One of my favorite authors and also my mentor, Jon Steel was one of the lead strategic planners on the famous ‘Got Milk’ campaign (yeah, the ones with the milk mustaches!) in 1993. While this post is not about Mr. Steel, about account planning in advertising or about any of his fantastic books, it IS about milk. Because his campaign has often been credited with greatly increasing milk sales in California and was licensed for use by milk processors and dairy farmers, it sets up the stage beautifully for this article that discusses the concept of ‘real’ milk.
Yesterday, I got a little booklet in my mail where there was an advertisement about ‘Old-Fashioned Home Milk Delivery’ from a company that delivered milk in glass bottles, right at my door. This kind of service hits home – I remember growing up in India, we often had milk in glass bottles delivered home every morning.
In the ad was a statement that seems relevant to this discussion: ‘Your child shouldn’t drink milk that contains chemicals most ‘modern’ farmers give to their herds’.
Oh? You mean that milk that we get in our local grocery stores? I have been drinking that milk the last ten years I have been in this country. Something wrong with that?
Well, not really - I havent really been sick from it (although I have always been slightly lactose-intolerant all my life), it tastes fine to me, and I have always thought of milk as a good source of calcium. Of course, many would disagree about my local-store-milk-choices, starting with my friends with kids who only buy organic milk for their toddlers. Is it because organic milk is the real thing? Are the benefits of organic milk worth the cost?
May be, may be not.
Uh-huh. What does that even mean?
The easy and the most common answer I got to this question was: Real Milk comes from real cows.
No kidding. Cows are cows. What the heck do you mean by ‘real cows?’.
To explore this further, I ran a few online searches. One website that caught my fancy was the one that is run by the California Milk Processor Board, which continues to use the ‘Got Milk’ tagline in its campaigns. Another one suggests Americans should go for the ‘real thing, and boycott the counterfeits’ – but not consume raw milk. A third website focuses on health benefits of ‘raw milk‘, instead. And, not surprising, on the other end of the spectrum, were numerous articles that suggested that adults dont even need milk in their diet, and how 60% of adults cannot even digest milk. An animal liberation website also affirmed that milk will make you sick.
In this post, it is not my intention to debate whether adults should drink milk or avoid it altogether. That’s a personal choice.
The issues I want to discuss are – What is real milk? Are all organic brands similar and should I stop drinking my local grocery store milk?
There has been much debate about these issues.
Based on my initial reading and research, one thing I can gather is that local-grocery-store-brand milk comes from cows that are given growth hormones (such as rBST), antibiotics and pesticide-treated feeds (cottonseed, bakery wastes, soymeal, chicken manure) to push them to produce more milk and at scheduled times. The milk from these cows is also ‘ultra’ pasteurized and homogenized, with additives that may make it lose its authenticity.
I get that. There are some books and movies that talk about this at length. But what makes organic milk any better?
I ask that because I have read some not-so-great reviews about organic milk too. For example, in Horizon Organic Milk: Is it all lies?, the author asserts how the word ‘organic’ has been ‘raped by the agricultural industry’. He also asserts that hormones will always be present in milk, and Vitamin 3 is added to all milk. Furthermore, claims such as ‘no pesticides’ and ‘no antibiotics’ are not approved by FTC/USDA (and are being cracked down) because these elements are never added to or present in milk anyway.
Undoubtedly, many organic milk advocates will not agree with these ideas because the former are not just focused on what is added to the milk but also on the contextual raising of and living conditions of the cows that produce that ‘organic’ milk – i.e. Cows that are not treated with antibiotics, cows that are given organic feed, and cows that are grass-fed with access to pasture.
That’s a fair thought. Perhaps that may make (as my husband claims) organic milk tastes better than the regular stuff. Still, I dont feel a difference. I am not a milk connoisseur.
So then – are all organic milk brands the same? That’s up for debate too. Many of the organic companies that started on smaller, organic farms are now state-of-the-art industrial plants (i.e. Horizon, Stoneyfield, Aurora) and inevitably have forsaken the pastoral ethos that defined their very existence. Thing is – Can organic production be replicated on a large scale, and can it then hold on to its authenticity?
This 2006 Business Week cover story breaks this down well and asks some thought-provoking questions – Do organic consumers ‘think’ that they are supporting a different kind of ethic? Do Horizon’s 8000+ cows in the Idaho dessert really have ‘access’ to pasture – and if so, how much?
We don’t really have any relevant and ‘true’ resources to answer these questions, although as consumers, we rightfully should.
For now, organic or not, I am planning on paying attention to my milk. And based on the suggestions that the Natural Resource Defense Council puts forth, I am going to execute on the following:
- Avoid buying milk with the growth hormone – rBTST. This is easy, because most of the big chains (Kroger, Walmart etc) have already taken steps to remove these products off their shelves
- Buy low-fat milk, because toxins accumulate in milk-fat, so low-fat milk would lower the chemical dose
- Try the local milk brand that asserts their milk is from 100% grass-fed cows