Small dairies raise big questions


In the article "Milk and Water Don't Mix" by Stephanie Paige Ogburn (HCN, 11/28/11), the dairy industry was made out to be the bad guy, which it is in its present form as a huge, polluting concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO. But a combination of trends has created a monster from what used to be small family dairies, with less than 200 cows on pasture brought in to be milked twice a day.

The dairy industry, as well as the meatpacking industry, has been subjected to market and regulatory pressures that have forced both these industries to upsize in order to be profitable and in compliance. Startup costs alone prevent many small operators from entering the business, while costly new regulations, often related to pollution, force small producers out of business.

Yes, both these industries need to be regulated to ensure healthy, safe products while reducing the undesirable side effects of pollution. But if we want an alternative to CAFO dairies, articles like "Milk and Water Don't Mix" beg answers to several questions:

As consumers, are we willing to accept more risk for a less-regulated product or, as taxpayers, are we willing to subsidize the startup costs for small pasture-based dairies?

As consumers, are we willing to pay more for dairy products from small pasture based dairies?

As neighbors living near a small pasture-based dairy, will we be tolerant of the dairy-associated odors of manure and silage and the presence of more flies?

Will we fight to preserve farmland for pastures for dairy cows close to urban/suburban areas, not only for its value for food production, but because it also prevents development and preserves open space?

Michelle Schmidtke, DVM
Whidbey Island, Washington

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