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Readings for Week 8: Dairy Farming

Tuesday, May 17

This week, we look at two kinds of general issues about dairy farming: first environmental and then dietary issues. Today, we will look at the place of dairying and dairy products in the world food supply and its effect on ecosystems, in a kind of parallel to the way we looked at the place of biofuels in the world energy supply and seafood in the world food supply earlier. We begin with a general account of food production and land use change by Ruth DeFries et al.

Nitrogen is part of the equation at both ends (of the cow as well as the diet-ecology chain), so now we move to the problems of that most common and most elusive element. Begin with Oene Oenema and Stefan Pietrzak's comparison of nutrient management in food production in the Netherlands and Poland, to understand the relationship of energy efficiency, economic incentives, and policy in two very different management systems. Then, for a specific application to dairy farming systems, read H.F.M. Aarts et. al's article about De Marke prototype farm

Dairies, of course, have other effects on the environment besides their contribution of reactive nitrogen. For example, they emit considerable greenhouse gases, and also cattle may degrade grasslands by overgrazing. The degree of these impacts is influenced by what systems of feeding are used. Read two articles about and about comparison of feeding systems in Wisconsin dairies and about rotational grazing and carbon credits.

Thursday, May 19

Today we hone in on the dietary aspect, with Barry Popkin's work on dietary transitions generally and a specific study showing rapid change in China. Then we move to the specific question of nitrogen from the demand side, thinking both of all those ads about protein [and calcium] to build healthy bodies, as well as complaints about what excess nitrogen does to the environment, reading Vaclav Smil on Nitrogen in Human Diets.

Four volunteers will debate the issue of vegetarianism and veganism looking at the relationship between nutrition and ecology. The other dietary issue we will take up today will be the question of the relationship between production methods and dietary choices, in the form of both organic milk and raw milk. For a general introduction to the culture and economics of organic foods, read the chapter on Big Organic from Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, and for the particular case of milk, read Melanie DuPuis on rBGH and the Rise of Organic Milk.

For the issue of raw milk, you might want to start with two very polemical sides of the issue: a pro-raw milk piece and one from the federal Centers For Disease Control and Prevention that says it is extremely dangerous. And did you think Mother Jones would support just about any radical cause? Read this. Two volunteers each will be asked to report on the following issues:
  • Should dairy products be promoted as a source of protein for adults?
  • Should consumers pay a premium for organic milk, and why?
  • Should on-farm or off-farm sales of raw milk be permitted, and if so how should they be regulated?