How One Cow Contributes to a Sustainable Food System

What exactly is a sustainable food system? And why should we care?

A sustainable food system is a collaborative network that integrates sustainable food production, processing, distribution, consumption and waste management in order to enhance the environmental, economic and social health of a particular place, according to the Agriculture Sustainability Institute at UCDavis.

Did you know that dairy cows play an important role in a sustainable food system? Having a four-chambered stomach means cows can digest the nutrients in many types and parts of plants that people can’t eat. For example, citrus pulp and cottonseed can be converted to milk by dairy cows, rather than being sent to landfills. In fact, 75% of a cow’s diet is not consumable by humans.

Manure is also becoming a source of additional value. Anaerobic digester systems convert manure and commercial food waste into electricity, fuel for cars and trucks, fertilizer and fiber. That comes out to $200 per cow, per year in combined revenues and savings costs!

Knowing this, it’s important to recognize that avoiding specific foods such as dairy and meat does not take into account the goal of sustaining lifelong health, since it can mean not getting enough essential nutrients.

Consumption of delicious dairy foods provide our bodies with affordable health benefits!  Dairy intake is associated with strong bones and teeth, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes and lower blood pressure in adults.

Since dairy production in the U.S. is responsible for only about 2 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, adopting a vegan diet wouldn’t make a meaningful environmental impact. There is a significant opportunity for environmental, economic and social gain by focusing on improving food production methods as well as reducing food-related waste. This is more responsible and sustainable than eliminating certain foods from our diets.



BGH/rbST Myths Debunked

Bovine somatotropin is also called rbST, bST, BGH, bGH, recombinant bovine somatotropin or bovine growth hormone. This hormone is a naturally occurring protein hormone found in all dairy cattle that is produced by the pituitary gland in the brain.

The purpose of somatotropin is the coordination of nutrient-use in the body to make sure all nutrients are used where they are most needed.

When cows are healthy and producing milk, somatotropin is directed to the udder for milk production. In young, growing calves somatotropin makes nutrients available to help support growth and development. 

Sometimes dairy farmers give animals extra somatotropin so that they can produce more milk. When we do this, we are just giving the cows more of a protein that they already have in their bodies.

When cows have a calf and start producing milk again, they gradually produce more and more milk every day until she reaches her peak milk production, usually around 60 days after she calves. Peak milk production means the cow has reached her highest amount of milk that she can produce after calving.

rbST is typically given to cows between day 57 and 70 of a cow’s lactation. Giving extra rbST helps cows to extend a higher level of milk production and helps cows eat and produce more efficiently.

So why exactly do dairy farmers use rbST? Why do we want to make cows produce more milk than they typically would on their own?

The main reason rbST is used is to get more milk from cows to help our farms be more profitable as a dairy operations. Just like any other family run business, we have to make a profit to keep afloat. Just as some family businesses may increase the prices of the products that they sell in order to make more money- dairy farmers do the same thing by giving cows extra hormones.

Around the world, rbST helps dairy producers to feed the demands of the growing population.  According to The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States, by the year 2050 producers are going to need to make 70% more food than what they do today because of the growing middle class and population. Supplementations like rbST will help us to produce more milk to meet these demands.

Now that we know the facts, let’s look at some common misconceptions about rbST.

Myth: rbST/BGH causes mastitis.

According to PETA, “Animals are often dosed with bovine growth hormone (BGH), which contributes to a painful inflammation of the udder known as mastitis.”

Fact: Mastitis is an inflammation of a cow’s udder and is a very costly dairy cattle disease. According Dairy Science and Milk Quality Management staff at Virginia Tech University, “mastitis is nearly always caused by microorganisms, usually bacteria, that invade the udder, multiply in the milk-producing tissues, and produce toxins that are the immediate cause of injury.” In plain terms, this means that cows get mastitis usually due to bacteria that has entered the udder. This could be caused by poor milking hygiene, poor environmental sanitation, etc. Furthermore, since the approval of rbST in 1993, there have been studies involving hundreds of commercial herds that looked at mastitis, cultures for mastitis organisms, somatic cell counts, culling rates and vet costs. These studies found no evidence that the use of rbST was a significant concern for mastitis.

In summary, giving cows a dose of rbST will not cause bacteria to invade the udder. To make this as clear as possible, rbST will not cause mastitis in cows.

Myth: Humans should not consume milk from cows that have been injected with rbST.

Fact: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well as other leading health organizations, have concluded that there is no significant difference between the milk from cows treated with rbST and milk from cows that are not treated with rbST. All milk naturally contains very small amounts of hormones, and studies show that the hormone levels of milk from cows that are treated with rbST are within the normal range.

Myth: Non-dairy “dairy” products are being sold because milk isn’t safe to consume.

Fact: Milk companies have responded to consumer requests for choices in the dairy aisle. In general, this decision is a result of market demand and is not related to any health or safety issues. All milk is wholesome, safe and nutritious. All milk contains hormones because all cows produce hormones naturally.

Myth: rbST is harmful to the welfare of animals.

According to PETA, “After their calves are taken away from them, mother cows are hooked up, several times a day, to milking machines. These cows are genetically manipulated, artificially inseminated, and often drugged to force them to produce about four and a half times as much milk as they naturally would to feed their calves.”

Fact: Yes, we do take calves away from their mothers. Yes, we do hook our cows up to milking machines at least twice a day. Yes, we do artificially inseminate our cows. And yes, sometimes we give our cows drugs.  PETA is 100% correct that we do these things. But PETA also thinks when we partake in these actions, that we are not thinking about the welfare of our cows. In reality, we do these things FOR the welfare of our cows.

Calves are taken from their mothers shortly after birth for their protection. Cows are milked twice a day at most dairy farms to keep our cows comfortable, as it is not comfortable for us to leave our cows with udders full of milk. We artificially inseminate for safety of both farmers, children and cattle on dairy operations. And yes, drugs are sometimes given to dairy cows to allow them to produce more milk. But dairy cows have always produced more milk than necessary to feed their calves. Even years ago, farmers spent time milking cows by hand, after they fed their calves.

The bottom line is: don’t believe everything you hear. We live in a fast-paced world filled with whirling social media, blaring news announcements and whizzing information. Often, it’s hard to decipher what’s factual and what’s not. But that’s why I’m here as an agvocate, to educate, inform and debunk the untruthful myths.


“Bovine Growth Hormone: Milk Does Nobody Good…” Bovine Growth Hormone: Milk Does Nobody Good… N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2014.
“DairyCo.” Mastitis in Dairy Cows. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2014.
” DFT Main Content HeaderFrom Our Farms To You.” Dairy Farmers. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2014.
“Mastitis in Cattle.” : Mastitis in Large Animals: Merck Veterinary Manual. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2014.
“Myth-Busting: The Facts Versus the Myths Regarding RbST.” Know the Facts about RbST: RbST Safety, RbST in Milk, RbST-supplemented Cows. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2014.
“RBGH.” GRACE Communications Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2014.
“Skip Menu.” Understanding the Basics of Mastitis. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2014.
“Skip Menu.” Understanding the Basics of Mastitis. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 July 2014.
“What Is RbST and How Does RbST Work?” What Is RbST and How Does RbST Work? N.p., n.d. Web. 29 July 2014.


Dear PETA,

As a third generation farmer’s daughter, agriculture enthusiast and family member to multiple people with autism and on the autism spectrum, I couldn’t be more disgusted by your earlier campaign, that is gaining new attention.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, this advertisement, created by PETA, mimics the traditional “Got Milk” advertisements, using the phrase “Got Autism?”.  The tag line reads “Learn about the links between the dairy products and the disease.”aobtjgrcdxuznuietqio

It took quite a bit of digging, but I was able to discover that you do not claim dairy products cause autism. Rather, the claim is that children with autism should not consume dairy products as it worsens their conditions.

But really, how many people are going to dig deep to find that information? How many people are going to read past the advertisement and the tag line?

Not many. That was the plan, right?

In my opinion, this is just a fancy new way for you to scare people, who don’t know any better, away from meat and dairy products. After all, according to your website, it is one of your campaign goals to end meat and dairy consumption.

You claim that studies have been done that show there’s a link between dairy and autism, but both the studies that you cite are incredibly small and are not conclusive.

Your article closes with quite the kicker. “Anyone who wants to alleviate or avoid the devastating effects of autism should give cow’s milk the boot and switch to healthy vegan alternatives instead.”

To me, this sounds like you’re promising that avoiding milk will prevent autism. Which is first and foremost NOT TRUE and secondly, not something you can promise.

The bottom line is, we get it. You’re working hard to promote your cause, your campaigns and your hard work. But, as farmers, so are we.

Your company and your claims are one of the many reasons I have a blog in the first place. When people who don’t know anything about agriculture read your advertisements, see your distorted videos or hear a clip on the radio, it’s up to me and my fellow agriculture enthusiasts to set things straight. And trust me, we’ll continue to do so.

And while I acknowledge I’ll likely have to battle against your organization for the rest of my life, someone that should never, EVER have to face a battle with you is children and families with autism. I speak from personal experience when I say, they go through enough. Scare people and protect animals as you must, but do so without involving families who do not need any more complications in their lives.

I speak on behalf of fellow farmers, agriculture enthusiasts and families with autism when I request for you to remove these advertisements and campaign until there is more scientific research to back your claims. I can say with confidence, that I don’t see that ever happening.


Macy Sarbacker

Defining Today’s Ag Grad

The U.S. Education and Enrollment Outlook Report 2013 provides data  every year on the status of agriculture education and a career outlook for those graduates.  Below you’ll see the top 9 findings from 2013.

1. 63% of students cite work ethic as the most valuable skill when searching for professional success.

2. Today’s college students have realistic salary expectations for their first job.

3. Between 2010 and 2013 confidence in receiving a job in the agriculture industry fell 8% among students. 59% of ag students are extremely confident or somewhat confident that they will receive a job within a year of graduation.

4. Only 31% of ag students are extremely confident that their friends in non-ag majors will receive a job in their selected industries within a year of graduation.

5. Only 12% of students report that their peers in degree programs outside agriculture see agriculture in a positive light. 

6. Job fit is the most important factor college students look for in their first employer. This was followed closely by job location.

7.  75% of students report that they are likely or highly likely to receive a full-time job offer with a company that they have interned with.  Ag employers report hiring 1 out of 3 of their interns into full-time roles.

8.  When evaluating job offers beyond salary, health insurance is the #1 perk students look for, followed by flexible hours.

9.  Compared to the national average, agriculture students plan to stay at their first job slightly longer than their peers. 52% report they plan to stay at their first job for at least 3-5 years.