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Alternatives to Factory Farmed Milk

Food

By Alexis Baden-Mayer and Katherine Paul 

There are plenty of reasons to boycott milk from factory farms, beginning with your own health. Dairy cows raised on grass pastures produce milk that is higher in omega-3 fats, vitamin E and beta-carotene than milk from cows raised on grain. Milk from grassfed cows also contains five times as much conjugated linoleic acid, an unsaturated fat which protects against heart disease, aids in weight loss and may prevent cancer and diabetes, than milk from grain-fed cows.

Milk from factory farms is far less nutritious than milk from organic, grass-fed operations.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Milk from factory farms, or Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) that comes from cows raised on genetically engineered grains and pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones—not exactly a recipe for healthy milk.

But it's not just your health that benefits when you boycott milk from factory farms. Industrial dairy farms, with their endless streams of waste, are a public health risk. Just one dairy-producing state, Wisconsin, produces cow manure in quantities equivalent to the human waste produced by the combined populations of Tokyo and Mexico City. New Zealand has a name for it: dirty dairying. And according to a Natural Resources Defense Council fact sheet, manure from dairy cows contaminated Milwaukee's drinking water with Cryptosporidium in 1993, killing more than 100 people, making 400,000 sick and resulting in $37 million in lost wages and productivity. Water contamination from dairies can also cause blue baby syndrome and miscarriages

As for the health and well-being of the dairy cows that produce your milk, despite the pretty pictures of happy, grazing dairy cows on milk cartons and company websites, cows raised on factory farms endure intense, sustained cruelty. And most are eventually slaughtered for meat. 

According to 2007 data provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), factory farms produce more than 80 percent of milk sold in the U.S. Organic milk sales account for only four percent of the market. The best way to shift those percentages is for consumers to boycott the industrial milk machine, and force the market to produce more alternatives. 

Here are some basic guidelines to get started:

  • Buy USDA certified organic milk, but read the label.
  • The best organic milk available nationwide in stores is from grassfed cows or goats. It doesn't contain artificial vitamins, nutrients created through mutagenesis, or synthetic ingredients. Organic Consumers Association (OCA) recommends Organic Valley's Whole Milk Grassmilk.
  • The organic milk with the highest level of animal welfare comes from Animal Welfare Approved farms. Unfortunately, few farms are certified to this standard.
  • Unpasteurized milk is more nutritious than pasteurized milk, but buying raw milk is illegal in most places.
  • Going vegan is the surest way to boycott factory farms. The best non-dairy milk is organic hemp milk. OCA recommends Manitoba Harvest's Hemp Bliss

Organic trumps non-organic, but "grassfed" trumps "pasture-raised"

Buying certified organic milk is a good way to avoid the worst aspects of factory farms. Organic standards don't allow the routine, preventive use of antibiotics. Farmers have to give sick dairy cows antibiotics if they need them, but they can't sell their milk as organic until the antibiotics have left the animal's system. That means organic dairies aren't contributing to the public health crisis that's causing 23,000 people in the U.S. to die every year from antibiotic-resistant bacteria. 

Organic standards for milk also don't allow the use of the genetically engineered growth hormones rBGH or rbST, which are associated with lower nutritional value, and higher levels of pus and IGF-1, a growth factor linked to cancer. Organic standards also don't allow the cows to be raised on genetically engineered feed, which means the animals don't suffer from the deformities, sickness and deaths common in animals raised on genetically engineered grains. 

So to avoid milk from factory farms, the first step is to go organic. But not all organic milk is created equal. You'll also want to look for "grassfed organic," which has a number of advantages over "pasture-raised" organic. 

It's safe to say that all organic dairy cows are "pasture raised." Organic rules for pasture-raised set a minimum standard requiring cows to get at least one-third of their diet from grazing on pasture for at least one-third of the year. You'll need to read the claims made on the milk carton and on dairy brand websites carefully to see if they're meeting or exceeding the organic pasture requirements.

If your organic dairy farm doesn't make any claims beyond "pasture raised," then you can expect that it's just meeting the minimum standard. Horizon Organic and the store-brand organic milks fall into this category. For a review of organic milk brands across the country, check out the Cornucopia Institute's Organic Dairy Ratings. The report is a little out of date—it's from 2008, before the organic pasture rules were finalized—but it's useful to know which brands have been doing the right thing all along. 

Milk from dairy cows that are "grassfed" is superior to milk from "pasture-raised" cows. Under the USDA's definition of "grassfed," dairy cows must be raised on grass and forage exclusively, for their entire lifetimes. That means a higher quality of milk. So look for "grassfed" on the label. But also know that while the "pasture-raised" claim must be verified by a third-party certifier, verification of the grass fed claim is voluntary

Organic Valley is the first brand to distribute nationally a 100-percent grassfed milk, called Grassmilk. The OCA encourages consumers to choose Grassmilk over "pasture-raised" organic. But we would also like to see Organic Valley take the extra step of earning a "USDA Process Verified," an "American Grassfed," or a Food Alliance Certified "Grassfed," seal, any of which would serve as verification of the brand's claim that all of its cows meet the USDA's definition of "grassfed."

Organic, yes, but read the label

We also recommend Organic Valley's Grassmilk because it doesn't contain Arachidonic Acid (ARA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). Both of these synthetic nutrients are currently allowed in milk that has been certified organic, even though they aren't on the U.S. Food & Drug Administration's (FDA) list of essential vitamins and nutrients, and they haven't yet been added to the National Organic Program's (NOP) list of allowed non-organic substances. (ARA and DHA remain in legal limbo as Obama's USDA tries to clean up the mess left by the Bush Administration. One of the strongest arguments against ARA and DHA has been dismissed by the NOP: that they were created through mutagenesis, a genetic modification technique that can have the same dangerous unintended effects as genetic engineering. Earlier this year, the NOP announced that mutagenesis is allowed in organic as a classical breeding technique.)

If you want to avoid DHA, don't choose Horizon Organic milk. The label says it contains DHA Omega 3, which the company claims "supports brain health." A consumer lawsuit alleging this claim is false and misleading is pending.

Other reasons to read the label on organic milk? Organic standards allow Vitamins A, C, K, D, E, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B6, B12, biotin, folate, pantothenic acid, calcium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, iodine, copper, potassium, selenium, manganese, chromium, molybdenum and chloride in certified organic milk. Synthetic versions of some vitamins also are allowed in organic. Whole milk is not required to be supplemented with vitamins, but two percent and skim milk are. Organic Valley's two percent and skim Grassmilk contain Vitamin A Palmitate and Vitamin D3, both synthetic

One thing the USDA certified organic symbol won't guarantee? That the cows that produced your organic milk were humanely treated. So in addition to checking labels for "grassfed" and non-synthetic versus synthetic vitamins, look for products that are Animal Welfare Approved (AWA), in addition to USDA Organic. AWA standards prohibit inhumane practices that are allowed in organic, like dehorning. To check for products in your area, click here

Raw milk and goat milk rarely come from factory farms

Raw milk and goat milk rarely come from cows raised in factory farm-like conditions. And there's a case to be made that both provide health benefits over and above grassfed organic milk from cows.

Natural health guru and OCA ally Dr. Joseph Mercola warns against pasteurized milk of any kind. According to Mercola, "once milk has been pasteurized it's more or less 'dead,' and offers little in terms of real nutritional value to anyone," because important enzymes and proteins are destroyed by the pasteurization process.

Raw milk from grassfed cows contains every important digestive enzyme. Not so for pasteurized milk. According to Mercola, the pasteurization process destroys lactase, which is necessary for the assimilation of lactose; galactase, required for the assimilation of galactose and phosphatase which helps the body assimilate calcium. This is why pasteurized milk is difficult to digest, which places stress on the pancreas, which can lead to diabetes and other health problems. 

What about goat's milk? Is it a healthier choice? Does it guarantee humane treatment of the animals?  Prevention magazine compared the nutritional value of goat's milk to cow's milk and declared a tie

As for buying goat's milk in order to boycott factory farms, livestock Rancher, lawyer and author, Nicolette Hahn Niman says, "There is no such thing as a goat factory farm." But that doesn't mean that goats can't be confined or treated cruelly. An investigation by the U.K. group, Viva, revealed industrial-style milking parlors and cramped conditions at goat farms. So again, if your goal is to avoid milk from factory farms, you'll want to check the source, even if you're buying goat's milk.

If in doubt, go vegan

One way to guarantee that you aren't buying milk from a factory farm is to go vegan. That means finding a vegan, non-dairy alternative to milk from cows or goats. Start by looking for non-dairy milk that is organic, free of synthetic ingredients, high in nutrition and is not made from soy (which is likely to be genetically engineered), or rice (which probably contains arsenic).  

We recommend Manitoba Harvest's Hemp Bliss. But there's a catch. It's no longer sold in the U.S. You can buy direct online, but as the website explains, "due to product freezing" it can't be shipped (it comes from Canada) from November 1 through April 15. If you weren't able to stock up on Hemp Bliss before the snow started falling, there's an easy alternative: 

Simply Hemp, a dry hemp milk mix ready for the blender. (Learn more about hemp's nutrition here). 

Al Gore recently made headlines with his decision to go vegan. While he hasn't said so publicly, it's likely that his dedication to solving the problem of climate change contributed to his decision. As Ben Adler says in his recent article, "Al Gore is a vegan now-and we think we know why," a new National Academy of Sciences study shows that U.S. methane emissions from the factory farming of animal products may contribute as much to climate change as the entire U.S. transportation industry. According to a report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the global dairy industry's share of total greenhouse gas emissions at four percent.

Whatever your motivation—your health, public health or concerns about animal welfare or climate change—there are alternatives to buying milk from industrial CAFOs. Check sources and brands, and read labels, carefully. And if you're dining out, avoid milk products completely, unless the restaurant can at a minimum, guarantee that all its milk products are certified organic.

Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD page for more related news on this topic

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Author, social activist and filmmaker Naomi Klein speaking on the one year anniversary of Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20, 2018. Erik McGregor / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Natalie Hanman

Why are you publishing this book now?

I still feel that the way that we talk about climate change is too compartmentalised, too siloed from the other crises we face. A really strong theme running through the book is the links between it and the crisis of rising white supremacy, the various forms of nationalism and the fact that so many people are being forced from their homelands, and the war that is waged on our attention spans. These are intersecting and interconnecting crises and so the solutions have to be as well.

The book collects essays from the last decade, have you changed your mind about anything?

When I look back, I don't think I placed enough emphasis on the challenge climate change poses to the left. It's more obvious the way the climate crisis challenges a rightwing dominant worldview, and the cult of serious centrism that never wants to do anything big, that's always looking to split the difference. But this is also a challenge to a left worldview that is essentially only interested in redistributing the spoils of extractivism [the process of extracting natural resources from the earth] and not reckoning with the limits of endless consumption.

What's stopping the left doing this?

In a North American context, it's the greatest taboo of all to actually admit that there are going to be limits. You see that in the way Fox News has gone after the Green New Deal – they are coming after your hamburgers! It cuts to the heart of the American dream – every generation gets more than the last, there is always a new frontier to expand to, the whole idea of settler colonial nations like ours. When somebody comes along and says, actually, there are limits, we've got some tough decisions, we need to figure out how to manage what's left, we've got to share equitably – it is a psychic attack. And so the response [on the left] has been to avoid, and say no, no, we're not coming to take away your stuff, there are going to be all kinds of benefits. And there aregoing to be benefits: we'll have more livable cities, we'll have less polluted air, we'll spend less time stuck in traffic, we can design happier, richer lives in so many ways. But we are going to have to contract on the endless, disposable consumption side.

Do you feel encouraged by talk of the Green New Deal?

I feel a tremendous excitement and a sense of relief, that we are finally talking about solutions on the scale of the crisis we face. That we're not talking about a little carbon tax or a cap and trade scheme as a silver bullet. We're talking about transforming our economy. This system is failing the majority of people anyway, which is why we're in this period of such profound political destabilisation – that is giving us the Trumps and the Brexits, and all of these strongman leaders – so why don't we figure out how to change everything from bottom to top, and do it in a way that addresses all of these other crises at the same time? There is every chance we will miss the mark, but every fraction of a degree warming that we are able to hold off is a victory and every policy that we are able to win that makes our societies more humane, the more we will weather the inevitable shocks and storms to come without slipping into barbarism. Because what really terrifies me is what we are seeing at our borders in Europe and North America and Australia – I don't think it's coincidental that the settler colonial states and the countries that are the engines of that colonialism are at the forefront of this. We are seeing the beginnings of the era of climate barbarism. We saw it in Christchurch, we saw it in El Paso, where you have this marrying of white supremacist violence with vicious anti-immigrant racism.

That is one of the most chilling sections of your book: I think that's a link a lot of people haven't made.

This pattern has been clear for a while. White supremacy emerged not just because people felt like thinking up ideas that were going to get a lot of people killed but because it was useful to protect barbaric but highly profitable actions. The age of scientific racism begins alongside the transatlantic slave trade, it is a rationale for that brutality. If we are going to respond to climate change by fortressing our borders, then of course the theories that would justify that, that create these hierarchies of humanity, will come surging back. There have been signs of that for years, but it is getting harder to deny because you have killers who are screaming it from the rooftops.

One criticism you hear about the environment movement is that it is dominated by white people. How do you address that?

When you have a movement that is overwhelmingly representative of the most privileged sector of society then the approach is going to be much more fearful of change, because people who have a lot to lose tend to be more fearful of change, whereas people who have a lot to gain will tend to fight harder for it. That's the big benefit of having an approach to climate change that links it to those so called bread and butter issues: how are we going to get better paid jobs, affordable housing, a way for people to take care of their families?

I have had many conversations with environmentalists over the years where they seem really to believe that by linking fighting climate change with fighting poverty, or fighting for racial justice, it's going to make the fight harder. We have to get out of this "my crisis is bigger than your crisis: first we save the planet and then we fight poverty and racism, and violence against women". That doesn't work. That alienates the people who would fight hardest for change.

This debate has shifted a huge amount in the U.S. because of the leadership of the climate justice movement and because it is congresswomen of colour who are championing the Green New Deal. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaibcome from communities that have gotten such a raw deal under the years of neoliberalism and longer, and are determined to represent, truly represent, the interests of those communities. They're not afraid of deep change because their communities desperately need it.

In the book, you write: "The hard truth is that the answer to the question 'What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?' is: nothing." Do you still believe that?

In terms of the carbon, the individual decisions that we make are not going to add up to anything like the kind of scale of change that we need. And I do believe that the fact that for so many people it's so much more comfortable to talk about our own personal consumption, than to talk about systemic change, is a product of neoliberalism, that we have been trained to see ourselves as consumers first. To me that's the benefit of bringing up these historical analogies, like the New Deal or the Marshall Plan – it brings our minds back to a time when we were able to think of change on that scale. Because we've been trained to think very small. It is incredibly significant that Greta Thunberg has turned her life into a living emergency.

Yes, she set sail for the UN climate summit in New York on a zero carbon yacht ...

Exactly. But this isn't about what Greta is doing as an individual. It's about what Greta is broadcasting in the choices that she makes as an activist, and I absolutely respect that. I think it's magnificent. She is using the power that she has to broadcast that this is an emergency, and trying to inspire politicians to treat it as an emergency. I don't think anybody is exempt from scrutinising their own decisions and behaviours but I think it is possible to overemphasise the individual choices. I have made a choice – and this has been true since I wrote No Logo, and I started getting these "what should I buy, where should I shop, what are the ethical clothes?" questions. My answer continues to be that I am not a lifestyle adviser, I am not anyone's shopping guru, and I make these decisions in my own life but I'm under no illusion that these decisions are going to make the difference.

Some people are choosing to go on birth strikes. What do you think about that?

I'm happy these discussions are coming into the public domain as opposed to being furtive issues we're afraid to talk about. It's been very isolating for people. It certainly was for me. One of the reasons I waited as long as I did to try and get pregnant, and I would say this to my partner all the time – what, you want to have a Mad Max water warrior fighting with their friends for food and water? It wasn't until I was part of the climate justice movement and I could see a path forward that I could even imagine having a kid. But I would never tell anybody how to answer this most intimate of questions. As a feminist who knows the brutal history of forced sterilisation and the ways in which women's bodies become battle zones when policymakers decide that they are going to try and control population, I think that the idea that there are regulatory solutions when it comes to whether or not to have kids is catastrophically ahistorical. We need to be struggling with our climate grief together and our climate fears together, through whatever decision we decide to make, but the discussion we need to have is how do we build a world so that those kids can have thriving, zero-carbon lives?

Over the summer, you encouraged people to read Richard Powers's novel, The Overstory. Why?

It's been incredibly important to me and I'm happy that so many people have written to me since. What Powers is writing about trees: that trees live in communities and are in communication, and plan and react together, and we've been completely wrong in the way we conceptualise them. It's the same conversation we're having about whether we are going to solve this as individuals or whether we are going to save the collective organism. It's also rare, in good fiction, to valorise activism, to treat it with real respect, failures and all, to acknowledge the heroism of the people who put their bodies on the line. I thought Powers did that in a really extraordinary way.

What are you views on what Extinction Rebellion has achieved?

One thing they have done so well is break us out of this classic campaign model we have been in for a long time, where you tell someone something scary, you ask them to click on something to do something about it, you skip out the whole phase where we need to grieve together and feel together and process what it is that we just saw. Because what I hear a lot from people is, ok, maybe those people back in the 1930s or 40s could organise neighbourhood by neighbourhood or workplace by workplace but we can't. We believe we've been so downgraded as a species that we are incapable of that. The only thing that is going to change that belief is getting face to face, in community, having experiences, off our screens, with one another on the streets and in nature, and winning some things and feeling that power.

You talk about stamina in the book. How do you keep going? Do you feel hopeful?

I have complicated feelings about the hope question. Not a day goes by that I don't have a moment of sheer panic, raw terror, complete conviction that we are doomed, and then I do pull myself out of it. I'm renewed by this new generation that is so determined, so forceful. I'm inspired by the willingness to engage in electoral politics, because my generation, when we were in our 20s and 30s, there was so much suspicion around getting our hands dirty with electoral politics that we lost a lot of opportunities. What gives me the most hope right now is that we've finally got the vision for what we want instead, or at least the first rough draft of it. This is the first time this has happened in my lifetime. And also, I did decide to have kids. I have a seven year old who is so completely obsessed and in love with the natural world. When I think about him, after we've spent an entire summer talking about the role of salmon in feeding the forests where he was born in British Columbia, and how they are linked to the health of the trees and the soil and the bears and the orcas and this entire magnificent ecosystem, and I think about what it would be like to have to tell him that there are no more salmon, it kills me. So that motivates me. And slays me.

This story was originally published by The Guardian, and is republished here as part of the Covering Climate Now partnership to strengthen the media's focus on the climate crisis.

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