Why Vegan, Cow-Free Dairy Milk Presents a Major Problem for the Organic Food Industry

Besides, you don't drink milk because it comes from cows; you drink milk because you want milk. In other words, the milk is the product, not the cow. So why should the production system come into play in your purchasing decision? If you truly care about the impacts of your food, then you'll consider the benefits of each on a case-by-case basis, not because one is labeled organic.

Why animal-free milk blows up organic food arguments

The organic food industry relies heavily on advertising . Discussions about food are often framed as black and white, organic versus biotech, natural and good versus lab-grown and evil. Whole Foods Market is among the worst offenders in spreading this dichotomy . The argument works well because the benefits of biotech crops are largely invisible to the consumer (lower food prices, less pesticide use, and the like), not directed at the consumer at all (easier pest management and higher yields for farmers), or portrayed as a corporate biotech extending its reach over the food supply. The argument may be less relevant when it comes to dairy milk, but that hasn't stopped the organic food industry from hyping the benefit of organic products in this space as well.

Consider the vast differences in total sales and advertising costs between WhiteWave Foods, owner of the popular organic milk brand Horizon, and Dean Foods , the largest processor of milk and dairy products in the United States.

2013 Advertising Budget 2013 Total Sales % of Total Sales
WhiteWave Foods $169.5 million $2,542 million 6.7%
Dean Foods $22.0 million $9,016 million 0.2%

Source: SEC filings.

Perhaps larger ad budgets are necessary for organic products, but more advertising comes with added scrutiny. WhiteWave Foods was named in a class action lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for six different jurisdictions alleging it lacked scientific evidence for claims surrounding its Horizon Organic products supplemented with DHA Omega-3. Worse than false and misleading claims, Horizon has been accused of using factory farms to produce its organic milk. This suggests that as long as animals are used as production vessels, it will be difficult to offer consumers truly sustainable and low-impact dairy products.

Animal-free dairy products provide the only real solution. Consider the comparison between the proposed benefits touted by organic food companies such as WhiteWave Foods and biohacker-led companies such as Muufri.

Organic Milk Animal-free Milk
Growth hormones used No No
Antibiotics used No No
Factory farms used Yes No
Pasteurization used Yes No
Shelf life Weeks Months
Vegan No Yes
Lactose Removed with enzymes Never present
LDL cholesterol Yes Never present
U.S. pasture lands required 2,500,000 acres 0 acres
Do-it-yourself kits available No Yes

All of the benefits of organic dairy milk are offered by animal-free milk -- and then some. It's a landslide victory for biotech.

What will the organic food industry and consumers do?

The goal of WhiteWave Foods and Whole Foods Market is to make a wide range of premium and organic products accessible to a larger population. Many consumers happily purchase foods they believe are better for the environment and free of residue from synthetic chemicals and pesticides, which are widely believed to be benefits associated with the organic label.

However, the benefits of organic foods will soon be bested by biotech platforms that remove inefficient agricultural or animal production systems from the equation altogether. If you really care about the environmental impact of your food -- which is independent of the production system -- then animal-free dairy products will be your only choice.

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The article Why Vegan, Cow-Free Dairy Milk Presents a Major Problem for the Organic Food Industry originally appeared on

John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Maxx Chatsko has no position in any stocks mentioned. Check out hispersonal portfolio,CAPS page,previous writing for The Motley Fool, or his work forSynBioBeta to keep up with developments in the synthetic biology industry. The Motley Fool recommends WhiteWave Foods and Whole Foods Market. The Motley Fool owns shares of WhiteWave Foods and Whole Foods Market. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days . We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy .

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