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Storm in a Glass of Milk

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Storm in a Glass of Milk

Aaah–the taste of a fresh glass of milk! Comfort food. Isn’t it nice to know that some things in life always remain the same–or do they?

Aaah–the taste of a fresh glass of milk! Comfort food. Isn’t it nice to know that some things in life always remain the same–or do they?

Cows are not what they used to be and neither is farming. Not much is left of the rustic image of cows leisurely grazing in green fields. Milk is an industry and as such, must be profitable.

First, the genetics of the different breeds was improved over many generations by selecting the best milk-producing animals to bear increasingly better milk cows. The result is that cows can now be milked up to three times a day! The idea behind the selection is to obtain cows that produce more milk with a higher protein and fat content. The price per kilogram paid to a farmer is proportional to the amount of proteins, fats and other solids present in the milk.

Second, their feed has been upgraded to provide a mixture of proteins, fat, vitamins and minerals that include animal byproducts. This is based on calculated ratios that will support the expected maximum yields. In the name of productivity, herbivores are being fed with meat!

In addition, these cows are fed grains that have been grown with the use of herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilizers that destroy the ecological balance of the soil. These products leach into the environment and the food chain. As a result, milk is contaminated with residues of these chemicals.

Many scientists are critical about the safety levels fixed by the regulatory agencies (Food and Drug Administration in the US, Health Protection Branch in Canada). These chemicals accumulate in the body and nobody really knows the long-term effects of repeated exposure.

Third, animals live in over-crowded conditions with limited space to move around. Disease spreads quickly, so a whole arsenal of antibiotics is used to treat the sick animals. There are traces of antibiotics in milk–even after a mandatory wash-out period–following a treatment. And now, the ultimate in scientific engineering is available in the US–the bovine growth hormone (rBGH) that when injected, increases the milk production by about 10 to 20 percent. (rBGH still has not been approved in Canada.) Do we really need so much milk? According to many farmers, the milk production is ample.

Does your glass of milk still taste the same?

Organic Option

We will not debate here whether cow’s milk is good for humans or not, but for those who like to drink milk, there is hope. Have you heard of organic milk?

Because of health and environmental concerns raised by consumers and some scientists, demand for organic milk exceeds supply. Within the organic food industry, the demand for organic dairy products is growing continuously; 50 to 80 per cent annually with sales over $115 million in the US. There are not many conventional grocery items that could claim the same popularity. In Canada, there are organic dairy farms in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia.

Where do you get organic milk? From organic cows! But, in fact, organic milk goes beyond organic cows. It is more of a holistic approach to farming. It encompasses the soil, fields and crops, the animals, their housing, feeding, health care and their relation to humans, the size of the farm, the disposal of manure and the overall management of the farm. Each aspect of farming is connected to the other. The success will flow from the harmony between the different parts. These farms also have to be profitable to the owners. Organic farming does not preclude prosperity.

Typically, organic farms are family-owned, with herds of about 40 to 80 animals. Cows graze freely in fields on a rotational basis. They are fed with pesticide- and herbicide-free grains grown on the farm in healthy soils. The land is certified organic. Farmers take great care of the soil, enriching it with compost, cow and green manure in order to maintain its natural microbiological flora and mineral balance. Animals move freely in the barn allowing them to find a "preferred" spot for themselves. Living conditions are made to reduce stress and to respect the natural patterns of the animals. Cows are never treated with antibiotics, hormones or any drugs that could harm them. And, of course, the use of genetically-engineered product is against the ethics of organic farming.

Denis Hamel, from L’Ancetre Organic Dairy Farmers Group in Quebec, says that the health of his cows has dramatically improved since he switched to organic farming. The animals suffered before from arthritis caused by a high level of nitrogen in the hay and inadequate exercise. He has seen his veterinarian bills drop to $3,000 from $12,000. He treats his animals with alternative medicine, such as homeopathic remedies, essential oils, clay and activated charcoal. He says he would never go back to conventional farming.

When you buy organic dairy products, you support family farmers and a self-sufficient economy and sustainable agricultural practices that produce food in harmony with nature and animals. Organic dairy products are produced without the use of pesticides, herbicides, chemicals, fertilizers and bovine growth hormone.

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