Editor's note: This story has been updated from its original version to correct inaccuracies.
Q: Is there such a thing as environmentally friendly milk?
A: A simple question with a not-so-simple answer. The short answer is that yes, there is such a thing. But not everyone agrees on which milk is the most eco-friendly.
I recently asked the same question to myself as my bouncing baby boy has just turned 1, and I can finally make the transition from formula to milk (hallelujah, praise the Lord!). Of course, after I had done all my research and already purchased a fresh gallon of ultra-pasteurized organic whole milk from the store, I found out from my pediatrician that my wee one’s sensitive stomach earned him two months of rice milk before we can try anything else. So now I have a gallon container of whole milk still sitting in my fridge, creeping toward its expiration date.
There’s no greater pressure than racing against the expiration date on a milk container. What am I supposed to do with whole milk anyway? I’m not about to use it in my cereal (cringe).
I can tell you though that milk does a body good, but the cows in most of the farms it comes from? Not so much. I know I’ve always pictured milking cows as happy cows pasturing on lush green fields under a bright blue sky, save for a billowy white cloud here and there. And somewhere there are birds chirping. But that ain’t really what happens.
While many cows are often given healthy feed like whole shell corn, there are times when the picture is not always so rosy. Michael Pollan, a renowned author on topics related to the food industry, has written about "chicken litter" that is sometimes fed to cows. Some cows are also injected with hormones, although there is a growing trend -- partly based on consumer demand -- for hormone-free milk products.
An alternative is buying organic milk, which promises to the consumer that the cows that are giving the milk don’t get any hormones or antibiotics and are grass-fed. But not all organic milk is created equal. Large milk companies like Horizon Organic have come under fire in recent years about the USDA’s organic requirement of cows having “access to pasture” — many claim that they have just that — access. Maybe once or twice a day, maybe once or twice a week. Organic milk purists say that cows need to be out pasturing much more than that.
In 2008, after much prodding (pun intended) the USDA proposed a change to the vague “access to pasture” wording. The proposal was finally passed just a couple of weeks ago. Organic Valley, one large-scale organic milk producer, claims to be doing its part to remedy the problem.
Another alternative to buying organic is simply to find a local dairy that has only pasture-fed cows and doesn’t use injectable hormones or antibiotics. Many times, this will be the “greenest” milk, though it may not necessarily be certified organic. Try localharvest.org or eatwild.com to find a local dairy.
Though the debate over which milk is eco-friendliest may not be black and white, green milk is easy to find, if you know where to look. Just check out that gallon in the back of my fridge in a month.