Stonyfield Greener Cow Project
In 2008, we launched the first program in North America to naturally decrease global warming gases caused by cows’ burps (enteric emissions). An unexpected benefit of the program is that it also significantly increases the nutritional value of the milk.
The Stonyfield Greener Cow pilot program began with 15 Vermont Organic Valley farms that supply milk for our yogurts. We'd been measuring our carbon footprint for over a decade and had known milk production was the biggest part of its footprint. While we developed programs for emissions generated from growing feed for cows, manure, transportation and farm energy, handling the greatest source of milk emissions--the natural digestion of the cow--was a challenge.
The pilot program works by feeding cows a diet high in natural omega-3 sources, such as alfalfa, flax and grasses. This results in an increase in the milk’s omega-3 content and decrease in the levels of saturated fats. Through intensive, ongoing analysis of the feed and the cow’s milk, the pilot program re-balances the cow’s main stomach or “rumen.” This results in a reduction of the waste by-product methane, a greenhouse gas, which the cows emit primarily through burping.
We've been able to reduce the enteric emissions from the cows by as much as 18%, and by 12%, on average. If every US dairy were to adopt this approach, in less than one year, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions we could reduce would be the equivalent of taking more than half a million cars off the road!
The omega-3s in the milk increased by nearly one third (29%) without Stonyfield having to add anything (such as fish oil) to the milk. Increasing the omega-3 level in the feed also lowers the omega-6–to–omega-3 ratio, a balance that regulates key human physiological functions.
“The Stonyfield Greener Cow program is changing food in exactly the ways we need it to be changed,” said Artemis P. Simopoulos, M.D., international authority on essential fatty acids and former chair of the Nutrition Coordinating Committee at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). According to her book The Omega Diet, what we eat today contains too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3. This “hidden imbalance” makes us vulnerable to heart disease, cancer, obesity, autoimmune diseases, allergies, diabetes and depression.
Only plants can synthesize omega-6 and omega-3. By eating animals that have consumed plants high in omega-3, humans get this important nutrient. Over the past 50 years, though, our diets have changed, and we now consume more omega-6–rich foods, such as oils from corn, palm and soy. We also changed what livestock eat by increasing the amount of corn and soy in their feed, and decreasing grass, which is high in omega-3. The result is that eggs, meat and dairy have less omega-3. Thus, the omega-6–to–omega-3 ratio in our diets—which used to be about 1 or 2 to 1—is now out of balance, with about 20 times more omega-6 than omega-3.