BST more eco-friendly than organic

July 6, 2008 07:00 PM
Jim Dickrell

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. 

Jim Dickrell is the editor of Dairy Today. You can reach him at

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