Organic milk and dairy – why?

‘If there is one organic product you should buy, it is dairy’. Not all milk is created equal.

There is a lot of variation in the way milk is produced and a lot of negative press coverage about dairy farming. The life of a dairy farmer is very tough and more so during recent years, due to a global excess of milk supplies, super market price wars and increased livestock animal feed prices. Our part as the consumer is to recognise good farming practices and support those farmers to protect our dairy industry. In this post I focus on organic dairy specifically. Buying organic milk is the easiest way to be sure that you are buying a higher standard of milk.

Let’s be honest milk is cheap, in most cases too cheap, it is a product we should value more. Organic milk is much better value when considering the quality of the product and cheaper than a lot of bottled water! At around £0.81 per litre (based on 4 pints).

Organic milk accounts for around 5% of all milk sold in the UK with 1 in 4 homes buying some organic. All large supermarkets offer an organic milk option. Switching to organic milk would cost the average family of four just £1 a week.

Remember dairy is all products made from milk; cheese, butter, yogurt etc. The same applies choose organic. The same also applies to goats and sheeps milk, it is all mass produced.

Organic dairy is the premium standard, with farmers commiting to follow and be inspected according to strict guidelines concerning all aspects of production. Think of it as a guaranteed standard. There are several different organic standards in the UK but all fall under EU organic standards as a minimum. In this post information is from the organic standard set by the Soil association.

What makes organic different? 

  • Free range – By law, cows must be at pasture whenever conditions allow, over 200 days on average
  • Fewer pesticides & no artificial fertilisers used on pasture
  • Cows fed a grass-rich, GM free diet (minimum 60% grass-based)
  • Routine antibiotic usage banned
  • More consideration for the calf, to create milk a cow has a calf once a year. 
  • Highest levels of nutrients, e.g. Omega 3 fatty acids
  • Higher wildlife benefits
  • Average yields in organic milk production are around 20% less than in intensive production. A more natural rate of milk production. A system designed not to push the cow to their milk producing limits
  • Cows get more time in a natural environment, outdoors, eating grass

The differences in more detail:

Truly free range, organic cows spend much of their lives outdoors where they can graze naturally on a diet of grass and clover. On average, organic cows spend, 215 days per year outside, which is more time outdoors grazing than the average amount of time spent outdoor grazing by ‘free-range’ cows.

Keeping cows indoors all their lives, is banned under organic standards. When they go indoors because of bad weather, all cows must be housed in well-bedded spacious yards.

Organic through and through, organic dairy cows eat a 100% organic diet. Soil Association farmers must always feed their cattle at least 60% fresh or dried fodder, roughage or silage on a daily basis. Most non-organic British chickens, pigs and cows are fed with imported GM crops. GM animal feed is banned under organic standards.

No routine use of antibiotics, Use of antibiotics remains more than twice as high in animals as humans. Soil Association standards ban the routine use of antibiotics and organic, free-range systems encourage healthy animals avoiding the preventative use of antibiotics. The use of growth hormones to increase milk production is banned in the European Union, and organic farmers are permitted only to treat animals with antibiotics when they are actually sick, not as a routine, preventative measure. We also know that high welfare, pasture based systems have reduced rates of infection and so less need for antibiotics in the first place.

A better life from birth Soil Association standards have never allowed the sale of calves to continental style veal systems, and since 2010 our standards have specified that licensees must have a plan to end the practice of culling new born male calves.

Dairy calves There are some practices that are inherent aspects of dairy farming. For instance, while under normal circumstances a calf would never be removed from its mother immediately after it is born, it is true that calves and cows are separated. This is normal practice across the dairy industry in order that milk is available for us to drink.

Organic dairy calves are always kept in groups after their first week, outside when conditions allow and always with good housing and bedding. Organic farmers are permitted to house calves individually for the first seven days, provided they are able to see and hear other calves. Contented, healthy calves need companions, a healthy environment and plenty of milk, and our standards guarantee that these needs are met. Organic farmers feed their calves plenty of organic milk – preferably from their mothers – or use ‘nanny cows’ to suckle calves until they are weaned. Soil Association standards prohibit farmers from weaning calves until they are at least 12 weeks old.

Dairy farmers are often faced with a dilemma about what to do with male calves, as they cannot be used for milk production. Some dairy breeds, such as British Friesians, can also produce meat, which means that they can be reared for beef production.

Unfortunately, killing male dairy cows is something that happens on both organic and non-organic dairy farms, but it raises difficult ethical concerns. The Soil Association has long discouraged this practice, and we want to see an end to the unnecessary slaughter of male dairy calves.

CIWF have a very good page about buying dairy – https://www.ciwf.org.uk/your-food/dairy

Parting thoughts – regardless of the dairy you choose there are a few important things everyone should know and think about:

  1. Drinking milk is not natural or necessary. We don’t need to drink milk or give milk to our children for health reasons. See https://wp.me/p7RDjy-77. Milk is naturally intended for babies, human milk for baby humans and cows milk for baby calves. All of us are weaned from milk when we can digest solid food.
  2. For humans to consume another animals milk in most cases cows, the cow has to have a calf. This calf becomes a byproduct.
  3. A dairy cow has a calf a year, her gestation period is 283 days, meaning that she is pregnant 78% of her adult life, and milked whilst she is pregnant. At the rate cows are milked in modern systems, this is considered equivalent to running a marathon on a daily basis.
  4. There are currently three main methods of milk production; organic, free range and intensive (mega or zero grazing dairies). Free range milk labelling is on the increase so consumers will have further choice. I will write a separate post on this.
  5. Good alternative dairy products are available, for example read https://wp.me/p7RDjy-8U and https://wp.me/p7RDjy-8Y

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Wow no cow – and still a frothy coffee!

Being an ethical omnivore or ethivore means having choice. Choose grass fed or organic dairy or a dairy alternative, your choice. One problem, Mr Ethivore (Booba) loves his coffee, he researches the best beans, he grinds them, he spends half and hour working his noisy coffee machine, froths the milk and sits at the table looking lovingly and proudly at his coffee masterpiece. The idea that I was going to disrupt this ritual and introduce a milk alternative – no way!

I love a challenge so let the challenge commence, could we find a milk alternative that tasted good, was healthy and most importantly would keep Booba in the frothy coffee he had become accustomed?

We decided a tasting session was needed. I ordered a variety of the main milk alternatives, including soya, almond, coconut, rice and oat. I am so glad with did this as 4 out of the 5 didn’t work for us, it was the last one we tried that did. If we had tried only one or tried one a week we would have given up the mission and still be drinking dairy milk. It was the oat milk that won the vote in our house from the brand Oatly http://www.oatly.com

I favour the Organic oat drink http://www.oatly.com/products/united-kingdom/organic-oat-drink-uk It is just made with oats, water (and tiny bit of salt). With similar fat content to skimmed milk 0.5%. It tastes great as a straight up drink, on cereal, hot chocolate and tea. Tip for tea, if it splits it is because the water has just boiled, let it cool slightly. And the real test was kids! I served it with their morning cereal and hey presto not even a facial micro movement. The carton was in plain sight, I didn’t hide the fact and not a peep. My opinion is that is tastes nicer than milk, it has a natural sweetness despite having lower sugar content than dairy milk. I’ve been continuing market research (in my kitchen) and found similar responses from everyone.

So what about Booba and the coffee? Well the clever people at Oatly obviously know people that are also passionate about frothy coffee, so they have made a Barista version. http://www.oatly.com/products/international/oatdrinkbaristaedition They add oil to the stabilise the drink and allow it to froth. It has similar fat content to full milk but has a fraction of the saturated fat. It works great in a ‘normal’ cup of coffee, it adds a rich creamy sweetness, so much so that people say it is the nicest cup of coffee they have had. Most importantly Booba is happy, the coffee ritual continues, followed by the same proud, loving look as he takes his first sip of his frothy coffee.

Another reason to favour the oat milk is because oats are grown on our continent, in our climate making it an environmentally good choice too.

Their a lots of milk alternatives available, the market has taken off massively in recent times. For a good guide try this good blog article https://www.goodnessdirect.co.uk/blog/the-dairy-free-milk-taste-test if you try one but don’t like it don’t be put off try different products from different brands.

Avoid sweetened versions and check the labels for ingredients and nutritional values. Some alternatives are fortified with calcium, but don’t be restricted by this being your only option. Dairy is not the only source of calcium, far from it. Regardless of whether you drink dairy milk or not you should understand your calcium intake and adjust your diet accordingly, see this post for further information http://www.ethicalomnivore.co.uk/dir/2018/01/07/calcium-and-the-dairy-debate

Parting words, you have choice, you are not restricted to drinking dairy. If you do choose dairy make sure it is organic, see this post http://www.ethicalomnivore.co.uk/dir/2017/12/31/dairy Also remember you don’t have to give up dairy in all areas you can drink oat milk but still choose to eat organic cheese for example. There are also great alternatives for ice cream, cream, yogurt. See my recipe for Cashew cream https://wp.me/p7RDjy-8Y we use it as a replacement for cream is desserts, sour cream in fajitas and chilli, it is 100% hands down our preference to cream.

#Oatmilkmoustache!

The EOr with Mr Ethivore

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Better than dairy? – try simple cashew nut cream

Is there a good alternative to dairy cream? Simple answer is yes. As part of my research into making plant based, veggie or vegan versions our favourite dishes I wanted to find an alternative to cream and sour cream. I hit the jackpot and found cashew nut cream and I have never looked back. We use it in every instance we would have used dairy cream, in savoury and sweet dishes. It is delicious, super simple and healthier than dairy cream. It is also handy for lactose intolerant folk!

  • Double cream contains: 50% fat, 31% saturated and 1.5% protein.
  • Cashew cream contains: 33% fat, 6% saturated and 15% protein (based on equilivant thickness to double cream)

This is where I believe being open minded and looking at other approaches to food really gives us the best of both worlds. You don’t have to be a vegan to make use of vegan recipes. In fact why consider it vegan at all, it is simply a nut cream and can be part of any diet.

How to make it – Using plain, wholefood cashew nuts, not the salted or roasted version. I buy Tesco or Waitrose organic cashew nuts https://www.tesco.com/groceries/en-GB/products/266565966 but non organic works just as well https://www.tesco.com/groceries/en-GB/products/271666995 you can also use cashew pieces which are sometimes cheaper.

  1. The quantity of nuts depends how much cream you want to make. 50 grams of nuts makes around 75 grams of cream.
  2. Soak the nuts in cold water for around 2 hrs, (you can leave them for longer). Cover them in water plus some to allow for swelling. They are ready when they have swelled up. If you are in a hurry you can use very hot water and soak for around 30 mins.
  3. Once soaked drain the water and rinse.
  4. Add enough water to just cover the nuts. You can adjust the amount of water depending on the desired thickness of the cream. Remember you can add but you can’t take away.
  5. Add to a blender, the better the blades and power the smoother the cream. I use a Nutraninja  which is the best kitchen gadget we own.
  6. Blend until it is smooth and creamy. 1-2mins. It should not have any bits however small, if it does just keep blending. If it doesn’t go smooth it is because you didn’t soak the nuts for long enough, you added too much water initially or your processor blades are not sharp enough.
  7. Use straight away or store is an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. If you find it has thickened in the fridge just stir in more water before serving.

We use it in Mexican dishes, to thicken soup, to make a lovely cream curry, instead of yogurt or cream in desserts. I use it just as it comes but you can add flavours if you want to go wild:

Optional savory flavorings:
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • Dash paprika
  • Dash onion powder
Optional sweet flavorings:
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1-2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons minced, fresh ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon cardamom

Needing to gain weight is not a problem that most of us have but if that is the case, especially for someone convalescing, it is packed with calories, good fats and protein and can be easily added to smoothies and soaps to increase the calorie count.

You can use raw, shelled sunflower seeds in place of the cashews for a nut-free version. Pine nuts, macadamia nuts, and almonds will all work with the same amount of soaking time.

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Coffee – our roving reporter reports

Mr Ethivore (AKA Booba) is always on the hunt for a coffee on his way to work. He aims to buy a non dairy milk alternative mocha-choco-chino (flat white). Today he reported ‘Wow, Starbucks had coconut, oat and almond milk alternatives!’

He also commented that Costa now have coconut as well as soya milk and that their coffee is better (in his view).

When buying your daily coffee look for organic milk or milk alternatives.

 

Support UK reared Rose veal

*Please read this carefully. The distinction is ROSE veal raised in the UK only.

‘Veal’ is a dirty work in the UK and so it should be if it were ‘white’ or ‘milk-fed’ veal. The 80’s campaigns against the cruel practice of keeping calves in tiny crates and feeding them low iron diets (causing them huge digestive issues) all for the purpose of keeping their meat pale were so successful that the UK as a nation doesn’t generally eat veal. Veal is defined as meat under 12 mths.

Why is that a problem? The diary industry creates a byproduct of unwanted bull (male) calves. The majority are either shot shortly after birth or exported to Europe and raised for white veal in intensive farmed system with very poor welfare standards. The rest of the EU seems quite happy to nosh into white veal. In fact it is very popular in the Netherlands, France, Italy, Poland etc.

UK reared Rose veal is however a totally different product, calves don’t travel long distances to EU destinations, they are fed a normal diet and kept on straw bed in small groups. In isolation rose veal might not be high on your listgvffdxsz of meat choices, but in comparison to the fate of the calf and if you are a consumer of dairy it is more ethical to eat UK reared rose veal than not. Sainsbury’s, M&S and I am sure others stock rose veal and it is supported by RSPCA and CIWF.

Note ** UK exports of calves to the Netherlands is currently on hold due to threats of TB. This could change in the near future and calves are still being exported via Northern Ireland.

Want to learn more see https://www.ciwf.org.uk/farm-animals/cows/veal-calves 

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