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Shoppers at Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage will no longer find dairy products that come from confinement dairies.
The Denver-based natural foods chain said it aims to "cut through consumer confusion" and "start more conversations about how our food is raised and how that can impact hidden costs" by removing the products from its nearly 90 stores. In a confinement dairy, the emphasis is on production, according to Natural Grocers, and animals live enclosed in a barn or dirt yard.
The company said it would sell only dairy products from animals that are pasture-based.
"Advertising buffets us with images of happy, healthy cows grazing on grass, but in many cases that's not what is happening," said Heather Isely, executive VP for Natural Grocers, who helped shape the policy. "Consumers have told us they aren't sure about what they're buying or where it came from. And they do care, because there are a lot of documented unintended consequences associated with confinement dairies. At the same time, there's increasing evidence that 'old school' dairy practiced in new ways -- meaning animals raised in a managed-pasture system -- has nutritional benefits, benefits for the land, benefits for the farmers and the animals themselves. By only carrying pasture-based dairy we are more transparent, we give our customers peace of mind and also expand the market for dairy farms that want to raise their animals on pasture."
The process of researching and replacing confinement dairy products with comparable pasture-based dairy has taken Natural Grocers executives to view dairies nationwide and extensively research others, including many farmers across the country who sell their milk to the Organic Valley Dairy Cooperative. Farmers repeatedly emphasized that they are more profitable in a pasture system, which research supports, and that any added costs will shrink as demand grows, according to Natural Grocers.
Natural Grocers said it wrote its standards to be as straightforward as possible:
- Dairy animals must be grazed for a minimum of 120 days.
- No animal byproducts in feed
- No hormones, including Bovine Growth Hormone
- No non-therapeutic drugs
- No cloned animals
- Animals are allowed to exhibit their natural behaviors.
- Humane treatment
- Nutrition needs met
- Shelter provided as needed
- No GMO alfalfa in feed.
"We've done the math, and in our Denver market, pasture-based dairy products are often comparable in price and perhaps 10 cents more for a carton of yogurt to 80 cents more for a half-gallon of milk," Isely added. "But here's what you get for that extra 10 to 80 cents: a healthier product with healthier nutrient profile; a more profitable farmer, because they make more money on a pasture-based system; healthier animals that live longer (and therefore also are more cost-effective); minimizing and not contributing to the antibiotic resistance associated with confinement dairies; [and] healthier soil that stores more carbon and more rain, even in drier climates."
Natural Grocers has created a page with resources, videos and answers to frequently asked questions on its new dairy policies.