Dairy Farmer-Dietitian Roles Help Me Deliver Milk’s Safety Story

I heard a saying recently that I really like: At some point in your life, you’ll need a lawyer, doctor, policeman or a preacher. But every day – three times a day – you need a farmer.

A lot of people don’t think about farmers every day, but I do for a couple of reasons. First, I’m a registered dietitian who speaks to people about nutrition. Second, I’m also a dairy farmer in upstate New York.

I grew up on my family’s dairy and my husband and I now operate our own farm. So, when I talk about the benefits of milk, it comes from a place of practical experience and a formal education.

I enjoy sharing my story and answering questions about dairy. It seems food safety is on people’s minds these days, and they want to know if the milk supply is safe.

As a dairy farmer, no one cares more about milk safety than I do. Dairy farmers work diligently to ensure milk safety on their farms.

However, I appreciate people raising this question and I understand their concern. People want to know they are making the best decision for their families. The general consumer is no different than a farmer in this respect. We, too, want to enjoy food that meets the standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As a result, our country’s food supply is among the safest in the world.

Sharing dairy’s longstanding history of safety can be a challenge because there is so much inaccurate or agenda-driven misinformation out there. I take this as an opportunity to set the record straight. When asked about the safety of milk, I share the story of what happens on our farm and others. I always emphasize these points:

  • All milk is tested for antibiotics before it is unloaded at the milk plant.
  • Farmers work hard to prevent their cows from becoming ill. Antibiotics are used only as a last resort. (And it’s an expensive last resort!)
  • Milk produced by a cow on antibiotics doesn’t enter the milk supply, and her treatment is documented, similar to a doctor’s office. After the cow completes her treatment, the farmer still cannot sell the milk until the FDA-mandated number of days listed on the drug has passed. This assures the drug is no longer in her system.

I know some people opt for organic milk. Conventional milk – like what we produce on our farm – and organic milk are both tested to ensure they are free of antibiotics. Milk is not allowed to be sold if it tests positive. The nutrients and calories of conventional and organic milk are the same. The difference is the on-farm practices that determine if milk can be labeled organic.