Organic dilemma

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In the 14 years I have been editor of Dairy Herd Management, I have never received as many positive responses about an issue as I received for our June “consumer talking points” edition. Many of you said you liked the way we handled it and found the information useful.

The only critical comment we received was from organic milk producer Francis Thicke of Fairfield, Iowa, who offered the following comments: 

Your June issue contained some good tips on how to communicate with consumers. However, while   I agree that organic dairy producers should not disparage conventional producers, neither is it necessary for conventional producers to disparage or misrepresent organic production in order to secure their markets.  

Modern conventional dairies have many goals in common with organic dairies: reducing antibiotic and pesticide use, efficient use of animal wastes, and humane treatment of animals.  The difference is that organic production has these goals codified in a rigorous set of standards that must be followed and verified through independent inspectors and third-party certifiers.

The article “How to respond to organic milk queries” suggested several consumer talking points that are factually inconsistent.  For example, the article stated “There is no difference in nutrition or safety between organically and conventionally produced milk.”  Later, the article contradicted that statement with “research in the United Kingdom found that organic milk contains about 64 percent more Omega-3 fatty acids — the good kind — than conventional milk.”  The latter statement is correct.  Most organic dairies — with a few notorious exceptions — graze their milking cows during the growing season, resulting in higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acids.

Another consumer talking point made in the article is “If all dairies were organic, U.S. dairy producers would not be able to produce enough milk to meet the needs of U.S. consumers.” That statement is unsubstantiated.  While it is true that organic dairies — like other grazing dairies—have a higher forage-to-grain diet and produce less milk per cow than conventional dairies, there is no evidence that organic production could not meet consumer demand.  The efficiencies of the New Zealand grazing model have taught us that lower milk production per cow can translate into higher milk production per acre.

The organic movement is gaining serious momentum — not only among dairy, but in a broad range of food products.  Last year, organic dairy sales in the U.S. amounted to $2.14 billion, according to the Organic Trade Association. That is up 23.6 percent from the previous year.

The organic sector now accounts for approximately 3.5 percent of all dairy sales in the U.S.

Whenever a dairy category moves forward that dramatically, it has to be viewed with optimism. But, we also think the marketers of all dairy products — organic and conventional — must market their products without disparaging the other. There is room for both conventional and organic milk production. In fact, consumers demand it.

tquaife@food360.com

 



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