by Aarti Arora, MPH, RD
There is an abundance of research available on how the American consumer mindset is changing when it comes to making food choices. Mintel research has identified young Millennials as part of the driving forces behind the changing definition of healthful eating. Americans are seeking foods that are organic, with a clean ingredient label, and provide a connection to knowing where food is sourced. Grass-fed products, in particular grass-fed dairy, is flourishing with consumers who are becoming more mindful about the origins of their food, and according to a 2014 Datamonitor study, consumers are seeking more and more grass-fed products when they shop.
With the popularity of grass-fed dairy on the rise, a new third-party verification program, the Pennsylvania Certified Organic (PCO) 100% GrassFed Organic certification, was unveiled in 2014 through a grass-based dairy farmers initiative to ensure the authenticity of products claiming to be grass-fed. Third-party certification is vital because the term “grass-fed” is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and many products claim “grass-fed,” when the cow’s diet is heavily supplemented by grain or other non-grass feed. Partial grass-feeding cannot claim the beneficial properties of 100 percent grass-feeding for the cows, farmers, the consumer, and the environment.
Maple Hill Creamery, a family-owned dairy manufacturer based in New York’s Hudson Valley, has been leading the 100% grass-fed movement within the United States, and was recently designated as the first brand to receive the new PCO 100% GrassFed Organic certification. Since its founding in 2009, Maple Hill Creamery has been producing 100% organic milk from 100 percent grass-fed cows to create delicious organic grass-fed whole milk creamline-style yogurt cups, quarts, and drinkable yogurts, cheese and Greek-style yogurt. Company founding farmer and president, Tim Joseph, started the dairy with the simple desire to make the healthiest yogurt for his kids from his own herd’s milk. Soon he found that 100% grass-fed organic dairy farming was better for everyone from the cows to customers.
“We observed that 100% grass-fed produced a fresh, great-tasting distinct flavor and the highest quality milk, supported the healthiest lifestyle for the cows, improved the fertility of grazing land, and allowed farmers to earn a stable, premium pay price for their milk,” said Joseph. “This certification seal will enable to consumers to feel confident in the choices they make for themselves and their families, and allows for our retailers and customers to continue to rely upon Maple Hill Creamery’s integrity and complete transparency in all we do and make.”
There are numerous benefits of 100% Grass-Fed organic products. Dairy cows in this segment of the dairy industry produce high quality milk and lead long, healthy lives, all while improving the health of grazing land and supporting the financial stability of farmers. Products made from grass-fed milk taste great, and are known for their velvety-smooth, European-style textures. Also, these products are minimally processed. In the case of Maple Hill Creamery, there are no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives – ever. And nutrition is a key benefit. Milk from 100 percent grass-fed cows has a more favorable fatty acid profile than milk from conventionally-fed cows. It is higher in omega-3 fatty acids and lower in omega-6 fatty acids. A third-party lab test found Maple Hill Creamery’s milk to contain at least twice the amount of total omega-3 fats, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than conventional milk and a more favorable ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats.
Perhaps most importantly, 100 percent grass-fed dairy has a significantly reduced environmental footprint. This type of farming focuses on moving the cows, often several times a day in the growing season, through pastures to the best grasses so they can stay strong and healthy, thereby producing the highest quality milk. This method prevents overgrazing, captures more rainwater for healthy water tables, puts carbon back in the soil by increasing grass production, and increases the overall health and fertility of grazing land.
PCO’s 100% GrassFed certification is currently open to farmers and producers with PCO Organic certification. A key aspect of the program is actually defining what 100 percent grass-fed means by setting standards that all industry members and consumers can recognize. Over time, PCO is hoping to expand the 100% GrassFed program by working with other U.S. organic certifiers to administer its 100% GrassFed certification.
Aarti Arora, MPH, RD is a registered dietitian with 14 years experience in food and drink communications and is a consultant for Maple Hill Creamery.