Yep, you read that title right. We know, as nourished foodies, to know our farmers, to buy local (locavore), and know the reality behind all the different terms out there: organic, “natural”, pastured, grassfed, pesticide free, GMO-free, etc. But sometimes, you just have to buy from a grocery store.
When it comes to butter, we buy Kerrygold unsalted butter bricks. It is cost-prohibitive for us to purchase enough raw cream/milk and then make butter with it, as our raw milk is $10.50 a gallon of milk and $10.00 a pint of cream. We scrimp to afford a gallon of milk every other week and a pint of cream every other week, and just can’t afford more cream to make butter. So Kerrygold it is! Yummy, grassfed, yellow, Irish butter. I can even get it from Sprouts or Market Street for $3.29 a brick (much cheaper than Kroger’s $5.99 a brick! Insane!), and occasionally find a $1.00 or $2.00 off coupon.
As I was perusing the Kerrygold website today, reading the FAQ section, I was STUNNED to come across a section addressing GM feed for their cows. Their biggest claim is they are grassfed cows producing their butter, so this made my jaw drop! But I know, after talking with a local farmer who lives a couple miles away from me, that sometimes it just isn’t feasible for cows to graze on grass 100% of the time because of weather. So it isn’t a total surprise to read on the Kerrygold site that their cows eat grass up to 312 days per year (that is a little misleading on its own…), which translates to 10% of their food intake comes from silage, grain, and supplements. As Kerrygold says,
The vast majority of an Irish cow’s diet, almost 90%, is from rich, natural grass. Supplementary feed makes up about 10% of a cow’s diet. The supplementary feed is used to give the cows a healthy and balanced blend of nutrients, providing them with protein, energy and fiber. The majority of the cow’s supplementary feed is from locally grown Irish crops, such as wheat and barley. The balance of this feed can be composed of distillers grain (rapeseed, soy and citrus pulp – a blend of dried peel, pulp and seeds of oranges, grapefruit and other citrus fruit).
That isn’t a scary answer. What is scary is when they start talking about where their supplementary feed comes from.
The Irish Dairy Board and Kerrygold work closely with farmers to ensure the highest standards for our ingredients. GM is a relatively new issue in an Irish context. We are taking an active role in exploring the potential and challenges around using GM free grain in the Irish dairy industry. Supplementary feeds are important for the health of the animals. Some of these will contain soy and corn. At present, the Irish Dairy Board cannot guarantee that grain supplements used by farmers will all be GM free.
BUT, Kerrygold does guarantee this:
We can confirm that Kerrygold butter and cheese do not contain GM ingredients.
Well, that is good news – except for the fact that the cows are still possibly eating GM food such as GM corn and other grains! Of course the butter (which is pure cream) doesn’t contain a GM ingredient!
So, what percentage of that 10% of supplemental feed might contain GM feed?
Our ongoing discussions with the grain and dairy industry have established that of this approximately 10% grain/supplements, approximately 20 to 25% may be from GM sources. This means that approximately 3% of a cow’s total typical annual diet may be from GM sources.
Grain which is sourced locally in Ireland or from the EU is GM free. When combined with the grass in their diet, this means that approximately 97% of an Irish cow’s diet is GM free.
Ireland is a small island and while local crops such as barley and wheat make up a large part of the supplements to the cow’s diet, there is not enough land to grow sufficient barley and wheat crops to supply the Irish dairy producers. Because of this some ingredients used in the supplements are imported.
Where the potential for GM arises is when soy and distillers grain are used as part of the supplement. It is not possible to source all supplementary feed/grain ingredients from the EU due to availability issues. However, these ingredients do comply with EU and Irish legislative requirements on labeling and traceability.
Not a huge amount, in the big picture. But, with the lack of studies done on GMOs and their effects on humans, and the negative effects that have been documented, I strive to avoid ALL genetically modified organisms in my food. And I know so many of you do too. While I applaud Kerrygold for feeding their cows grass as much of the time that is feasible and are transparent enough to explain how their cows are treated throughout the year and what they eat, but I am so disappointed that Kerrygold doesn’t work harder to prevent GM feed to their cows that they are so proud of. It just goes to show that same mantra that the permaculture/real foodie movement has been repeating just bears repeating again: Know Your Farmer. Buy Local.
What are your thoughts on Kerrygold’s policy of using GM feed to supplement their grassfed cows?