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Texas Eats: Milk

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Milk seems so simple. At times in our history, we’ve thought it a wholesome and pure dietary staple, but at others it has been embroiled in controversy. In the mid-19th century, parents in urban areas worried about their children consuming milk produced by “drunk” cows — those kept in “swill dairies” adjacent to breweries and fed grain mash left over from fermentation. Such enterprises were outlawed in many places, the dairy industry retreating to rural areas and transporting its goods into cities by rail. Through the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, legislators responded to new concerns about milk by outlawing adulteration with whitening chalk and anti-souring formaldehyde. In the 1920’s and 30’s, Congress ensured fair prices for dairy farmers, and by 1940 milk’s place as a wholesome dietary staple was solidified for another few decades. These days, worries about hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides in milk have been addressed in the federal government’s official organic standards. So we rest easy, knowing that when we buy “organic,” we buy wholesome. Or do we? The USDA’s Organic Production and Handling Standards (which you can download as a pdf here) specify that milk labeled “organic” must come from cows that have been fed 100% organic feed and spared any treatment with hormones or antibiotics. They don’t require pasture as opposed to feedlots, so organic milk can come from cows fenced on an overcrowded parcel of barren earth and milked by machine several times daily. (How wholesome!) Moreover, feed comprising corn or other grain, even if it’s 100% organic, lacks the omega-3 fatty acids cows pass on in their milk when they’ve eaten grass. Grass-fed milk contains less total fat and saturated fat than milk from grain-fed animals, too. So if you really want to ensure that the milk your family drinks is wholesome, you can call up companies like Horizon and Stonyfield Farm to ask what their cows eat. Or, you can hit your local farmers’ market. The milk that the Ganske family brings to the Austin and Sunset Valley Farmers’ Markets from their Remember When Dairy comes from cows that range on pasture, eating grass to their hearts’ content and grain only when they come indoors to be milked. Wholesome, indeed, is the glass of milk that’s heart-healthy in terms of both omega-3’s and compassion.

One Comment

  1. I was surprised to learn recently about Horizon being owned by Dean Foods. Guess I need to pay more attention; I’ve been buying Horizon for over two years thinking I was supporting small family-owned organic farms, but instead my money was lining the pockets of a $12-billion corporation. And, to top it off, much of Horizon’s ‘organic’ dairy products are from factory farms. Even if Horizon made the best organic milk around, the fact is that their parent corporation also produces more conventional milk than anyone else. See the blog I started about this at http://www.jeremygoodell.com

    Wednesday, May 14, 2008 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

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