Organic dairy consumers handed clear win

Great news for the organic dairy industry coming out of the Buckeye state today, where a court decision banning packaging claims was reversed. Here’s the deal, and why it’s big:

About two years ago the State of Ohio issued a regulation that severely restricted the organic milk industry’s ability to make clear claims on packing; for us that meant we couldn’t simply call out that our milk was rBST-free, contained no pesticides, and contained no antibiotics. That’s a pretty big deal for not only an organic milk company, but the entire organic community in general. So, naturally the Organic Trade Association (OTA) stepped up to fight the ruling. Unfortunately, they lost and Ohio began to move forward with the regulation.

But the OTA appealed! And today found out that the ruling has been overturned by Ohio’s Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

This is a clear win for organics, and for consumers who rely on organic dairy foods. You can read more about the details of the ruling here.

Something in the middle

Interesting piece in the NYTimes, shining a light on what some believe to be a soon to come crackdown on antibiotic usage in livestock farming operations. Though the new guidelines would not eliminate the use of antibiotics entirely – “The guidelines, which are voluntary and will not have the binding force of regulations, would end farm uses of the drugs simply to promote faster animal growth and call for tighter oversight by veterinarians.” if this does play out as expected, it could possibly clear the path for an overall ban, something that’s already taken place in Europe.

The bigger question here isn’t whether or not to eliminate antibiotic and growth hormone usage in livestock farming operations. WhiteWave is in complete support of this. In fact, we already do that. The question is how can an entire industry eliminate the use of antibiotics and growth hormones in livestock without seriously crippling itself? For all the flaws associated with the current infrastructure around food production, it’s still a really efficient and profitable system — a system that’s been developed over the course of a few decades. Changing it is going to be hard.

Aside from the antibiotic argument, some believe that large-scale operations should be eliminated all together. That’s just not possible if we want to feed everyone. However, large-scale operations do need to find ways to adopt small scale principles if  the current system is to become safer and more sustainable.

Our Horizon brand offers a good example of the possibilities. We partner with more than 500 farmers across the country who provide more than 90 percent of our milk, but we also own two of our own farms, one of which spans about 9,000 acres and milks nearly 2,400 cows a day. It’s big. And because we’re connected to a larger organization (Dean Foods), we have the ability to heavily invest in technologies and processes that have helped the farm operate efficiently and organically, on a large scale.

For example the dairy is able to grow more than 70 percent of the feed the cows eat, and with the help of Holistic Management International, has established an impressive grazing system to get our cows on pasture as much as possible. Even when the cows aren’t on pasture, the barn they inhabit is designed to keep them comfortable and healthy, equipped with mattresses for each cow and open access to free roam areas outside the barn.

The farm also gives us an opportunity to try new things. As we continue to learn new, sustainable ways to care for our cows, we pass what we learn on to our family-farmer partners, just as they pass what they learn back to us.

We of course aren’t all the way there, and can always get better, but the farm is in our opinion a really strong example of how big and small can come together to find a middle ground, and begin to reshape the system.

Stuff worth watching

Recently I stumbled across a very interesting, 20 minute online film called The Story of Stuff, which uses simple and easy-to-understand narration and stick figure cartoons to expose the cycle of wastefulness in current society.  The movie was the brainchild of environmental activist Annie Leonard who spent 10 years researching the topic and wanted to share her findings in a witty and engaging way that would inspire, not scold.

The Story of Stuff peels back the layers of a complicated process to show us where all our stuff comes from and, more importantly, where it all goes once we throw it away. Highlighting what’s wrong with the current model of extraction, production, distribution, consumption and disposal, Leonard shines a light on why it’s so critical to chuck the old-school throwaway mind-set and move towards a less linear and more renewable system, one that’s focused on closed loop production sustainability, zero waste, equity, green chemistry, renewable energy and local living economies.

Since its release in 2007, The Story of Stuff has garnered over 12 million on-line views, making it one of the most widely viewed environmental-themed short films of all time.

Leonard was recently featured in the Los Angeles Times where she was quoted, saying “I’ve been reading about the emerging science of happiness. It turns out that after our basic needs are met, more stuff doesn’t make us happy. It’s the quality of our relationships. It’s coming together around shared goals.”

Cheers to that.

To view the film and learn more about what you can do to reduce the amount of stuff in the world, visit www.storyofstuff.com.

Green House smoothies

I mentioned awhile back that I’d be hanging out at The Green House project in Boulder, then reporting back on some of the cool stuff I’d seen. Turns out, they had a videographer there capturing the entire three-day event. As soon as the video makes it my way, I will post it. But in the meantime, here are a few shots from the smoothie contest the house dwellers participated in, and allowed me and my friend Deanna to judge. For the record, coffee in smoothies = good.

Shout out to Cynthia Sass and Jeffrey Davis for their winning concoction…

Stocked with the goods

Smoothie contest winners, Cynthia and Jeffrey

Dive!

The three rules of dumpster diving:

1. Never take more than you need… unless you find it a good home

2. First ones to the dumpster have first dibs… but you always gotta share

3. Leave it cleaner than you found it

These rules were developed by the makers of Dive!; a documentary that follows filmmaker Jeremy Seifert and friends as they dumpster dive in the back alleys and gated garbage receptacles of Los Angeles’ supermarkets. In the process, they salvage thousands of dollars worth of good, edible food. But after a while of feeding his own family, Jeremy begins to question why this food isn’t finding room on the plates of more people that need it. He underscores this important question with an overwhelming statistic:  “Every year in America we throw away 96 billion pounds of food. Which means we’re feeding our landfills as much we’re feeding our country”.

Since releasing the film, Jeremy and crew have been on a grassroots crusade to fix the problem. Their message is simple: Take the food we throw out – give it to people who can’t afford it. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way to do that.

Just about every grocery store in America is required by law to take food off the shelf after a certain amount of time. That doesn’t mean the food is rotten, though, or that grocery stores have to toss good food in the garbage bin.  Many retailers, in fact, have developed great programs to get this food to nearby food banks. But they can’t do it every day. To do so would be a massive undertaking requiring the support of all stakeholders: food companies, retailers, non-profits, consumers and government.

As a food company, we know we play an important role in creating a solution, which is why last week we invited the makers of Dive! and Congressman Jared Polis (who’s doing some great things in the realm of ending childhood hunger) to screen the film and discuss ideas around finding a solution. Some great ideas were presented, a healthy discussion ensued, and moving forward we’ve all committed to keep the dialogue going not just among the Dive! folks, WhiteWave and Congressman Polis, but with all our contacts across government, the retailers we work with and consumers who buy our products.

Stay tuned to TGM for more updates on how this project progresses, and in the meantime you should definitely check out Dive!. You should probably “Like” their Facebook page too…