This week in (food) politics – Got Milk?

I am using a guest hostess for this post. Given the food theme for July, and my running weekly theme of writing about politics, it just made sense to turn to my friend who I refer to as FoodGal here and who goes by the name orangeclouds115 on DailyKos and on her newly launched blog La Vida Locavore. The series she began on the site is called Vegetables of Mass Destruction – love that name! Even have the t-shirt πŸ™‚ I’ve learned so much about our food supply from her. This week, her topic was the dairy industry and their claims that giving cows rBGH is good for the environment! Seriously, they said that. But, I’ll let her diary address it:

Did I Mention I’m a Republican?
by OrangeClouds115

I’m against the illegal occupation of Iraq, I gave money to Kucinich, and I voted for Edwards in the primaries. Did I mention that I’m a Republican? I said so, so it must be true. Want more proof? I can put a McCain 2008 bumper sticker on my car if that will convince you.

Why don’t you believe me? Shouldn’t saying something make it true?

OK, well how about this. Cornell University researchers (oh, and a helper from Monsanto) said that injecting cows with Monsanto’s recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) is good for the environment. They are lowering cows’ carbon “hoofprint.” Come on! That’s true too! They said so. It must be.

Their argument: If you give cows rBGH (also known as rBST), each cow gives more milk. If each cow gives more milk, then you need less cows. Therefore, you need less food, less land… overall, less energy.

This research found that, compared to a non-supplemented population, giving rbST to one million cows would enable the same amount of milk to be produced using 157,000 fewer cows. The nutrient savings would be 491,000 metric tons of corn, 158,000 metric tons of soybeans, and total feedstuffs would be reduced by 2,300,000 metric tons. Producers could reduce cropland use by 219,000 hectares and reduce 2.3 million tons of soil erosion annually.In 2007, there were 9.2 million cows in the United States. For every one million cows supplemented with rbST, the world would see an environmental saving of 824 million kilograms of carbon dioxide, 41 million kilograms of methane and 96,000 kilograms of nitrous oxide. For every one million cows supplemented with rbST, the reduction in the carbon footprint is equivalent to removing approximately 400,000 family cars from the road or planting 300 million trees.

Why It’s a Load of Bull: Their entire argument assumes that you need to feed cows corn. You don’t. You actually shouldn’t. Cows evolved to eat GRASS. They evolved to graze. Grazing requires very little resources and energy. Here’s why:

First, grass is a perennial. You don’t need to plant it every year like you do with corn and soy. You plant it once, it grows, the cow eats it, it grows back. Planting stuff takes energy. Less planting = less energy.

Second of all, when cows graze, they harvest their own food. Harvesting food requires energy. You must harvest corn. You also have to process it and transport it before the cows can eat it. That takes energy too.

From what I’ve read, feeding cows grass or grain isn’t entirely an either/or. You can feed them a mix of both. What is important is not whether they eat any grain, but how much grain they eat. With a diet of mostly grass, the cows can tolerate some grain and stay healthy.

But in an industrial environment, a cow doesn’t get to eat grass – not even enough to keep it healthy. There are antibiotics for that. Eating a diet of grain makes the cow sick and it also makes the cow a more likely candidate for producing the problematic E. Coli that can survive human stomach acid and make us sick.

What does this have to do with growth hormones? Let me explain.

When a cow gets injected with rBGH, it needs to eat more in order to produce more milk. It physically cannot walk around and graze on enough grass to get all of those calories. The cow on rBGH needs the higher calorie diet provided by grain. Lots of grain.

Saying that rBGH makes the cow sick would be like saying pot makes you fat. Pot doesn’t make you fat. It just gives you the munchies and makes you lazy. And eating junk and being lazy makes you fat. It’s the same deal.

A cow that eats exclusively corn gets sick. A cow that eats more corn gets sicker. Also, a cow that gets milked by a machine gets irritated udders. A cow that produces more milk and spends more time getting milked by a machine gets more irritated udders.

The cow with more irritated udders is more likely to get mastitis, a painful infection of the udder. This is unrelated to the cow’s carbon “hoofprint” but still related to the debate over whether or not to use rBGH. More mastitis means more antibiotics. Yum.

Going back to the original point, rBGH is only “greener” (even if it’s still worse for other reasons, including a suspected link to some cancers in humans) if all cows eat corn.

But what is really, truly greener than giving cows rBGH? Feeding them grass. Letting them graze on pasture. It’s not only greener, it’s also more humane. And if that wasn’t enough, the milk is healthier too because it has a beneficial fatty acid called CLA in it. Now THAT is a reason to sport a milk mustache!

One thought on “This week in (food) politics – Got Milk?

Add yours

  1. I read about this recently in the book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. It’s an interesting read that made me rethink the way I eat.

    I’m going to check out La Vida Locavore. I suspect it’s a blog I’ll enjoy reading. Bet I’ll learn a lot there too, if this post is any indication. πŸ™‚

    You’ll love it! When OC and I went to dinner last night I told her about the photos you have been posting with the food theme and said I thought you would like the blog. She has some other writers there helping her out who are really wonderful too. What she wants now is someone who can write about gardening…. πŸ˜‰


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