EDITOR’S NOTE: This is another in a series of columns to post each week highlighting the farming community in the area.
It’s 1950 and an average American family is sitting at their table. They have a full assortment, including vegetables grown in their garden and a pitcher of unpasteurized milk that they pulled from their bulk tank at the end of milking that same evening. They know that the food that is displayed on their table is healthy and will provide the food they need while they prepare and grow it themselves.
Flash before 70 years old. The average American family now dines separately or on the go. Food is prepackaged for convenience at the grocery store. Instead of knowing exactly how the food was grown and prepared, the family must decipher complicated labels, as part of a larger marketing plan. They hope these products are the safest to consume, but often they leave the store wondering if the food they are taking home for their family is the best option.
The average American is now at least three generations away from farming, leaving less than 2% of the world’s population to produce the food that will be eaten by the rest.
Due to the ever-growing gap between people and where their food comes from, there has been a significant increase in discomfort for the average American consumer. This discomfort has increased mainly due to labeling.
Because people no longer directly witness how their food is produced, they are left to fend for themselves, such as reading labels on products and using Google to figure out what those labels mean.
As an American dairy farmer, this is the source of one of my biggest frustrations. The marketing world has pitted a once united industry against itself.
By applying these labels, we have lost the confidence of consumers. And it’s easy to see why. When I walk into a grocery store and head down the dairy aisle, I’m presented with a hundred different options. I have a choice of “grass-fed, organic, non-GMO, conventional” and so on. Because I grew up on a dairy farm, I MAINLY understand what all of these options mean.
As the average American three generations away from the source, I probably wouldn’t have a clue. As a farmer, one thing I know is that these labels don’t mean one is safer to consume than another.
Many people think that these labels mean that some milk contains antibiotics, or that some milks were produced in a more humane manner than others. Neither is true.
Any milk you find in a grocery store does not contain antibiotics, regardless of the label attached to it.
All milk that leaves any dairy farm in the United States goes through extensive antibiotic checks before it is about to reach the consumer.
I am a conventional dairy farmer. This means that on my dairy farm we choose to treat our animals with antibiotics when there is a reason to do so, for example when they have an infection or disease that can be cured through the use of antibiotics.
The antibiotics we use are always prescribed by a veterinarian and are only administered when needed. Antibiotics used on farms also have a âholdâ period. This is the period following the administration of the antibiotic during which farmers must remove the animal from production, whether it is beef, pork, milk or any other locally produced product. closed.
On our farm, the animal is separated from the herd, which gives it enough time to heal and for the antibiotics to run their course until no trace remains in its body. Only then is she allowed to return to the herd.
Every day when the milk truck comes into the aisle of our farm to collect our milk, the first thing the milk truck driver does is take a sample of the milk. This milk sample is tested for antibiotics before it reaches the plant. In the event that a trace of antibiotics is found (which happens very rarely), the entire milk tank is thrown down the drain. As you can imagine, dairy farmers aren’t paid for the milk that goes down the drain, so it’s our number one priority to make sure that never happens.
When the milk is loaded into the milk truck, it is then transported to its next location where it can be bottled into liquid milk or made into other products such as yogurt, butter, cheese or cream. icy. Whatever the next destination of the milk, it is tested again before being unloaded at the factory. As I said, the milk manufacturing process involves several screening steps that ensure that there are absolutely no antibiotics in the milk that will ever reach the consumer, regardless of the label affixed to the milk. outside of the container.
Often times, these labels are also mistaken for humane animal welfare practices.
âGrass-fed cows, organic cows and conventional cowsâ are all treated humanely. One label does not mean better treatment than another.
As farmers, we choose this profession mainly because we love our cows, and we love our land. Everything we do makes it in our best interests to take the best possible care of both. My family’s dairy farm is conventional. This means that we believe in the use of antibiotics to treat sick animals. As shepherds on our farm, it is all my job to ensure the proper care and treatment of our livestock. Taking care of my cows is my passion in life, there is nothing I love to do more. As a result, we have very healthy and productive cows.
The happier and healthier our cows, the more productive they are. Animal welfare and our success as dairy farmers are directly linked to each other. I always use the analogy with stress in people. The more stressed we become as a person, the less successful we are. Stress directly affects our health and productivity. Cows are no different. The more comfortable and relaxed we can make our cows, the more productive they are. This is the case for every dairy farm, regardless of the label affixed to the outside of the container.
So while there are variations on the wording on the outside of the container, the contents inside are just as healthy, safe, and nutritious as anything else. As farmers, we have done ourselves a disservice as an industry by putting the idea in the minds of consumers that any agricultural product that they can buy on the shelves is of less value than the product that is sold. found next door.
American farmers work hard every day to produce safe, healthy products that consumers can enjoy every day.
– For comments or suggestions on the Farming in Central New York series, email John Clifford at [email protected].