by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Dairy

Feb 23 2022

The plight of small dairy farmers: a difficult dilemma

Lorraine Lewandrowski, a dairy farmer and lawyer who works with small dairies in Herkimer County, NY, is a frequent correspondent.  I am always happy to hear from her because I learn a lot from her and respect her knowledge about small dairies and passion for doing something to help them.  With her permission, here is what she wrote me.

Is there really any hope for the region’s dairy farmers for the future?  It seems that each day we read of NYC officials condemning us and the food we produce, fresh milk, yogurt, soft cheeses, hard cheeses as “ruining the planet” and “bad for health.”  With Mayor Adams having literally  called for a shut down of NY’s dairy farms when he was Brooklyn Borough President, and now calls for VEGAN food as “saving the planet,” why should many of us even go on?

I am working with farmers who are considering suicide, young farmers who tried to farm, but are now locked into a lifetime of debt to pay off the failed farm, and this now….the steady stream of hate directed at us emanating from the city.  Speakers who talk  only “plant based” while trashing all animal ag without any nuance.

Should I just plain tell the people who struggle to live up here on the millions of acres of Upstate grasslands to forget it. Sell it out and go work somewhere.  Or, if you are working a second job to support the farmland taxes as so many do, just sell the land for sprawl or move to another state as several farmers I know have done.

Is it even worth it to try when I don’t see even one urban group standing up for the regional dairy farms?  I’m a lawyer for scores of farmers and hearing the same message from all of them. Why go on?  Personally, I will NEVER work to organize trailers of free milk into NYC again.  Our reward for trying to feed people was a resounding slap in the face from the City and those urban food groups who I had thought supported us upstate.

Lorraine sent the same message to Nevin Cohen, Director of the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute at the CUNY School of Public Health.  His response to her is also worth reading (also reproduced with permission):

Thanks so much for writing about the challenges facing dairy farmers in NYS. As the descendent of a Catskill dairy farmer – my grandfather owned a small dairy farm in White Lake, NY, and my dad milked cows until he left home for the Army – I empathize with the struggles of today’s dairy farmers.

New York’s farmers, and other farmers throughout the region, have tried to remain profitable in the face of competition from agribusiness, insufficient transportation, processing, and distribution infrastructure, and federal policies that have essentially subsidized large producers. This is particularly true for dairy, a sector that is facing overproduction nationally, consolidation by large corporations operating massive feedlots, and outdated federal policies like the Federal Milk Marketing Order not providing support for small dairies. I understand the enormous financial and emotional strain this places on farmers, and why so many choose to sell their land.

In my opinion, though, the battle is with big ag and USDA, not vegans. Corporate power and an inadequate federal response, combined with development pressures within the region, are far more to blame for falling profits and the pressure farmers face to sell their land than movements to encourage people to eat more fruits and vegetables. Eric Adams’ rhetoric about veganism may appeal to some (though likely an even smaller number since he was “caught” enjoying a fish dinner the other week), but it isn’t the most important factor driving the drop in US milk consumption or over-production by the massive CAFOs out west. A recent USDA study, for example, found that the growth in nut and soy “milks” over the past decades has been much smaller than the decrease in milk consumption. The perceived health halo around non-milk beverages may drive some consumers but other factors, including competition from beverage manufacturers and demographic changes, are at play.

Dairy farmers in the Catskill provide enormous benefits to New York City and the region, not the least of which is protecting our unfiltered drinking water supply from development and providing high quality fresh, local food. We clearly need to focus more on policies to make dairy farming profitable and to make the point that regenerative agriculture with livestock and produce is healthy and resilient. I would be interested in your thoughts about Sen. Gillibrand’s legislation to require changes to the federal milk marketing order, or whether you have other ideas for policy change. The CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute has monthly forums to address important issues like this. We would be interested in hosting a panel to raise awareness of the obstacles farmers face and identify policies that NYC groups can advocate for.

Lorraine Lewandrowski’s response to Nevin Cohen:

In 1939, it was possible to organize upstate dairy farmers to fight the big-3 milk companies that had a stranglehold on the NYC milk market. Today the battle is in Washington and also against multinational companies like Danone, which just last summer terminated its contracts with organic dairy farmers throughout the NY region…Today, Mayor Adams, talks veganism.

In his Daily News Op Ed two years ago, he called for a shut down of our state’s dairy farms, citing a farmer in CA who plowed up the pastures to plant almond groves.  He urged us to “go plant based.”   Over time, I have come to recoil from the word, “VEGAN.”  Vegans have called my office telling my secretary that my throat should be slit.  At the last in-person conference that a group of us farmers attended, vegans defaced and trashed our table, leaving photos of almond milk plastered on our handouts.  It’s even acceptable for leadership to simply call for death to our farms.  A new member of the NYS Senate Agriculture Committee, Jabari Brisport, led a rally in the City calling for Death to Dairy.  No one says a word and he gets a coveted spot on the Senate Ag Committee.

Senator Hinchey tried to talk “equity” to Mayor Adams last week concerning the watershed farmers, but I don’t think he grasped what she was saying when he said he would direct his departments to look at purchasing more “healthy” food from Upstate.  Is one person the arbiter now?

Lastly, Nevin, as to your question on Senator Gillibrand.  For years, farmers have asked for hearings on the milk price formula, but it never happened.  We are at the point where you can drive for miles up here and see nothing but emptied out farms, a bleak landscape.   There will likely be a new look at the formula. Secretary Vilsack has stated that the farm groups need to come up with a unified proposal.  The small scale farms of the Northeast generally feel that the proposal will be crafted for the larger farms of other regions, as we see now with environmental incentives (digesters for the big guys).  But, we are doing our best to input.

My comment on this exchange:

I too am concerned about the plight of upstate New York dairy farmers (and small dairies in general) and about Danone’s abandonment of them.  But when it comes to vegans, I’m with Nevin Cohen: “the battle is with big ag and USDA, not vegans.”

Vegan and vegetarian diets are healthy and I’m all for them if that’s what people want to do.  Personally, I like and eat dairy foods and think they have a place in healthy diets.  I also think small dairies have a place in healthy environments and that it’s the government’s role to make sure they survive in the face of Big Dairy and its discontents.

No question, dairying can be done in ways that are better for cows and better for the environment.  That’s where we need to focus—on policies that will allow farmers to use better practices and to make a living doing so.

I thank Lorraine and Nevin for raising these issues.  I hope this conversation stimulates serious thinking about how policies can best promote healthful diets and protect the environment.

Feb 2 2022

The ongoing debate about meat and dairy emissions

Every time I write anything about the effects of ruminants on greenhouse gas emissions, I am flooded with comments about cherry-picked data.  I’m not going to even try to sort that out, but I do find the studies interesting.

Here’s a report from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP): Emissions Impossible Europe: How Europe’s Big Meat and Dairy are heating up the planet

Watch the video about it here.

Among the report’s findings:

  • Just 20 European meat and dairy companies combined produce the equivalent of more than half of the United Kingdom, France and Italy’s emissions, and exceed that of the Netherlands.
  • The same 20 companies’ total emissions rival those of fossil fuel giants…over half of Chevron’s (55%), 42% of ExxonMobil’s, 44% of Shell’s and of BP’s.
  • Their combined emissions are also equivalent to 48% of the coal consumed in the entire EU (2018)1 or more than 53 million passenger cars driven for one year.
  • Only four (Arla, Danone, FrieslandCampina and Nestlé) out of the 20 companies assessed report their total supply chain emissions…Only three (Nestlé, FrieslandCampina and ABP) have announced plans to reduce their total.

Plenty of groups object to these findings.  You can read about that here.

Addition:

If you haven’t seen it, take a look at this 15-minute video on Big Ag lobbying from the New York Times.

Jan 10 2022

Industry-funded study of the week: methane-reducing supplements for cows

Thanks to Lynn Ripley for this gem.

Who knew that herbal dietary supplements are now marketed for cows, with claims that they improve milk quality and yield and reduce methane emissions at the same time?  Not me, for sure.

The producer of this supplement says feeding a dairy cow one gram a day will produce these benefits. That’s not much for a 1500-2000 pound dairy cow, even feeding the gram a day for at least four weeks (which is what the manufacturer says you have to do).

This, to say the least, is hard to believe.

As evidence, the manufacturer, Agolin Ruminant, cites three studies of its supplement.   Want to take a guess as to who funded all three of them?  Bingo!  Agolin Ruminant.

My first question: what is in Agolin Ruminant that is so powerful that only one gram a day will produce measurable benefits?

This question is not easy to answer.

The manufacturer’s statement of product information says only:

AGOLIN RUMINANT L is a carefully balanced combination of essential oil compounds in their natural / nature-identical form. All active substances are of high purity and are accepted for use under current European animal feed and human food legislation.

In the meta-analysis summarized below, the authors say:

The main active compounds of this product are food grade and chemically-defined plant extracts including coriander (Coriandrum sativum) seed oil (up to 10%), eugenol (up to 7%), geranyl acetate (up to 7%) and geraniol (up to 6%) along with some preservatives such as fumaric acid.

Those account for 30% of what’s in the product.  The other 70%?  A mystery.

This supplement is a feed additive.  Animal feed products do not require the level of ingredient disclosure required for dietary supplements.  The manufacturer says all ingredients are either FDA-approved or Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS).  All are plant extracts (available from cloves or geraniums, for example).   Great.  I’d like to know what they are.

The manufacturer points to an endorsement from the Carbon Trust for the value of this product for reducing methane emissions.

This opinion is based on academic references, published scientific papers and field reports and joins the conclusions of the independent meta analyses from A. Belanche et al.

Oh dear.  The Carbon Trust did not do its homework.  The article by Belanche et al, is anything but independent.

Here are the key studies attesting to the purported benefits of this supplement for cows, starting with Belanche et al.

I.  A Meta-analysis Describing the Effects of the Essential oils Blend Agolin Ruminant on Performance, Rumen Fermentation and Methane Emissions in Dairy Cows. Alejandro Belanche, Charles J. Newbold, Diego P. Morgavi, Alex Bach, Beatrice Zweifel and David R. Yáñez-Ruiz.  Animals 2020, 10, 620; doi:10.3390/ani10040620

Conclusion: This meta-analysis combining 23 experimental and farm studies across 10 different countries indicated that supplementation of lactating dairy cows with the essential oils blend Agolin Ruminant® (at 1g/d per cow) exerted positive effects on milk production whereas it decreased enteric methane emissions in comparison to un-supplemented cows. These effects mostly appeared after an adaptation period of approximately 4 weeks of treatment and consisted in an increase in fat and protein corrected milk suggesting an improved feed utilization.

Funding: This research received no external funding.

Acknowledgments: This study was supported by Agolin SA (Bière, Switzerland).

Conflicts of Interest: Author B.Z. was employed by the company Agolin SA but had no role in the design, execution, interpretation, or writing of the meta-analysis. The remaining authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Comment:  Really?  Even though the authors cite support by Agolin SA?

II.  The Impact of Essential Oil Feed Supplementation on Enteric Gas Emissions and Production Parameters from Dairy Cattle Angelica V. Carrazco, Carlyn B. Peterson, Yongjing Zhao, Yuee Pan , John J. McGlone, Edward J. DePeters and Frank M. Mitloehner.  Sustainability 2020, 12, 10347; doi:10.3390/su122410347

Conclusion: Cows supplemented with Agolin versus the control had less methane intensity (g/period/kg
energy-corrected milk (ECM); p = 0.025).

Funding: This study was funded by Agolin (Agolin SA, Bière, Switzerland) and by Feedworks USA Ltd. (Ohio, USA).

Conflicts of Interest: The sponsor played no role in the execution and interpretation of the data and preparation of the present manuscript. The authors declare no conflict of interest.

III.  Evaluation of Agolin®, an Essential Oil Blend, as a Feed Additive for High Producing Cows.  Peter Williams1, John Clark, Kelly Bean  Open Journal of Animal Sciences, 11, 231-237. https://doi.org/10.4236/ojas.2021.112018

Conclusion: The trial showed that Agolin assisted in improving production parameters of economic importance to dairy producers.

Conflict of Interest: Mr. John Clark and Mr. Peter Williams market Agolin in the United States of America. Both were involved in the design but not the analysis of data or interpretation of results.

Comment

These are industry-funded supplement studies designed to sell a supplement of dubious benefit (my interpretation) to dairy producers to convince the public that they are doing all they can to reduce methane emissions.

The supplement doesn’t cost much per dose, but there are lots of dairy cows that have to be given the supplement for at least four weeks.

Without even getting into the details of the measurement difficulties or the overall science, two things are particularly troubling:

  • The lack of transparency about ingredients
  • The lack of a convincing mechanism of action

Call me skeptical.  I don’t see this supplement as a solution to the methane emission problem caused by ruminants.

Jan 5 2022

Ben & Jerry’s top flavors: in order of calories???

Ben & Jerry’s is now owned by Unilever.

Here are its top-ten best-selling flavors:

  1. Half Baked: unbaked cookie dough and baked fudge brownies.
  2. Cherry Garcia: in the top three since its launch in 1987
  3. Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
  4. Chocolate Fudge Brownie: this contains brownies from New York’s Greyston Bakery, which provides jobs and training to low-income people in Yonkers
  5. Tonight Dough: Jimmy Fallon’s second flavor; proceeds to SeriousFun Children’s Network
  6. Strawberry Cheesecake
  7. Phish Food: since 1997
  8. Americone Dream: a partnership with Stephen Colbert, whose staff chooses the nonprofit its proceeds go to
  9. Chunky Monkey: banana ice cream with fudge chunks and walnuts
  10. Brownie Batter Core

Whether or not proceeds go to charity, these are commercial ice creams, and highly caloric, ultra-processed ones at that.

Here, for example, is the ingredient list for a Cherry Garcia.

CREAM, SKIM MILK, LIQUID SUGAR (SUGAR, WATER), WATER, CHERRIES, SUGAR, EGG YOLKS, COCONUT OIL, COCOA (PROCESSED WITH ALKALI), FRUIT AND VEGETABLE CONCENTRATES (COLOR), COCOA POWDER, GUAR GUM, NATURAL FLAVORS, LEMON JUICE CONCENTRATE, CARRAGEENAN, MILK FAT, SOY LECITHIN.
And here’ the Nutrition Facts label for a pint.
The new serving size is 2/3 cup and you get three of those in the container at 340 calories each.  Eat the whole pint and you’ve done half your daily calories along with 78 grams of added sugars (oops).
Half-Baked has even more!
If ever a situation called for moderation, this one is it.
Dec 6 2021

Industry-funded review of the week: dairy foods and inflammation

My thanks go to New Zealand reader Kirsten for sending this one.

The study: Exploring the Links between Diet and Inflammation: Dairy Foods as Case Studies. Julie M Hess, Charles B Stephensen, Mario Kratz, Bradley W Bolling.  Advances in Nutrition, Volume 12, Issue Supplement_1, October 2021, Pages 1S–13S,

Note: This article was intended as a review article based on presentations made by CBS, MK, and BWB at the American Society for Nutrition 2020 LIVE ONLINE Conference 7–10 June 2020.

Background: Systemic chronic inflammation may be a contributing factor to many noncommunicable diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. An emerging body of evidence indicates that consuming certain foods, including dairy foods like milk, cheese, and yogurt, may be linked to a decreased risk for inflammation.

Method: Review of research on dairy foods and inflammation.

Conclusion: While there is currently insufficient evidence to prove an “anti-inflammatory” effect of dairy foods, the substantial body of clinical research discussed in this review indicates that dairy foods do not increase concentrations of biomarkers of chronic systemic inflammation.

Funding: The ASN Nutrition 2020 session that this article is based on was supported by the National Dairy Council. This support included honoraria for MK and BWB. The authors reported no funding received for this study.

Author disclosures: JMH was an employee of the National Dairy Council at the time this article was written. MK has received honoraria and reimbursements of travel costs as well as research funding from dairy-related organizations, including the National Dairy Council, Dairy Management, Inc., Dairy Farmers of Canada, the Dutch Dairy Organization (Nederlandse Zuivel Organisatie), Dairy Australia, and the French Dairy Interbranch Organization (CNIEL). BWB has received research funding for dairy-related projects from University of Wisconsin Dairy Innovation Hub, the National Dairy Council, and USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) HATCH WIS02094. The other author reports no conflicts of interest.

Comment: This is a study by dairy-funded authors with an interesting spin.  The research review found no anti-inflammatory effect of dairy foods but concludes that they have a benefit: they don’t make inflammation worse.  I realize that dairy foods have a bad reputation among some eaters, but I wish the dairy industry didn’t sponsor research so blatantly in its self-interest.  I also wish we could get away from one-food research.  One food cannot possibly make a substantial difference in the diets of reasonably healthy people who eat a variety of foods.  I am all for eating dairy foods if you like them, especially from well-treated animals.  They have a place in healthful diets—or not ,if you don’t like or want to eat them.

Reference: For a summary of research on the “funding effect”—the observation that research sponsored by food companies almost invariably produces results favorable to the sponsor’s interests but that recipients of industry funding typically do not recognize its influence—see my book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

Sep 30 2021

Recent food items of interest

Here is my latest collection of accounts of unusual or unexpected food items.  Ice creams are high on the list.

You are wondering what Clitoria ternatea looks like?  Good enough to eat, I guess.

Sep 6 2021

Industry-funded study of the week: full-fat dairy

The study: Impact of low-fat and full-fat dairy foods on fasting lipid profile and blood pressure: exploratory endpoints of a randomized controlled trial.  Kelsey A Schmidt, et al. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, nqab131, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqab131.  Published: 13 July 2021

Background: “Dietary guidelines traditionally recommend low-fat dairy because dairy’s high saturated fat content is thought to promote cardiovascular disease (CVD). However, emerging evidence indicates that dairy fat may not negatively impact CVD risk factors when consumed in foods with a complex matrix.”

Method: “Participants were then randomly assigned to 1 of 3 diets, either continuing the limited-dairy diet or switching to a diet containing 3.3 servings/d of either low-fat or full-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese for 12 wk.”

Conclusions: “In men and women with metabolic syndrome, a diet rich in full-fat dairy had no effects on fasting lipid profile or blood pressure compared with diets limited in dairy or rich in low-fat dairy. Therefore, dairy fat, when consumed as part of complex whole foods, does not adversely impact these classic CVD risk factors.”

Funding: “National Dairy Council, Dairy Farmers of Canada, Dutch Dairy Association (Nederlandse Zuivel Organisatie), Dairy Australia, and the French Dairy Interbranch Organization (CNIEL),” and NIH and others.

Conflict of interest: “This study was initiated by the principal investigator (MK). The dairy-related funding organizations suggested changes to details of the study design prior to the conduct of the study, some of which were implemented. Otherwise, the funding organizations had no impact on the design or conduct of the trial or the analysis and interpretation of study data.”

Comment: Let’s give these investigators high marks for disclosing that the dairy funders influenced the design of the study, which, as we know from the data of Lisa Bero and her colleagues, is the place where biases caused by industry funding most typically show up.  Food companies that fund research are looking for benefits; they won’t risk study designs that might yield inconvenient results.

Reference: For a summary of research on the “funding effect”—the observations that research sponsored by food companies almost invariably produces results favorable to the sponsor’s interests and that recipients of industry funding typically did not intend to be influenced and do not recognize the influence—see my book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

Aug 26 2021

Keeping up with plant-based substitutes: not easy

The marketplace for plant-based meat and dairy substitutes is booming, and attracting tons of venture capital.

It also is attracting controversy.

Here are some of the new products and those in the works.

And the latest business news.