May 13, 2021

Dairy leaders set sustainability goals

ROSEMONT, Ill. — Sustainability is a priority in the U.S. dairy industry.

In 2018, the U.S. Dairy Stewardship Commitment was established, creating a social responsibility pledge to consumers.

“I’m thrilled to report we now have 29 companies representing more than 70% of the U.S. milk supply who have adopted the commitment and have agreed to track and report progress in areas including environmental sustainability, hunger, food safety and animal welfare,” said Barbara O’Brien, president of Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy and Dairy Management Inc.

The innovation center has also announced the establishment of new environmental stewardship goals. The goals were unanimously passed on a vote by the board of directors.

The commitment is that by 2050, U.S. dairy will:

• Achieve carbon neutrality or better.

• Optimize water usage and maximize recycling.

• Manage manure and nutrients to improve water quality.

“These goals build on dairy’s longstanding commitment and our environmental progress,” O’Brien said. “In fact, we have a new report from this last year that shows producing a gallon of milk in 2017 requires 30% less water, 21% less land and a 19% smaller carbon footprint than it did in 2007.

“To be sure, there’s a lot of work ahead. But we’re committed to work not only within the dairy sector, but with others across agriculture and beyond, to find solutions that advance sustainable practices and technology adoption.”

The dairy industry must also be economically viable with new revenue streams for dairy farmers, she said.

Dairy is among many other ag sectors focusing on sustainability.

“U.S. agriculture has the opportunity to exceed expectations and to be a leader in the dialogue globally,” O’Brien said. “To continue to work together to demonstrate our progress and to benchmark agriculture’s vital role in global food sustainability.”

The challenges ahead are bigger than any one farm or one sector.

“It is our opportunity, our responsibility as U.S. agriculture, to chart the course and to make our voices heard in these critical deliberations,” O’Brien said.

“We need to share what we’ve learned to ensure the best thinking possible goes into the framing of tomorrow’s global food system, which links nutrition with the environment, as well as other important considerations like economic vitality and social equity.”

Innovation is essential in meeting consumer demand for choice and sustainability expectations, O’Brien said.

3 Global Food Trends

COVID-19 has caused disruptions in the food supply chain, bringing to light three trends, said Barbara O’Brien, president of Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy and Dairy Management, during the 2020 Sustainable Ag Summit.

1. Digital growth: There's been an accelerated shift and adoption of technology and e-commerce.

“As the world went on lockdown, and social distancing became our new norm, people and businesses went online,” O’Brien said. “Digital platforms and communities connect us like never before.

“Work, education and tutoring services, shopping and entertainment, medical appointments, fitness — even yoga classes are all virtual. Businesses are quickly responding to sustain that online opportunity in a post-COVID time.”

2. Food security: There is interdependency of and leadership in the most food secure nation in the world.

“Economists are now projecting that a full economic recovery could be delayed until the middle of next year, at the soonest,” O’Brien said. “And with that comes increased and continued demand on charitable and subsidized feeding programs.

“At its peak, Feed America reported a 70% surge in demand and 40% of that increase in participation came from people who have never used a food bank system before.

“Doesn’t that give all of us a new appreciation for the interdependence of the U.S. food system and the privilege we’ve had as a population of being one of the most food secure nations in the world?”

3. Social responsibility: Brands, companies and industries no longer have the luxury to stay silent about social issues.

“There’s a reframing of how people think about and define a sustainable food system,” O’Brien said. “Brands, companies, industries — including agriculture — can no longer sit on the sidelines. We don’t have the luxury to stay silent on environmental, social and government issues.”