To Tinker or Not to Tinker

James Dudlicek
(847) 405-4009

A small part of the overall picture it might be, but organics continue to be a strong growth area for dairy.

Demand continues to outpace supply, major retailers have launched ambitious organics programs, and manufacturers — like our Processor of the Year, Stonyfield Farm — are expanding to accommodate growth in the segment.
A step or two back from “pure” organic, processors are shunning artificial growth hormones in greater numbers. Hood plants in New England announced they’ll no longer accept milk from rBST-treated cows; Dean is doing the same there and in Texas.
Companies going rBST-free — some are calling it “organic light” — say they’re responding to consumer demands. I’ve said often that processors would be foolish to ignore their consumers, regardless of what science has to say about organics, hormones and the like. And regardless of science, there will be folks on both sides of the debate claiming they’re right. A lot of people don’t like what they perceive as science tinkering with their food, even if the FDA says there’s no difference between conventional and organic or rBST-free milk.
But a new endeavor in the dairy stronghold of California looks like a bold, “in your face” move by the “milk is milk” proponents. Blue Ribbon Cheese Co. has announced plans to construct a new mega plant in the San Joaquin Valley promising to take in nearly 7 million pounds of milk every day to turn into 250 million pounds of cheddar and mozzarella a year. To meet those high expectations, the company says it’s “crafting an incentive program for dairy operators who are committed to and use new cutting-edge herd-health and FDA-approved technologies,” part of its commitment to “producer freedom of choice.”
And then we have Stonyfield Farm, which has ridden the crest of the organic wave to new heights. Its simple message and devotion to a mission are now heading overseas. The message to the dairy industry for the past year has been to “think globally,” and Stonyfield is poised to establish new beachheads around the globe, a testament to U.S. dairy’s strengths.
Meanwhile, Montana has elected an organic farmer to the U.S. Senate as part of the new management swept into office this month. We’ll be watching how dairy policy will be impacted by the new Congress.  
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