Monday, November 05, 2007

Eating Locally -- in the Dairy Case

This may not be about gardening as such, seeing as how there's no room for cows or goats or other dairy animals in my fraction-of-a-suburban-acre proto-farm. But the idea of eating locally, as chronicled in my Blog Action Day post, has me rethinking a whole lot of the products my family uses daily (right down to the stuff I knit with, as told on another blog I contribute to -- see Meet Your Fiber Source).

Between thinking about eating locally and reading about bovine growth hormones in cows, I started looking at my daily yogurt with a more critical eye. Bovine growth hormone, for those who haven't read much about it, does for cows some of the things that human growth hormone does for humans. It's present naturally in cows and their milk to some degree. However, pumping dairy cows with extra hormones makes them produce a lot more milk. Nursing moms, or those who have been there, imagine this: you know how it is when Baby hasn't been nursing for a few hours and you're feeling rather "full," right? Now imagine your doctor giving you shots filled with hormones that will make you produce four times as much milk. Ow. Ow, ow, ow.

Okay, now imagine how the cows feel.

Not only do they run around with full udders, they're also at a much higher risk for developing mastitis. Worse still, pumping cows full of milk-production hormones is kind of like pumping athletes full of steroids, on purpose. Suppose somehow it became the thing to do to take athletes in high school and routinely shoot steroids into them to turn them into super-athletes, and they continue to receive steroids all during their careers. What would happen to them? We all know the risks of steroids, including an greatly increased risk of heart disease and accelerated wear and tear on the body.

The risks are similar for cows. Hormone-injected cows are the dairy equivalent of a steroid-enhanced athlete -- all of their highly-shortened lives!

I was happy, then, when I read the yogurt carton at breakfast and found that my favorite brand, Nancy's Honey Yogurt, is totally organic (no cows were harassed by hormones to make this product) AND it's produced about an hour's drive south of where I live. Score two for Nancv's!

So what about my lunch yogurt? I could spoon some Nancy's over berries in a reusable container, sure, which would be a lot more ecological than buying little plastic cartons, and sometimes I do that if I have the time in the morning when I'm throwing things in my lunch box and trying to get out the door on time. But I'd gotten to like my Yoplait Lite, and their cartons are at least recyclable.

So how does Yoplait score? Locally produced? Um, no. Sorry. Yoplait is a national brand, and their nearest distribution center is, well, I have no idea where.

What about cow hormones? Do they have an organic product line? I checked their website and didn't find any such products. So I wrote them a letter expressing my concern about growth hormones and cows. Here's the reply I received:

BST (bovine somatotropin) is a hormone naturally found in cows. The synthetic version of this hormone (not to be confused with a steroid hormone) has been subjected to extensive testing. The Food & Drug Administration, American Medical Association, National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Agriculture along with a number of other science-based organizations have concluded that there are no food safety issues in conjunction with milk produced by BST-supplemented cows.

Because BST is naturally found in all cows' milk, there is no scientific way to test the milk to determine if the BST present is from synthetic sources or natural sources. The amount of BST present in milk will not be greater from a synthetic source than it would be occurring naturally.

For more information about Bovine Somatotropin (BST) or Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) you may wish to visit the United States Department of Agriculture' s website at

We hope you will continue to enjoy our products.

Awww, pooh. No plans for an organic product, and a weak, "Gee, there's no way we can test for the stuff, so oh, well." The statements about human safety are a little controversial, I know, but I won't comment on that because I haven't read up much on the studies and I don't know much about the evidence. But it was cow health that I was concerned about, and that wasn't even addressed.

So what were my options for a grab-and-go yogurt if I forget to fill reusable cups the night before? Nancy's makes individual yogurt cups, but my store doesn't carry them any more. I cruised to the dairy case and found Tillamook yogurt. I already buy Tillamook cheese. The Tillamook Cheese Factory is a highlight of any trip to the northern Oregon coast. What about their yogurt?

Let's see, the Tillamook factory is about two hours from here in some of the most beautiful country this side of Heaven. Score one for locally produced. What about cow hormones? Turns out that the Tillamook company is concerned about cows, too. They're working on contracting with dairies in the area that do not use growth hormones on their cows. While not all their products are hormone-free, they're working on that, and hope to have everything hormone-free in the near future. Score nearly two for Tillamook! Now if only they made a "lite" version.

Yes, yes, I could go totally local and make my own yogurt from organic milk. That is, if I could make yogurt and have it actually turn into yogurt. I've accepted the fact that I'm a yogurt dunce, and I'll continue to support Nancy's and Tillamook.

No comments: