Unlike regular whey protein, Organic certified whey protein is sourced from cows that were not treated with antibiotics, rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone), or other synthetic veterinary drugs. The USDA Organic certification also requires that cows are given access to pasture throughout the entire growing season, are treated humanely, and allowed to express natural behaviors. Only Organic certified, non-GMO feed can be used to supplement their diet. Organic Dairy Farmers must also practice good land management by implementing soil conservation measures that preserve soil fertility.
In this article you will learn:
- Where Regular Whey Comes From
- The Problem With CAFOs
- The Organic Difference
- How to Go Beyond Organic
Since whey is a byproduct of milk, in order to understand where regular whey comes from, you have to look at conventional dairy production.
Unlike the small, family farms of yesteryear, most modern day dairy production is conducted on a vast, industrial scale. To ensure efficiency and profitability, the animals are kept in crowded, tightly cramped buildings called CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations).
In the U.S., the largest of these operations houses over 30,000 dairy cows although some international producers are planning on building 100,000 animal operations in the near future.
Although CAFOs are good for business, they are not good for anyone (or anything) else.
The overcrowded conditions are a fertile breeding ground for disease, so farmers add large quantities of antibiotics directly to the feed. This practice has been implicated in the emergence of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, which have the potential for spreading to human populations.
Without access to sunlight, clean pasture, room to move, or the ability to properly socialize, CAFOs also cause a great deal of stress and trauma to the animals confined in them. There have been recent studies that both confirm that cows are more intelligent than we previously thought, and that they suffer significant negative impacts when living in factory farms.
CAFO operators often disregard the fact that cows evolved to eat grass, feeding them a diet that mostly consists of corn, but adding in anything else they can find to save money and increase production, including candy, waste from poultry production, and other biologically inappropriate substances. Just like humans, cows that eat an improper diet are more susceptible to disease, infection, and other health conditions.
There are numerous other issues related to CAFOs and the way conventional dairy (and therefore whey) is produced, to learn more, we recommend reading Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser (or watching the movie of the same name).
From a nutritional perspective, both regular and organic whey products contain similar levels of protein, carbohydrates, and fats, which leads some to conclude that “the difference” is not worth it, but this reductionist viewpoint ignores the long term, and as yet unknown impacts of industrial dairy production on the land, animals, and humankind.
Organic certified dairy addresses nearly all the issues related to CAFO production:
- The cows are required to have access to pasture throughout the growing season
- 30% of their diet must come from grass
- Supplemental feed must be non-GMO (genetically modified organism) and organically grown
- Humane treatment and the ability to express natural behavior is protected
- The use of antibiotics and growth hormones are prohibited
- Soil fertility must be protected to avoid environmental degradation
Because of the additional work and effort required to implement these requirements, Organic dairy (and whey protein) typically costs more than regular whey, but this is money well spent.
By buying Organic whey protein, you are “voting with your dollars” and investing in a better future by helping to ensure that an alternative to CAFOs exists.
Seemingly small decisions like this do make an impact. Due to the growing consumer demand for better quality food products, Organic dairy now represents 4% of all U.S. dairy production, with more and more farmers joining the program each year.
As good as the Organic certification is, here at Natural Force, we constantly strive to “Go Beyond”.
These additional certifications guarantee that the cows who make our whey protein have a fully grass-based diet, have even stricter humane treatment standards, and that none of the ingredients used in our products (like flavorings) are sourced from genetically modified organisms, contain gluten or grains, or any other unnatural substances.
Editors Note: This article was originally posted January 2015 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Also published on Medium.