Dairy and Sustainability: 6 Things That May Surprise You

  • Article
  • August 31, 2017

Did you know dairy was one of the first food groups to measure its carbon footprint?

In the past decade, the dairy community has voluntarily joined together to improve sustainability through science, innovation and adoption of best practices. The effort started with life cycle assessment research to find out where we stood. I was recently invited to present dairy’s case study at a workshop on Food Systems, Nutrition and Health in a Changing Environment during the 2017 Experimental Biology meeting.

Here are six things I shared about the dairy community’s sustainability efforts:

  1. Worldwide Contributions to Sustainability
    • Globally, up to 1 billion people work to provide milk for the billions of people who consume dairy foods every day.
    • On average, milk provides approximately 5 percent of the energy, 10 percent of the protein and 9 percent of the fat consumed worldwide.
  2. Environmentally Friendly

    Dairy farmers work to conserve resources such as water, land and energy. They also carefully manage waste. Today, farmers have tools to measure soil, carbon, water and energy use to make decisions that help their farms use those resources efficiently.

  3. Commitment to Quality Animal Care  

    Healthy cows are the basis for a stable, sustainable milk supply. Ninety-eight percent of U.S. dairy farmers are enrolled in the FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) program, which provides protocols for high-quality animal care developed by farmers and veterinarians, and includes accountability to the broader community.

  4. Honoring the Harvest

    Dairy cows can get nutrients from parts of plants people cannot digest or don’t often want to eat (i.e., grass, leaves/stems of plants, almond hulls and citrus pulp/orange peels). A cow’s unique, four-chambered stomach can unlock nutrition from these foods and transform it into nutrient-rich milk to nourish people. Natural fertilizer made from cow manure is used to grow new crops, completing the nutrient cycle.

  5. Recycled Cow Manure

    Many farms are using anaerobic digesters to generate power from cow waste – power they use to run their farm and contribute to the electric “grid” used by the community. Newtrient, a company formed by leaders in the dairy community, drives the discovery of innovative ways to capture the value of manure to preserve and enhance the environment.

  6. Health Care Savings

    Reducing health care costs supports sustainability on an economic level. If all American adults were to eat the recommended amount of milk, yogurt and cheese, the U.S. could save an estimated $26 billion in health care savings the first year, a 2004 study showed. New research, presented as an abstract at Experimental Biology, is underway to update those projections.

Want to learn more? Check out the 2017 Sustainability Award winners as well as the recently published U.S. Dairy Sustainability Report