If you don’t have time to read this whole post, skip to the end to learn which brands are best and which to avoid.
In recent years, organic food has become big business, and mega-food processors have moved aggressively into the sector to cash in on the boom.
There are now significantly more organic brands and products to choose from when you go to the store than there were even a few years ago. Unfortunately, the corporations behind the majority of those products have powerful lobbyists who are working overtime to weaken the relatively new USDA organic standards in order to maximize their profits. As a result of their efforts, the “organic” label may not mean what you think it means anymore…
Since there are so many big players now and the vast majority of them do not have your best interests (nor the best interests of farmers, animals, or the planet) at heart, there are now a truly dizzying array of factors to consider and choices to make every time you shop. Since there are far too many organic food products to discuss here, I’m going to focus on one of the more basic foodstuffs – milk.
Here are a few important factors to consider in choosing your gallon of milk:
Location. Where was the milk produced and processed? As you’ve probably guessed, the more local, the better. Not only will you be helping to support dairy farmers in your community by buying a locally-produced gallon of milk, you’ll also be saving gallons of fossil fuel that would be needed to transport the milk over state lines and sparing the environment all those pounds of climate-altering carbon that would have been emitted during transport.
Pasture-raised or grain-fed? Corn-fed cows sound very wholesome, right? Wrong! Cows’ stomachs cannot actually tolerate too much corn (it will eventually kill them.) Although it’s okay to feed cows some grain (and you’d be hard-pressed to find a dairy that is fully pasture-fed since cows need a grain supplement during the winter/dry season) a diet of primarily corn and other grains is bad for the cows and bad for the milk you’ll be drinking (never mind that the grain was probably grown and milled in another state and had to be shipped across state lines.)
Humanely-treated or not? In an effort to increase their production and profit margins, big organic chains like Horizon have basically recreated factory farming with a few minor twists designed to satisfy the ever-weakening USDA organic standards. The fact that a product is labeled organic in no way guarantees that the animals were humanely treated, allowed to go outside, graze freely, etc. Organic agribusiness keeps its cows closely penned indoors munching their organic corn and providing the bare minimum of access to pasture the USDA organic regulations require. Smaller dairies tend to provide much better, more humane conditions for their animals.
Waste. All that constant munching mean that cows produce a lot of cow patties and a lot of methane gas along with them. Unfortunately, methane is one of the big contributors to our quickly-warming climate. Waste from cows also pollutes rivers, streams, and entire watersheds. So the way a dairy handles (or does not handle) the waste it produces is also an important consideration.
Next: which brands are best and which to avoid