Saturday, March 05, 2011

What does Organic mean?

It goes for most any item the average American consumer wishes to purchase. The free market we live in gives us the power to spend our dollar as we wish. We are not bound by a single option when we decide to make a purchase, but rather by many. For instance, should you decide you’d like to purchase a new television, the decisions do not stop there. First comes the choice between LG, Sony, Sharp, Samsung, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, etc. Then there are then the options of LCD versus Plasma. What size would be best? Should you purchase in-store or online? You get the picture. The list goes on and on. It is up to you to get the most satisfaction from your dollar.

Believe it or not, the same is true when it comes to your food supply, more specifically, your milk. The options are (nearly) endless. Whole (Vit D), 2%, 1%, Low Fat, Non-Fat, chocolate, strawberry, store brand vs. name brand and the big one Conventional vs. Organic. Some of these decisions are rather easy to make, I purchase Whole milk. Always. And on special occasions, I will purchase chocolate or strawberry as a treat for the kids. You may be surprised to learn that the name brand milk you're paying $1 or more per gallon for, over the store brand, may actually be the same milk. See our previous post to locate where your milk was packaged. I purchase local whenever possible, but will always go for the store brand. I am confident in the quality of the product, regardless of the lower price, and appreciate the extra $1+ per gallon in my pocket at the checkout. The Conventional vs. Organic option is one that the average consumer may feel strongly about one way or the other, but may not really understand the difference between the two.
Ocean Breeze Dairy, an Organic CA dairy farm
I grew up on a conventional dairy farm and am currently raising my family on a conventional dairy farm. To me, being a dairy farmer means taking care of our cattle, our land and our facilities with the ultimate goal of creating a safe, wholesome food product that we are proud to place on your table, while maintaining our livelihood for generations to come.

A very important fact for consumers to realize is that all dairy farmers are under heavy regulations by local, state and federal government agencies, whose job it is to ensure we are producing a safe, wholesome food product. The California Dept. of Food and Ag and the US Dept. of Ag maintain food safety and animal welfare regulations in order to maintain standards across the industry.
Cattle grazing at Ocean Breeze Dairy
 Organic: Organic foods are those that are produced using environmentally sound methods that do not involve modern synthetic inputs such as pesticides and chemical fertilizers, do not contain genetically modified organisms, and are not processed using irradiation, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives. (via Wikipedia)
Conventional: A convention is a set of agreed, stipulated or generally accepted standards, norms, social norms or criteria, often taking the form of a custom. (via Wikipedia)

I located each of these definitions on the Wikipedia site and I thought I would post them, though they don’t really help explain the differences or the similarities between Organic and Conventional dairy practices. One thing that strikes me is the use of “…environmentally sound methods…” in the Organic definition. All dairy farms are bound by the same laws when it comes to Environmental Safety and Protection. Many producers have obtained Environmental Certification, to further exhibit our dedication and commitment as stewards of our land. Each of the three CA dairy farms highlighted below, our farm - Durrer Dairy, McIsaac Dairy and Ocean Breeze Dairy, have obtained their Environmental Certification. Hopefully the information that follows will be more helpful in clearing up some of the mystery. 
The property surrounding Durrer Dairy, a conventional CA dairy farm,
is used to raise crops to be fed to our cattle.
Who determines which milk qualifies as Organic?
Producers who wish to be Certified Organic must apply and qualify for certification by meeting criteria specified by the National Organic Program (NOP), under the USDA. NOP is responsible for ensuring producers who have been Certified Organic comply with the requirements to remain a Certified Organic facility.

How do Organic dairy farms differ from Conventional dairy farms?
Cattle on an organic dairy farm, must meet a minimum grazing requirement. For at least 120 days of the year, a minimum of 30% of their dry matter intake must come from pasture. Cattle on organic dairies are fed a supplemental diet that must be Certified Organic. This means that the crops and pasture they are exposed to cannot be grown with commercial fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. The straw, rice hulls, etc. that organic producers may use as bedding for their stalls must also be Certified Organic.
Does this mean that cattle on Conventional dairies do not graze in pastures?
No. Cattle on many conventional dairies are allowed to graze in pastures. During the late Spring, Summer and Fall months, the cattle on my parents’ dairy are on pasture. Lactating cattle on their dairy are housed inside during the winter months for herd health purposes, however the young stock are on pasture year round. Cattle diets are supplemented with high quality, balanced rations, developed in partnership with a dairy nutritionist.
Free stall barns, like this one at Ocean Breeze Dairy, are used to house cattle
on many CA dairies, including McIsaac and Durrer dairies
Are cattle on Organic farms given hormones or medications?
Organic dairy producers are prohibited from using hormones such as rBST, Prostaglandin or GNRH on their cattle, but are allowed limited use of Oxytocin. They are also prohibited from using antibiotics on their cows, however they must treat sick cows with antibiotics and remove them from the herd. Organic dairy producers are allowed to use any marketed vaccines to help keep their herds healthy.
Does this mean that cattle on all Conventional dairies are given hormones and antibiotics?
No. Each dairy producer is free to make their own decisions on how to run his/her operation. Some conventional dairy producers chose to use hormones, such as rBST, and some do not. My parents do not use rBST, and we do not use it here on our dairy. Both of our facilities do chose to use antibiotics as a means of treating our cattle. Antibiotics are used on our cattle as you would use them for yourself or your children, to treat an illness or clear an infection. Cattle who are on a treatment regimen are quarantined from the rest of the herd, and their milk is not part of our general milk supply. The milk you purchase in the store Does Not contain antibiotics, regardless of whether it is Organic or Conventional. (The rBST and antibiotic topics will be addressed in future posts, as they will stray from the focus of this post.)
Cattle grazing at McIsaac Dairy, a conventional CA dairy
Cattle on all kinds of dairy farms are well cared for, even though management practices may differ. Dairy producers are in the business of producing milk for consumption. Dairy cattle that are not nourished, not comfortable or not healthy will not produce. It is in the best interest of any dairy producer to care for their herds, to protect their future and create a safe and wholesome food product to share with you.

The next time you walk up to the dairy case, rest assured that whatever decision you make, you are purchasing a safe, quality product. There is no nutritional difference in conventional milk vs. organic milk, one does not contain antibiotics and the other not, and one herd is not better cared for simply because of the product labeling. Just as you have the option to purchase the television of your choice, you are free to chose from a variety of milk products that are produced in a variety of ways. Our market allows for producers to produce the best they can, while at the same time allowing you to get the most satisfaction for your dollar, whatever your choice may be.
Got Milk?

Our thanks to Jarrid and Jacquelyn Bordessa for their collaboration and use of their photos.
This is a topic that is widely discussed throughout the dairy industry. Click on the links below to visit a few of our fellow dairy producers and catch their take on Conventional vs. Organic.


Jacquelyn, Jarrid and Gianna said...

Awesome job, it turned out great!! :)

The Durrer Family said...

Thank you very much for answerting my questions!

Sharlene Garcia said...

Tons of great info, thanks for sharing your perspective!

Dr Dave said...

Very nice job sharing the differences between Organic and Conventional milk. I am a veterinarian from Wisconsin. I get to work in both systems. As you have shared, the milk is the same. The production system is all that is different. If a person chooses organic, I'm glad it is available for the choice. However, I am confident that conventional milk is the same and choose that myself

Joyce said...

Been really confused about the two. Thanks for sharing