At the 2013 Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference, attendees learned how milk’s carbon footprint has reduced over time while still proving to be a nutrient dense food.Carbon footprint is a commonly heard term. We use it to talk about industries, individual businesses and even individual animals.
When it comes to milk and milk production, the term has also been measured in a variety of ways. Perhaps the best method to measure it is CO2 produced per gallon of milk produced. We drink milk by the gallon, and the number of cows, farms and the size of the dairy industry are ultimately driven by the gallons of milk we consume.
So how does milk fare on CO2 per gallon of milk? At the 2013 Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference, Dr. Dale Bauman, professor emeritus with Cornell University, talked about the progress milk has made over the years. Dr. Bauman shared research showing that “the carbon footprint of a unit of milk produced in 2007 is only 37 percent of that in 1944."
The fact is that the modern dairy cow produces more milk, more efficiently, than the 1944 cow. So despite the footprint per cow being larger, the footprint per unit of milk is smaller. Dr. Bauman went on to share that as an industry, dairy produced 59 percent more milk in 2007 than in 1944 while producing a carbon footprint that was 41 percent lower than that of 1944.
But milk is more than just a good bet on the CO2 front; it also is a nutrient rich food. A Dairy Research Institute figure shared at the GLRDC (from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2003-2006) indicated that although milk and dairy products typically contribute about 10 percent of our daily calories, milk and dairy contribute much more than that in essential nutrients.
In fact dairy products contribute 58 percent of our vitamin D, 51 percent of our calcium, 28 percent of our vitamin A and phosphorus, 26 percent of our vitamin B12, and 25 percent of our riboflavin. In addition, milk provides more than 10 percent of protein (18 percent), zinc (16 percent), potassium (16 percent), and magnesium (13 percent).
So enjoy that next glass of cold milk, yogurt, cheese or other dairy product, knowing that it is produced by an industry that has reduced its carbon footprint, and that you are consuming a nutrient rich, great-tasting food.
Stan Moore is a Michigan State University Extension dairy educator in Antrim County.