Buying grass-fed dairy is about to get easier

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CC BY 2.0 katesheets

A new logo is coming to dairy products near you, so learn what it's all about.

Last year, one of America’s biggest organic dairy cooperatives, Organic Valley, added 17 additional grass-fed milk farms to its roster. The reason? It needed to keep up with demand for Grassmilk, the nation’s top-selling grass-fed dairy brand. Now Organic Valley has 81 farms working to produce Grassmilk, and demand for its milk, yogurt, and cheese continues to grow at three times the rate of non-grass-fed dairy products.

Americans can’t get enough of grass-fed dairy. They love the idea of cows grazing outside and products free from antibiotics and growth hormones. But the dairy aisle of the grocery store is still a murky, confusing place. There are so many labels, logos, and certifications on containers that it’s impossible to know what they all mean.

Civil Eats calls it a Wild West:

“It’s possible that the cows that produced your milk may have roamed on grass and eaten silage, hay, and other forms of dried grass in the wintertime. Or their feed may be supplemented with grain in a so-called grassfed operation.”

In other words, you really don’t know what you’re getting when it comes to dairy claims.

To solve this problem, a group of dairy cooperatives teamed up to make it easier for shoppers to make informed choices. Headed by the American Grassfed Association (AGA), new Grassfed Dairy Standards were written last year, with the collaboration of other grass-fed dairy producers. The group had a three-part goal:

• To ensure the healthy and humane treatment of dairy animals
• To meet consumer expectations about grassfed dairy products
• To be economically feasible for small and medium-size dairy farmers

The new standards were formally approved in December 2016. An accompanying logo will be visible on dairy products in the near future, pending the creation of a formal timeline for launch, likely to be announced in early February.

American Grassfed logo© AGA

The AGA standard includes detailed directions for the minimum number of days that cattle must spend outside each season, where and how they can graze, what they can and cannot eat (i.e. no GMO-sourced forage or cereal crops that have gone to seed), and rules against antibiotic use. Feeding grain in any form, even as a carrier for mineral and vitamin supplements, is strictly forbidden. Producers must consult regularly with veterinarians on their “written herd health plans.” If animals fall sick and must take antibiotics, then their milk cannot be mixed with the other grass-fed milk.

Because the standard is not government-issued and has been created voluntarily, it will appear alongside other labels on dairy products – a potential source of confusion for shoppers. But it’s one that’s worth noticing and remembering, as it appears to be the most ethical and comprehensive standard to date.

Tags: Agriculture | Animals | Animal Welfare | Cattle

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