more expensive and scarcer for the world's poor. Do you really think that its sustainable for a billion chinese and indians to aspire to western middle class lifestyles and that meat and dairy will be had by all? Of course you're not going to suffer anything except some more 'spensive pork chops. I'm sure that others will suffer quite a bit more. But hey, americans want their cheap pork, dollar a dozen eggs, and gallons o' milk. Oh wait, i guess that does come at a cost doesn't it? the salmonella soaked eggs, tainted burgers, festering cesspools of manure, and depleted aquifers may cut into profits a bit in a decade or so. But thats a ways off. Let the good times roll! for now....
5:36 PM Sep 1st
Chris - Arlington, VA
PS –
You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts. The fact is that grass-fed cows are actually worse in terms of greenhouse gas output per unit of milk because the fermentation of the cellulose in grasses is worse from a methane standpoint…plus there’s the issue that you need more of it to feed cows, so your resource demands tend to be higher. You may want to check out the peer-reviewed research on this topic, here in the Journal of Animal Science (, as opposed to just citing a poorly-sourced NY Times article.

All that piece did was regurgitate, like a cow with its cud, the FAO report on livestock and global warming, which has since been clarified to show that indeed, Western-style dairy farming is better from a global warming perspective than feeding cattle less energy-efficient feed. (Read my summary of that from earlier this year:

And to your overall point that we should save the planet by creating scarcity of foods…gee, why stop with dairy? Why not also withhold energy, medicine, transportation, and education? Then people will disappear in droves, and that solves the problem. Your version of sustainability is one that consigns billions of people to generations of subsistence-level poverty….a dystopian future to which you’re also entitled.

3:03 PM Aug 30th

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