Labels can be complicated. There are great labels that certify environmental and animal welfare standards, but they are not always widely available. As for finding dairy products produced by family farmers and workers both making a living wage — there is no label at all for those considerations, though you can be confident that certified grassfed milk comes from small and medium-sized family farms.
Where available, look for these labels:
- Certified Grassfed by A Greener World
- American Grassfed Association Grassfed Dairy
- Certified Grass-Fed Organic Livestock Program, by Organic Valley and Maple Hill
The Cornucopia Institute, an organic watchdog group, also maintains a comprehensive Organic Dairy Scorecard, rating many large and small organic brands on percentage grass fed, number of daily milkings, care of pasture and much more.
The Big Picture: Supporting Small Dairy Farmers Through Policy Change
If your grocery store carries certified grassfed dairy products, or a farmer sells fresh milk or cheese at your farmers’ market — buy it! However, supporting small and medium-sized dairy farmers can be challenging for the consumer, because dairy is such a complicated and opaque industry.
While some small farmers are able to switch to grassfed production or value-added production, many more are not, due to expense or lack of market. When milk prices are so low, these are the farmers most at risk of closing — and unfortunately, they are the ones who are hardest for consumers to support. These farmers, who might milk anywhere from 40 cows to 400, know their cows well and likely give them some time on pasture, preserve open space by growing their own feed, spend their money locally and more. They may not all meet the grassfed ideal, but they are a far cry from a megadairy.
But because there are so few processors left, these small and mid-size farms don’t have much choice about where their milk goes. Usually their nearest processor picks it up, to bottle it for the grocery store or turn it into yogurt or cheese. The milk of the 200-cow dairy and the 2,000-cow dairy all get mixed together, even if the smaller farm uses better practices and its milk is of a higher quality. Not only that, both farms get paid the same base price per hundred pounds of milk. When that price is well below the cost of production, the larger dairy can better absorb the loss. The smaller farm is more likely to go out of business — perhaps selling its cows to the larger facility and perpetuating the seemingly endless consolidation of the industry.
A DIFFERENT DAIRY SYSTEM IS POSSIBLE: THE NEED FOR SUPPLY MANAGEMENT
Until we address the fundamental problem of low milk prices, the dairy industry will continue to consolidate, eventually leaving nearly all of us to get our milk from megadairies. And until we can guarantee dairy farmers a fair price based on their costs of production, we should not expect them to take on the costs of individually shifting to more sustainable practices.
The most significant and essential change we need to see in the dairy industry must come from federal policy. The US used to have a policy that guaranteed farmers a fair price and kept them from rampant overproduction and its consequences. The policy, known as supply management, works well in Canada, where dairy farmers have secure livelihoods and can pass on their farms to the next generation.
The main principles of supply management are a floor price for goods based on the cost of production, a reserve to hold excess supply and draw on in less productive years, and conservation programs that take farm land out of production. For the dairy industry, these measures would control how much milk is produced nationwide, stabilize prices for farmers, and ensure that consumer demand is met despite seasonal fluctuation.
If a farmer knows he is getting a price that will cover his costs, he can pay his workers a fair wage and better manage his land and cows. Currently, a struggling farm is pressured to expand, to sell more milk to make more money, even when milk prices are so low. Under a supply management system, a farm would not have to expand — with all of the environmental and economic risks that come with getting bigger — because it would be generating a living wage as is.
Instead, the 2018 farm bill, passed during the most serious dairy crisis in 30 years, maintained the status quo for dairy, offering only a minimal insurance program that will not keep struggling farms in business. It will be up to consumers to advocate for justice for dairy farmers.
Dairy farms can have huge benefits for a community — or they can be a nightmare. The dairy industry is one of the most complex and opaque parts of our food system, and so it is especially difficult for consumers to know which kind of dairy their milk or cheese comes from.
The good news is that in recent years, the public’s desire to learn more about where our food comes from has made a difference even in in dairy. Growth hormones have gone out of favor due to consumer demand, and grassfed milk has become popular. At the same time, family dairy farmers are going out of business at an alarming rate and megadairies are expanding.
But the dairy price crisis is causing enough pain in rural America and grabbing enough headlines that real policy solutions like supply management are under discussion. To maintain integrity of the organic label, USDA also must be pushed to enforce its standards. Consumers, environmentalists and farmer advocates all must raise our voices in support of these changes and more. Together, we can shift the dairy industry to be fairer and more humane for all.
What You Can Do
- Support Grassfed production by purchasing milk that is certified grassfed. Learn more about Dairy Labels and what to look for in our Food Label Guide.
- Advocate for justice for dairy farmers. Learn more about policies that affect them by following organizations like Farm Aid, National Family Farm Coalition, and the Dairy Together Coalition led by the Wisconsin Farmers Union.
- Advocate for strong organic dairy standards. Learn more about these policies by following The Cornucopia Institute, The Organic Consumers Association and the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA).
Source : https://foodprint.org/reports/the-foodprint-of-dairy/