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April 14, 2005

Cash Cows

Cow While sales of regular old conventional milk have been flat in recent years, sales of organic milk are soaring, according to the Dallas News. According to one estimate, organic milk sales now make up 8.2 percent of total milk sales, which represents a huge increase since 2000 (when it was anywhere from 1 to 4 percent of sales).

Markets around the nation are having a hard time keeping it in stock. Seattle food cooperative PCC confirmed that demand for organic milk is outstripping supplies, and has attributed at least part of the product’s popularity to concerns over bovine growth hormones and antibiotics. I'm sure milk’s association with purity—the drink for children—has helped make organic milk a leader. Customers who don’t buy anything else organic, says PCC, will reach for organic milk.

Supplies might become even tighter. The USDA is expected to make grazing requirements stricter for organic cows, after complaints from smaller farms that big producers—such as Horizon Organic, which has been called the “Microsoft of organic milk”—are getting around the rules.

The debate—described in this article—is another example of the challenges of terms like organic, especially when it comes to animal products. Most people would expect that organic milk means cows aren’t given hormones or antibiotics; that their feed is organic; and the land where the feed is grown is farmed without chemicals. But should it also mean cows get to graze daily?

And should we care that the organic milk market is dominated by big producers like Horizon and Organic Valley, which buy milk from, say, a Washington dairy, but process it elsewhere before shipping it back?

Consumers now face a dizzying array of milk choices--including organic, raw, non-pasteurized, homogenized, kosher, free-farmed, and, of course, goat. And while they're probably not in Albertson's yet, they might be soon. The PCC article is a good intro to the medley of terms, labels, and tradeoffs.

What a bummer.  Now, even milk is complicated.

Posted by Elisa Murray | Permalink