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Lexicon of Sustainability

Watchword: Dairy

Watchword: Dairy
To draw attention to the best and brightest ideas in sustainability, the Lexicon of Sustainability's Food List project defines the words that are integral to a healthy, transparent, and accountable food system. Each week, we explore a new word through artwork, films, recipes, and written works. See all Food List words here. 

Dairy. As America’s food system consolidates, many dairy farms adapt intensive farming practices that confine livestock and use synthetic hormones like rBST to artificially increase milk production. The impact of these economies of scale also has adverse effects on water quality while increasing the production of methane, a major source of air pollution created by domesticated ruminants like cows.

Some family farms resist these conventional dairy practices. They don’t use rBST or other growth hormones and often raise their dairy cows on pasture. They also adhere to ethical treatment practices and even upcycle manure, transforming it into fertilizer and biofuel. These dairy farmers are responsible stewards of their lands and vital figures in the rebuilding of sustainable local food systems.

Title: rBST Free
Location: Somewhere, America
Image Credit: Douglas Gayeton for the Lexicon of Sustainability

Both rBST and rBGGH are terms used to describe a synthetic growth hormone which increases milk production in dairy cows.

The USA is the lone remaining country in the developed world which still permits the sale and use of rBST. A number of well-documented consequences of its use (ranging from increases in clinical mastitis to infertility in dairy cows exposed to the hormones) has led a host of nations to ban its use: Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, and all 27 member countries of the European community.

In 2012, the 6th Circuit Court ruled that it's legal for milk producers to label their milk as "rBST free." Furthermore they said Ohio’s ban on dairy processors’ hormone-free claims violated their 1st amendment rights and was “more extensive then necessary to serve the state’s interest in preventing consumer deception”. The court also cited 3 reasons milk produced by rBST-treated cows is different: increased levels of IGF-1 hormone; period during each location with lower nutritional quality in milk; and increased somatic cell counts (i.e more pus in the milk).

Short film: "God's Country" from The Perennial Plate



The Perennial Plate fell in love with these Ohio dairy farmers. The family welcomes the filmmakers into their home and shares the experience of growing up on a dairy farm.

Get to know your local cheeses 

For the past three years, the Lexicon of Sustainability has sought out the foremost practitioners of sustainability in food and farming to gain their insights and experiences on this important subject. What began as a photography project to spread their knowledge has grown to include short films, study guides, traveling shows, a book, and a website where people can add their own terms to this ever-evolving lexicon. See more at

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