I’ve been here a thousand times. Standing in the dairy aisle for what seems like hours, unable to pick one of countless milk cartons decorated with cute cows and happy farmers. My indecision isn’t because there are too few options, it’s because I want to feel good about where my food comes from; I want to feel connected to the farm I end up choosing to support.
Because I can’t stand around in the dairy aisle forever (it’s so cold in there!), one of the things I look for first is the Non-GMO Project Butterfly. It tells me that the farm that produced my dairy is committed to providing consumers with transparent choices. The Butterfly lets me know that I can feel good about the purchase I’m making, and trust that I’m selecting milk that is held to the highest standard in the world for GMO avoidance.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who does this. Shoppers across North America have been successfully shifting the supply chain to provide non-GMO milk options for years. So much so, in fact, that major dairy companies such as Dannon, Clover-Stornetta, and Bothwell Cheese have made pledges to become Non-GMO Project Verified. Small-scale, independent dairy farms have been busy carving out the non-GMO milk market as well. Collectively, they provide over 350 non-GMO milk products in the Non-GMO Project dairy category. To get an inside look at how a non-GMO dairy works, the Non-GMO Project team went to visit MyShan Dairy, a Washington State producer of non-GMO milk.
MyShan Dairy is owned and operated by Mylon and Shannon Smith and their family in Lynden, Washington. Proud caretakers of a herd of happy Guernsey cows who are fed grass and non-GMO feed, the family farm sells their Premium Guernsey Milk throughout the region.
During our time at the farm we quickly learned that while caretaking a herd of cows is no easy task, neither is producing non-GMO milk. Securing non-GMO feed for livestock is critical, as the overwhelming majority of GMO corn, soy, and canola grown in North America is fed to dairy animals. The demand for non-GMO feed has been steadily increasing in the U.S., so much so that it’s outpacing the supply. Organic corn imports tripled in 2015, and organic soybean imports rose approximately 45% according to USDA data.
Traceability is also a crucial part of offering non-GMO milk because of the complexity of the dairy production line. In accordance with the Non-GMO Project Standard, traceability measures must be in place to preserve the integrity of the product through the entire manufacturing process. With the added measure of ongoing testing of major GMO risk ingredients at critical control points, the Standard ensures that dairy products meet the highest standards for GMO avoidance.
Due to the rigor of the verification process, MyShan tells us that offering non-GMO milk has been pivotal in their relationships with shoppers.“It is very important that the consumer knows what is in their food, and what the cows they get it from being fed. Being Non-GMO Project Verified aligns with our value of being truthful and transparent with our customers,” says Mylon. “I hope to see MyShan Dairy fill the gap between conventional and organic milk and grow that market.” He adds that in sharing their family’s experience, he hopes to inspire other farmers to offer Non-GMO Project Verified choices.
I see the Non-GMO Project Butterfly showing up more frequently in my local grocery store as more farmers move towards providing Non-GMO Project Verified dairy choices for their shoppers. This trend reflects a growing desire for non-GMO choices and greater food transparency. Like me, many shoppers crave a deeper connection with the farms that produce their food and an easy way to know that my dairy products were not produced using GMO inputs. Plus, it saves us all a little time spent staring at milk cartons in freezing cold dairy aisles. Brr!