Dairy Myth-busters Series: Dairy foods are not eco-friendly
Dairy products are, in fact, nutrient-rich foods that are produced using environmentally sound, sustainable, humane practices.
The myth that dairy foods are not “green” is widespread—it’s even conveyed by misinformed health professionals.
When considering “green” food choices, it is crucial to have a holistic perspective by taking all of these factors into consideration: The health and well-being of people, animals and the planet.
America’s dairy farmers have always been committed to preserving the earth’s natural resources while providing nutritious and wholesome foods.
Dairy farmers live and work on their farms, so they understand the importance of protecting our natural resources. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 98% of U.S. dairy farms are family owned and operated, sometimes by multiple generations of the family.
Dairy and the health and well-being of people
• Dairy foods deliver a unique combination of nine nutrients that are essential for human growth and development.
• The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans identify four “nutrients of concern”—those that most children and adults don’t get enough of. Milk, cheese and yogurt provide three of the four nutrients of concern: calcium, potassium and vitamin D.
• The consumption of milk, cheese and yogurt improve overall diet quality. Dairy can be a part of all meal plans including vegetarian diets (except the vegan diet which does not include any foods from animal sources).
• Milk, cheese and yogurt are excellent sources of high-quality protein which is especially important for muscle-building, to help prevent age-related muscle loss and to help manage weight.
• As a part of a healthful diet, the adequate intake of milk, cheese and yogurt may help reduce the risk of osteoporosis, hypertension, obesity, colon cancer and metabolic syndrome (a cluster of conditions that can lead to heart disease and type 2 diabetes).
• From farm to fridge, milk goes through strict quality controls to ensure freshness, purity and great taste.
Dairy and the health and well-being of animals
• Dairy farmers care for their cows by providing a nutritious diet, good medical care and healthy living conditions to produce high-quality milk.
• Dairy farmers work closely with veterinarians to keep their cows healthy and comfortable. Dairy cows receive periodic checkups, vaccinations and prompt treatment of illness.
• Dairy farmers work with nutritionists to ensure their cows get the nutrition they need.
• Dairy farmers provide their cows with clean, soft bedding and access to food and water 24 hours per day.
• Many farmers house their cows in freestall barns which allow the cows to move about to eat, drink or rest whenever they like. These barns let in fresh air and sunshine and provide shade and protection from the wind, cold or rain.
Dairy and the health and well-being of the planet
• U.S. milk production, processing and transportation contributes to only 2% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
• Constant innovation on dairy farms has led to widespread adoption of best management practices, and America’s dairy farms are more efficient today than ever before due to improvements in feeding rations, animal health programs, cow comfort and overall farm management practices.
• The dairy industry has reduced the carbon footprint of its products by 63% over the past 60 years.
• Both organic and conventionally produced dairy products are eco-friendly choices. In general, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from dairy farms is driven by particular farm management practices, not by whether the farm is organic or not.
• Farmers work with local government agencies, extension services, scientists and public interest groups to implement beneficial environmental solutions such as manure composting programs and wetlands conservation.
As the world’s population growth puts pressure on our finite resources, the dairy industry is working together to continue to provide products that are nutritious, produced responsibly and economically viable for all.
Coming next: An interview with Paul Gross, Extension Educator, Michigan State University Extension-Isabella County. Paul shares specifics about what Michigan dairy farmers are doing to protect the environment.