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‘Dirty Dairy’ Gets Its Due: Two Organizations Shine a Light on the Downsides of Industrial Dairy

The industrial meat industry has been hogging the food-related news cycle lately. The COVID-19 outbreaks at meatpacking plants. The slaughterhouse shut-downs. The “depopulating” of farm animals. Meat shortages and rising meat prices.

And then there’s the corresponding good news: Consumers buying more organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised meat products from local farmers and CSAs—even online sales of these products are surging.

So far, the industrial factory farm dairy industry hasn’t seen nearly as much news coverage during the pandemic. But under the mainstream media radar, two organizations recently shone a spotlight on dairy producers.

The Institute for Ag and Trade Policy (IATP) issued a report on the role of industrial dairy in global warming. The report, “Milking the Planet: How Big Dairy Is Heating Up the Planet and Hollowing Rural Communities,” calls for “redirecting public funds away from industrial agriculture, regulating the public health, environmental and social impacts of this extractive model of production and designing incentives to regenerate rural communities through agroecology.”

According to the IATP report:

“There is growing public support in the U.S., the second largest milk producer, for a dairy supply management system to limit production and ensure that small and mid-sized dairy farmers stay on the land. There are rising calls for a U.S. moratorium on new and expanding large-scale confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). New national-level climate policy also must place restrictions on GHG emissions from large-scale, high-emitting CAFOs.”

Indeed, just as consumers have been turning to local producers for their meat, many are also looking to local dairies for milk and other dairy products.

Massachusetts dairy farmer, Darrel Turner, told a local news reporter that before the pandemic, neighbors, many of whom are “city people” who mostly frequent the state’s Berkshires region on weekends, didn’t even realize that farms like Turner’s existed in the region. According to an article in the Berkshire Edge:

“It took the pandemic for the general public to realize that most of the food we eat in New England comes from somewhere else. It also made them realize a good way to avoid shortages was to turn to local producers. Massachusetts farmers have reported a run at their farms for eggs, meat, cheese and veggies since the lockdown began. ‘They are suddenly interested in what we’re doing,’ Turner says.

The Cornucopia Institute also focused attention this week on the dairy industry, with the launch of a new dairy campaign that the organization says will “empower consumers and wholesale buyers to support hard-working farmers who are in danger of being washed off the land by a tidal wave of surplus organic milk, stemming from the rise of factory farms certified under the USDA organic label.”

Cornucopia’s new campaign build’s on the institute’s Organic Dairy Scorecard, a popular resource for consumers who want to support organic dairy brands committed to upholding organic standards.

In announcing the new campaign, Cornucopia’s director of domestic policy, Marie Burcham, said:

“Authentic organic dairies lack the multimillion-dollar marketing budgets of their industrial competitors. Cornucopia aims to elevate the critical role these dairies play in the marketplace and in our communities.”

Through our own “Dirty Dairy” campaign, Organic Consumers Association has targeted companies like Ben & Jerry’s for falsely claiming to be “sustainable” and concerned about climate issues, when in fact the iconic ice cream brand sources its dairy ingredients from industrial dairy farms responsible for widespread contamination of Vermont’s waterways.

Let’s hope that as consumers change their buying habits during the pandemic, they make those changes permanent—so small organic regenerative family-owned dairies can once again thrive.

Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). To keep up with OCA news and alerts, sign up for our newsletter.