Many of us check the meat and eggs we buy to make sure they’re free range. But can we also do this with the dairy products we consume?
How can we be certain that the milk we choose is ethical? Particularly when we see the word organic on the label. We assume that an organic milk is automatically a free range milk. The marketing certainly alludes to that fact, but it isn’t always the case.
Have you ever heard of free range milk? How easy is it to find free range milk? Is there such a thing as free range milk? If so, why isn’t the labelling clearer and why don’t we as consumers know more about it?
Here we investigate the current state of the dairy industry and where we can find guaranteed free range milk products. We also look at what sets these products apart from the usual pint of milk bought from the supermarket.
Field Study – What’s Happening in Our Dairy Industry?
Plant based milk alternatives are on the rise. In 2017 a spend of £376 million means that sales have increased by a third since 2015. Traditional milk sales only rose by 5% in the same period. The dairy industry is understandably on its guard. Horror stories of what goes into the production of our milk regularly appear online and in the news. It’s little wonder dairy farmers are looking for more positive ways to restore our faith in the industry.
The ‘farm gate’ price of milk is falling. This is the price farmers are paid by supermarkets and distributors for their milk. It means that many farmers are forced into milking more frequently for a higher milk yield to stay in business. The impact of this for sustainable and ethical milk production is disastrous.
Herding the Facts – Why We Shouldn’t Assume All Our Dairy Is Free Range
According to Free Range Dairy organisation, 15-20% of dairy cows spend their entire time confined to the indoors.
The rest are on farms that graze their herds daily during the warmer months. During the colder months, when grass doesn’t grow, these farms still tend to add grass to their herd’s feed.
However, there’s no acknowledgement for these wildly different approaches. Milk from cows kept indoors and those allowed to graze outside are labelled the same. As consumers, we have no way of telling which milk comes from grazing herds.
Grass grazing is important for the welfare of the cows. There is also evidence to suggest health benefits for us, too. Milk from grass fed herds contains higher levels of omega 3 and other essential fatty acids that we need for heart and brain health.
Unfortunately there are currently no laws in place for free range milk standards like there are for eggs. Marketing and supermarket labelling will continue to give the impression that indoor-bred cows are grazing on lush pastures.
Backing the Moo-Vement – How Can We Support Free Range Dairy?
Doubts surrounding animal welfare and sustainability are becoming more mainstream. For those of us that consume dairy products, it’s important to know our options. The future of dairy farming will only be secure by keeping customers informed.
Free Range Dairy have devised the ‘Pasture Promise Label’. The idea is to ‘promote a more defined way of farming’. Under this label, for cows to be free range, they must be allowed outside for at least 180 days a year. Farmers receive a fair price for the value they put in and consumers are assured that their milk conforms to the standards of free range.
Asda was the first supermarket to stock milk with the Pasture Promise Label. In a year, sales doubled and the milk is now available in 350 stores nationwide.
To show continued support to this development we need to shop mindfully. We need to look for emblems like the Pasture Promise Label. We also need to question where our milk comes from even if labelled organic.
If you have concerns about the dairy industry and the welfare of the animals providing your milk, then free range milk is one positive step in the right direction. With the Pasture Promise Label you’ll have peace of mind you’re getting quality and ethical milk.