Organic Consumers Association

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Junk Science Study Says Factory Farming is Better

 The usual suspects are still peddling BS about the benefits of factory farmed milk. That's right. You read the words "benefits" and "factory farm" in the same sentence. However the independence of this "study" is tainted by the inclusion of Roger Cady, who once worked for Monsanto and now works for Elanco (the former and current owners of rBGH), on the team of researchers.

Contrary to the negative image often associated with large farm operations, the U.S. population's requirements for dairy products is best fulfilled and most sustainable through the application of modern agricultural techniques, a just-released study has shown.

The study, conducted by Drs. Jude Capper and Dale Bauman of Cornell University and Roger Cady, formerly of Monsanto and now with Elanco Animal Health, compared the environmental impact of modern (2007) U.S. dairy production with that of dairy systems in 1944...

Among the findings were that modern dairy practices require considerably fewer resources than dairying in 1944 with 21% of animals, 23% of feedstuffs, 35% of the water and only 10% of the land required to produce the same 1 billion kg of milk.

Waste outputs were similarly reduced, with modern dairy systems producing 24% of the manure, 43% of CH4 and 56% of N2O per billion kg of milk, compared with equivalent milk from historical dairying.

What's wrong with this picture? There's another factor that has also led to increased dairy output (per cow) since 1944: breeding. In the past 60+ years, we have been aggressively breeding our cows to produce more and more milk. Therefore, the amount of resources required by a 1944 dairy cow to produce a gallon of milk would almost certainly exceed the resources required by a 2009 cow to produce that same gallon of milk today, even if they were raised in the same way.

UPDATE: According to a recent USDA report, organic cows produced an average of 13,601 lbs of milk per cow in 2005, compared with 18,983 for conventional cows. Approximately 2/3 of organic cows were raised on pasture. Comparatively, the cows of 1944 cited in the study produced an average of 4,555 lbs of milk per year.

Yet, according to the study:

In 1944, the U.S. dairy population totaled 25.6 million cows producing a total of 53.0 billion kg of milk annually. It was a system characterized by pasture-based systems with rations reliant on home-grown forages with few purchased concentrate feeds. Draft horses powered the majority of agronomical operations, with only 1.2 tractors employed per farm. Inorganic fertilizer use was not yet widespread; instead, animal manure was used to fulfill crop nutrient requirements.

The researchers noted that many of the characteristics of 1944 dairy farming (low-yielding, pasture-based, no antibiotics, inorganic fertilizers, or chemical pesticides) are similar to those of today's modern organic systems.

Again, they are comparing today's modern organic farming to outdated practices of yesteryear. Even in the practices specified here, obviously the vast majority of organic farmers use tractors instead of horses today. What a slap in the face to today's organic dairy farmers who - like Iowa dairy farmer Francis Thicke - hold PhD's in modern scientific fields and run their organic operations according to the latest scientific & technological innovations. Also, I'd love to see a comparison of the nutrition of 1944 milk compared to the milk of today. Productivity isn't the be-all and end-all goal when you are sacrificing nutrition at the same time.   

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