Posts Tagged ‘eco-friendly’

Dope-Free Dairy

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Part IV in the Sustainable Family Supper series

dairy cow

What’s the matter with rBST? I’ve written before about how my path to natural and organic food began with a look at milk. When I became pregnant with my son, milk took on a renewed significance as I eliminated sodas and caffeinated beverages from my diet. I finally got around to reading up on bovine growth hormones, a.k.a. rBST or rBGH. You probably already know that they are artificial hormones designed to increase estrogen in female cows, thus increasing their milk production. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved its use in 1993, and like with so many other issues, refused to reexamine its safety despite growing consumer pressure and health concerns. The problem, or problems, are that the unnatural increase in production leads cows to develop infections at much greater rates, requiring them to be more heavily treated with antibiotics, which are passed on to milk consumers and flow out into soil and water with the cows’ waste. Then, there are studies linking rBST with increased breast, prostate and colon cancers in humans. The most galling part of the whole situation, in my opinion, is the ridiculous requirement by the FDA that requires dairy producers who label their milk rBST-free to include a disclaimer stating that “there is no difference between milk from cows treated with rBST and those who are not.” Actually, there are scientific studies showing that rBST is harmful and yet the burden is on the good actors to refrain from impugning the “good” name of the producers who continue to use rBST in the face of such studies.

Consumers Fight Back: The good news is that after repeatedly losing attempts in state legislatures to ban the use of rBST-free labels entirely (hello consumers’ right to know what they’re eating!), in the face of growing consumer pressure against the use of artificial hormones, its creator Monsanto actually sold off the product last year. Meanwhile, consumer campaigns targeting major dairy companies and grocers have successfully forced many companies to voluntarily reject the use of milk from cows treated with rBST. You can sign up to receive alerts from the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) to stay apprised of the latest. Food & Water Watch offers downloadable and mobile (iPhone/Blackberry) lists of rBST-free brands by state. Last month, Dannon and Yoplait joined the roster of major yogurt producers rejecting rBST milk (Stoneyfield has never used it). In the cheese world, Tillamook‘s farmer cooperative led the industry in adopting a rBST-free policy back in 2005. Cabot Creamery is the latest to get on the drug-free dairy bandwagon, announcing that they will finally stop accepting rBST-containing milk as of August 1, 2009. Even *some* Kraft cheese products (2% milk line) are rBST-free.

Next Stop, Schools: So if consumers won’t buy it, where’s rBST-treated cows milk going? Some is still in use commercially, and of course much winds up in schools. Food & Water Watch has a campaign underway, coinciding with this year’s reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, urging Congress to give schools the ability to let schools choose to use rBST-free and/or organic milk. According to Food & Water Watch, one out of five pints of the milk served to public schoolchildren may contain rBST. (Visit their School Milk action center to learn more.)

Better Yet, Drink Organic: If you already drink rBST-free milk, you might also want to consider organic. If you have to choose what to buy organic, organic milk and meat may be more beneficial than organic produce because the pesticides on cows’ feed are concentrated in their digestive system – and nonorganic feed includes genetically-modified (GMO) grain. And make sure that you’re choosing a brand that scores well on the Cornucopia Institute organic dairy study, because while organic certification guarantees that cows are fed GMO- and pesticide-free grain, it does not guarantee that the cows were allowed to graze on grass or treated humanely. Certain big-organic producers (Aurora and Horizon, notably) are only slightly better than conventional feedlot operations. (There’s a reason some store-brand “organic” milk is priced significantly lower – avoid Safeway, Giant, Publix and Costco store brands, which are sourced from Aurora Organics, a company found by the USDA to have “willfully” violated 14 criteria of the federal organic standard. Visit the Organic Consumer Association action page to sign a petition asking these company CEOs to boycott green-washing “organic” suppliers.)

We’re lucky to have a local, though not organic-certified, dairy delivery service, but when I have to buy milk between deliveries or on the road, I try to find Organic Valley. They are a co-operative of farms organized regionally, so the milk you buy may actually be fairly locally-produced, and they provide support to their farmers to make their farms more environmentally-friendly, such as helping their member farms obtain grants to place wind turbines on their farms. I attended a presentation by an Organic Valley farmer at last fall’s Green Festival and fell in love with the adorable pictures of his happy little cows and tale of how they prefer listening to rock music over classical. A recent study found that cows who are called by name (typically signifying a higher level of care) produce more milk, naturally. I may be a little idealistic, but shouldn’t every cow live like that?

What About Raw Milk? I haven’t read enough yet to take an informed opinion on the highly controversial issue of raw milk. Its sale is banned here in Maryland and Virginia (unless in a “cow share” program in VA), so I haven’t had the option of trying it. (At least not since I was a kid with cow-owning friends! Its true nothing else tastes like truly fresh milk.) On the one hand, I’m inclined to trust farmers who are praticing time-tested method,s and raw milk proponents insist that there are a wealth of health benefits to drinking raw. On the other hand, cows are naturally dirty animals! (That’s not a scientific argument, just an observation.) All the more reason to get to know your food’s producers, of course, whatever the product. At any rate, if you want to learn more, CheeseSlave has a great post on the reasons she chooses raw milk and links to more resources.

Fresh from Feezers Christmas Tree Farm

Monday, December 8th, 2008

This weekend we enjoyed a brisk (to put it mildly) trip up north to Feezers organic Christmas tree farm in Mariottsville, Maryland.

It was just a little further than the farm we went to last year, and we actually paid a little less for a lovely blue spruce. One caveat, there weren’t a whole lot of taller trees to be found as most topped out around 5-6 feet. They do supplement their offerings with (non-organic) Fraser firs from Pennsylvania. And the complementary hot chocolate and candy canes are just the thing to warm up little hands after the hard work of hauling ones tree back up the hill is complete!

Last week I noted the Green Promise organic tree directory; if you don’t have an organic farm nearby and still need to find a tree, consult the National Christmas Tree Association’s search feature. Even if they’re not organic, a locally-grown tree helps support green spaces and fresh air near your hometown!

Organic Christmas Trees

Friday, December 5th, 2008

On a seasonal if not food-related note, I wanted to share some tips on finding an eco-friendly Christmas tree. I am a firm believer in real trees – they absorb carbon dioxide, produce oxygen, are replanted and biodegradable, and support green spaces that could otherwise be developed into new subdivisions – but I’m embarrassed to admit I hadn’t really thought of going organic with our holiday tree despite having first-hand experience with Christmas tree pesticides as a child. I grew up in the Christmas tree capital of the US, Oregon. On a mountain, in fact, with Christmas tree farms just across the road. We used to sled down the access road whenever it snowed, and there were beaver ponds at the bottom where we would glide around on the ice when they froze over. (Hope my mom isn’t reading this, I’m pretty sure we weren’t supposed to go on the ponds! They rarely froze that solidly…) Anyway, that’s all well and good but a couple times a year they were sprayed by plane, and my mother would chase us down and confine us to the indoors for a couple days while we waited for the spray to settle. So while your Christmas tree may not have a high level of lingering chemical residue, since it does gradually wash off with rain, choosing organic is still beneficial for the health of those who live near Christmas trees! Not to mention the run off into our water and soil.

I started searching after a Twitter friend mentioned ordering a certified organic tree from North Carolina. This terrific guide notes farms that are certified or low-spray; personally, certification doesn’t matter so much to me, I’m just happy to know that we can get an eco-friendly tree without having to drive too much farther than we normally do. I’ll report back on Monday about our experience at our local natural tree farm.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, no we didn’t get free Christmas trees in exchange for the inconvenience of living next door to a farm. I’m not sure the owners of that farm even lived in the area. We did have a family-owned tree farm up the road (which did their spraying by hand and kindly informed the neighboring parents to warn us not to play there), and it kills me now that we thought their $15 dollar trees were expensive. Let’s just say we pay several times that here on the other, less tree-populated coast. My tree-hugging mom (yes, it runs in the family), objected to cutting down trees for pleasure so we had to choose our scraggly trees from under the path of the power lines, where they were destined to be trimmed anyway. We had a high (30 feet) ceiling in our living room and had some of the biggest, ugliest trees you could imagine. At least we always talked my mom out of her lighted dead branch hanging from the ceiling idea. But I’m sharing it with you as another option, in case you also share an affection for trees remaining in the ground and don’t want to expose your family to toxic lead/petroleum-based artificial trees…