Two Sides to Every Food Story

Greetings from Minnesota! It was a windy day with skies ranging from sunny to overcast with a few rain drops.

This post has been brewing for a while. I’m finally getting it written, and to start things off I’ve got a few questions…

Do you ever think about where your food comes from? Do you think about how it’s raised?

What about organic food? Do you think it’s better than traditionally grown food? Are you willing to pay more for foods produced in a certain way?

No matter how you answer these, hopefully I can bring a new perspective to your thoughts on food as I show you two sides to several food stories.

The Dairy Product

I’m starting out with dairy because that’s what I know best.

Many labels show up on dairy, and they all come with varying price tags. Organic. rBST/ rBGH-free. Local. Just to name a few.

Does this make them better? A lot of people will say they think these dairy products are “better” even if they aren’t sure how they’re better.

I think the common belief, or first side of the story, is that more expensive products, such as organic milk versus regular milk, must be better.

In reality, ALL milk contains hormones and no milk sold contains antibiotics.

Milk specifically labeled rBST/rBGH-free (as well as organic milk) means that cows haven’t been given more of the hormone Bovine Somatotropin (BST) than they naturally produce. This hormone stimulates milk production, and all cows produce it.

There is no way to test milk to tell whether it just contains the cow’s own BST or if the cow has been given more. This is because the synthetic version is identical to what cows naturally produce.

So what’s the second side of the story?

Well, I’ve had environmentally conscious folks tell me they feel that giving cows additional BST (remember that’s the milk producing hormone) is a good thing.

It doesn’t hurt the cow, but helps her make more milk. This means more milk can be gotten from less cows.

Is that good?

Well, it does mean farmers can make more efficient use of resources like water and land (it takes land to grow feed like grasses, hay, and grains).

While cows who give more milk are going to consume more water and feed than cows who give less, it is still more efficient than needing more cows to get similar milk production.

Plus, there’s always that little fact of our world population expected to grow by billions and billions in the next 20+ years. Farmers must get better at producing more food with less resources if we’re going to feed a hungry world.

So what’s the better choice?

That’s for you to decide.

Bottom line: I think dairy products are great. We’re lucky to have so many choices in the dairy case. No matter what you buy, I think you can feel confident that you’re getting a safe, quality product.

A one-size-fits all model doesn’t work well for most businesses, and the same can definitely be said about dairy farms. πŸ™‚

The Meat

The other food I’m going to explore is meat. Think everything from turkey to beef to lamb.

I know “antibiotics” can be a controversial word when it comes to food, but I assure you there are even two sides to this issue.

On one side, I know many people don’t want antibiotics to come in contact with animals raised for food. People may seek out products labeled “antibiotic- free” or only buy organic (which no antibiotics can be used on).

I think those foods are a good, healthy choice.

But, I can also tell you that even if meat (or milk) comes from an animal that has been treated with antibiotics, it is still free of antibiotics when you consume it.

That’s because there is a withdrawal period required on all antibiotics approved for food animals. The animal can’t be slaughtered until after the withdrawal period. This ensures no antibiotic residue in the meat.

Now you may be asking… Why use antibiotics at all?

Well, my personal belief is that if an animal is ill, the responsible remedy is to treat him or her with the appropriate medicine. Just as I would go to the doctor and get a prescription if I needed it, we want to give our cows the best care. Sometimes that does mean using antibiotics.

We work closely with our veterinarian to choose the right treatments, and we always discard all milk that may have traces of antibiotics. Every load of milk that leaves any farm is tested, so it’s assured clean.

Now I realize that not everybody believes in these treatments, and some people choose herbal remedies instead of a prescription.

On farms who don’t use modern medicines, I know they sometimes need to sell animals to a traditional farm where they can get the treatment they need. Or, they may have animals die because the organic remedies available don’t always work.

As I said before, I don’t think there is one best way to farm, and we need many ideas and methods to make our food system work.

No matter foods you choose in your next grocery trip, I hope you know that farmers and processors work very hard to get a safe, nutritious product to you – the consumer!

I would explore into the fruit and veggie world, but my knowledge is more limited in that arena. Besides, I think I’ve met my word quota for the evening. πŸ™‚

Questions, comments, or criticisms?

About Lisa

Hi, I'm Lisa. Dairy farmer's wife and Minnesotan to the core, I write about rural farm life, running down country roads, and the food, faith, and family that bind everything together. Follow along on my journey.
This entry was posted in Agriculture ( in general), Cows and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Two Sides to Every Food Story

  1. Rebecca says:

    Thanks for the perspective! There is definitely a lot of information out there so it’s good to hear a farmer’s perspective. I didn’t know about the withdrawal period after antibiotic use, good to know!

  2. lifeisbeachykeen says:

    I didn’t know about the withdrawal period either. Interesting.

    So, are the cows given antibiotics as a preventative measure, or only in the instance of an illness?

    What about hormones in meat?

    Also, who keeps track of when the antibiotic is given, and when the w/d period is over. Do all cows have the same withdrawal period? What if one cow is larger than another; would the w/d period be different since the weight of the cow is different- Do antibiotic dosages vary depending on weight of the cow, thus making the w/d period longer?

    I love your posts about things like this!

    • Lisa says:

      Lots of good questions… Let me do my best to answer:

      On our farm, and most dairies that I’ve seen, we really only use antibiotics to treat illness. Preventative antibiotics are more common on beef or pig farms I believe, but they still need to monitor usage/withdrawal periods/ etc. Hormones in meat – I know that there are not any hormones approved for use in poultry (turkey, chicken). Beef animals can be given more testosterone because most are castrated at a young age for safety reasons and then don’t make enough of their own.

      Each farm needs to keep track of antibiotics how it works for them; we use a software program to track each cow and enter any treatments into the computer. We don’t need to report the info, but if we were to have a mistake and get antibiotic-treated milk in our tank we’d have to dump the whole thing. Very expensive mistake. 😦 All meat animals get tested at slaughter and there meat couldn’t be used if it had residue. So… That’s the incentive for keeping good records.

      Withdrawal periods are labeled on medicines, and I think they are just set long enough for the biggest full- grown animal. They are probably longer than needed if the animal and dosage was smaller, but longer than needed is ok to be safe. Hope I answered most of your ?’s πŸ™‚

  3. bearrunner says:

    Very interesting… Good to know!!!!!!! Another great post

    Cheers!

  4. When I went on a tour of farms in my county I learned that before the animals were sent to be processed they were tested for antibiotics and hormones and weren’t sold until they were free and clear of them. I thought that was very cool.

    I also just kind of assumed that farmers used antibiotics willy-nilly – guess what? That takes away from their bottom line, so they are only going to use them if the animal actually needs them.

    This is all very cool. And although I rarely eat meat, I will still try to seek out a local reliable source when purchasing.

    Great post Lisa!

  5. Heidi Nicole says:

    Great post!

    I think my biggest issue with the organic craze is that the average farmer is portrayed as irresponsible and uncaring. That just isn’t true. There are policies and rules in place to prevent the regular farm meat from getting into the grocery stores – no farmer wants their produce to be the cause of an mass breakout of illness (or even a few occurrences). Not only is that inhumane, that is just bad business.

  6. Runblondie26 says:

    So much to think about. Can you ever be right? The “experts” are always changing what’s “good” or “bad” to eat. I just eat what I like in moderation. I buy organic milk and produce when not cost-prohibitive, but don’t get to worked up about it.

    My days are already numbered after years of tanning, consuming artificial sweetners, using cleaning products, etc.. LOL

    • Lisa says:

      I do agree it seems experts are always changing their mind on the good, bad, what causes disease, etc. We do have the safest food supply in the world, so at least we can take some comfort in that. πŸ™‚

  7. Wendy says:

    Hi Lisa, I’m a fairly new reader, and first time commenter. πŸ™‚

    I have a background in dairying as well. I have bachelor’s and master’s degrees in animal science, have worked on several different dairy farms, and up until I got my teacher certification last year, I worked on my family’s dairy farm. I thought this was a very fair, unbiased, and informative post – bravo to you for standing up for farmers and educating consumers everywhere!

    I also wanted to add one thing on antibiotic testing – on all the dairy farms I’ve worked for over the years, if a cow had received antibiotics for any reason, we used an on-farm test on her milk before it went into the tank with the milk to be sold. Multiple levels of testing ensure that the milk you buy at the store is 100% antibiotic free.

    • Lisa says:

      Wow, that’s quite the background! I have a feeling you probably know more about this topic than I do. Thanks for the comments. πŸ™‚

  8. Katherine says:

    A question that pops to mind (thanks Michael Pollan!) about antibiotics is that, yes, it might be given just when the animal is sick vs being a preventative, but is the illness caused because of overcrowding, poor living conditions, the wrong food, etc? So are we creating the illness because of our need to get more from less? Do more natural (for lack of a better word), traditional farming methods result in less sickness, therefore, less antibiotic use?

    I have no idea and I’m still on the fence about most of these issues because honestly, Whole Foods has done just a fantastic job on marketing as Kraft has that it’s impossible to tell truth from marketing, but it was just the first question that popped into my mind while reading this.

    • Lisa says:

      Definitely important things to think about. While I don’t think that’s a fair assessment in many cases, it’s certainly possible in some. I also feel that with how many more people the world has than even 100 years ago, we have to be able to produce more food. We don’t have the luxury of having everything small-scale, but it certainly works to have a variety of different sizes and methods of farming.

  9. bearrunner says:

    Didn’t find the bottle top, need to purchase new ones, i gave up looking for it… πŸ™‚
    Cheers

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