The first program in North America to naturally decrease global warming gases caused by cows' burps (enteric emissions) has been announced by environmental pioneer Stonyfield Farm, the world's leading organic yogurt company (www.stonyfield.com). An unexpected benefit of the program is that it also significantly increases the nutritional value of the milk.



"This is a watershed moment for the US dairy industry," said Stonyfield President and CE-Yo Gary Hirshberg. "By changing the feed we give our cows, we can simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve milk's nutritional content in a way that may help reduce cardiovascular disease and obesity."



The Stonyfield Greener Cow pilot program began in late 2008 with 15 Vermont Organic Valley farms which supply the milk for Stonyfield's yogurts. The company learned about this approach from its global partner French-based Groupe Danone. Stonyfield had been measuring its carbon footprint for over a decade, and had known milk production was the biggest part of its footprint. While it developed programs for emissions from growing feed for cows, manure, transportation, and farm energy, handling its 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.



The milk from the pilot program is tested in the lab of milk lipids expert Dr. Adam Lock at the University of Vermont using gas chromatography, an analytics technique for determining the fatty acid composition of milk fat. From the fatty acid analysis, in a process patented by French nutrition company Valorex SAS, the enteric methane emissions are determined. (For more on enteric emissions and further program details, see the program's scientific backgrounder, available upon request.)



"Stonyfield Farm has been able to reduce the enteric emissions from the cows by as much as 18%, an average of 12%. 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!" announced Nancy Hirshberg, Stonyfield V.P. of Natural Resources and the director of the Stonyfield Greener Cow Project.



The omega-3s in the milk increased by nearly one third (29%) without adding anything, such as omega-3 rich fish oil to the milk, she noted. 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.



"There is an environmental cost to these changes," stated Nancy Hirshberg. "Clearing forests for palm and soy has caused ecological devastation. For every piece of rainforest or prairie that is destroyed to grow soybean or palm, our bodies pay the price with an imbalance in the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. Put simply, our health and nutrition are tied to what animals eat. We are what they eat!"



Stonyfield CE-Yo Gary Hirshberg iterated the company's plans to make its findings available to support other interested dairy processors by late summer.



About Stonyfield Farm



Stonyfield Farm, celebrating its 26th year, is the world's leading organic yogurt company. Its all natural and certified organic yogurt, smoothies, milk, cultured soy, frozen yogurt and ice cream are distributed nationally. The company advocates that healthy food can only come from a healthy planet. Its organic ingredient purchases keep over 100,000 farm acres free of toxic, persistent pesticides and chemical fertilizers that can contaminate soil, rivers and drinking water. To help reduce global warming, Stonyfield offsets all of the C02 emissions generated from its facility energy use. The company also started a nonprofit called Climate Counts (climatecounts.org) which shows people how they can help fight climate change by the way they shop and invest. Stonyfield also donates 10% of its profits to efforts that help protect and restore the Earth.



SOURCE: Stonyfield Farm