Could this be a new marketing strategy for milk?

By Don “Doc” Sanders

Demand for milk continues to decline despite dairy farmers’ stepped-up efforts to produce high quality milk while striving towards a carbon neutral environment. Several reasons, I believe, contribute to this problem in milk consumption.

High on the list is rising popularity of non-dairy milk alternatives, like oat milk, almond milk, soy milk — you name it. Companies are continually trying to glean higher profits with these products that offer the advantage of lower production costs compared to real milk. 

Foodie activists have helped raise the popularity of milk alternatives by presenting them to consumers as a way to save the environment. Activists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, better known as AOC, promote false narratives that cow farts are a major contributor to global warming. 

Another reason for real milk’s loss of beverage market share is the continuing growth of the massive soft drink industry. But, interestingly enough, soft drink giant Coca-Cola is getting a piece of the real milk action. Coke now owns the marketing entity for Fairlife milk (fairlife.com), the lactose-free, protein-boosted milk developed by a group of dairymen led by Mike McCloskey of Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks, Ind. 

A non-dairy, plant-based alternative to milk that I didn’t mention before is hemp milk. This “milk” is made from the seeds of industrial cultivars of the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa), which traditionally hemp plants have been grown to make rope. Hemp in recent years has been “raised from the dead” and now is grown for industrial uses in addition to rope production. Hemp growing has been legalized in 41 states.

(Way back when, George Washington grew hemp at Mount Vernon. And the people who manage Mount Vernon today have brought back industrial hemp growing as part of the interpretative experience to help tourists learn about our first president’s role as an enterprising farmer.)

Recreational or medicinal cultivars of the Cannabis sativa plant, which are grown to produce cannabis, or marijuana, have higher concentrations of the psychoactive component THC than industrial hemp plants – 6 to 20%, compared to less than 0.3% in the industrial hemp cultivars.

The seeds that are used to make hemp milk contain little to no THC. The THC is in the cannabis plant’s flowers, leaves and stalks.

Hemp seeds are a good source of omega-3, omega-6 and some omega-9 fatty acids. Hemp milk also is lactose-free for individuals who are lactose intolerant.

Animal scientists know that hemp is nutritious for dairy cows. It’s being evaluated as a forage for them. Hemp increases the efficiency and profitability of milk production and allegedly improves animal welfare, as it provides improved nutrition and lifetime performance. It also delivers high-quality end products and helps protect the environment. 

Originally in the 1930s, the public viewed hemp as causing “reefer madness” — like everyone was going to be hooked on it. But, as I mentioned above, industrial hemp has low concentrations of THC — though cows eat a lot.

Behavior of cows consuming hemp fiber with low THC levels demonstrate typical bovine behavior. However, cows that consume the whole hemp plant, with higher amounts of THC, do exhibit behavioral and physical changes. For instance, a slower heart rate and respiration, pronounced tongue play (which I also often see in Jerseys that haven’t consumed hemp), and, in Holsteins, increased yawning, salivation and nasal secretions, and reddened eyes. Sound familiar?

Aside from the cow symptoms, the only downside is that cows that consume hemp as a forage will likely have some THC (though a minimal amount) in their milk. 

Now, there’s a great marketing idea! 

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