With the development of climate change, “ethics-driven” diets, and misinformation, the dairy industry has taken a tremendous hit in the past decade. The negative light in which dairy farmers have been painted mostly comes from a place of misunderstanding and false information, which has made the need for education evident.
97 MILK is one of the many organizations that saw this need and decide to do something about it. The organization was born in February of 2019 after a marketing campaign which had farmers display bales wrapped with the words “drink whole milk 97% fat free”. The campaign raised the curiosity of many community members since most didn’t know whole milk only contains 3.25% fat, which makes it almost 97% fat-free (hence the name 97 MILK). Today, the organization works to educate consumers about the truth behind milk in order to help them make the most informed decisions about their diets. I spoke with Jackie Behr, one of the board members of 97 MILK, and asked her perspective on the importance of education for the future success of the dairy industry. She said one of the biggest misconceptions she sees is how much fat is in whole milk. “Whole milk at the grocery store just says ‘whole milk, Vitamin D’. People aren’t even aware that it’s 3.25% fat”. She says that when she had asked people, some thought it contained 50% fat, some 15%, and some even said 100% fat. This is a huge issue because many stay away from milk due to thinking that it contains huge amounts of fat, when in reality, that is not true.
She brings up how the labeling, or lack thereof, on milk jugs is damaging because it doesn’t reflect the true benefits of milk. “[If] You pick up a box of cereal and it tells you how many vitamins and minerals and all the nutrition in it, [but] if you look at the back of a milk jug, it doesn’t say anything. Why wouldn’t you have on there: 21 minerals, 13 vitamins, contains all essential amino acids needed to build protein, etc.”. The lack of sufficient labeling leaves out the benefits of milk and diminishes its credibility because people are not getting the right information about the product. She mentions how consumers are not to blame because they have no way of knowing since the information is not even out there. This is an issue not only with labeling, but with many other aspects of the industry. Many criticize farmers for separating calves from their mothers because they do not know the science behind it. She states, “When you take the time and actually explain it to them that it’s for the health of the calf, [suddenly] it makes sense. We have to take the time to educate because you can’t just expect people to know”.
In regards to criticism, 97 MILK has made it a priority to stay positive and create a welcoming community. Jackie says, “I try to always stay positive, I’m not going to attack any other types of food products. Your choice is your choice, I’m simply putting out information”. Of course there will be the occasional troll, but she pays no attention to those, and instead focuses on the positive community 97 MILK have built.
We spoke about the importance of education and how it affects the future success of the industry. She says, “Education is huge”. We need to be able to educate people about what they are buying and make sure that information is easily accessible to everyone. Even Jackie admits that before she got involved in the dairy industry, she was also uneducated about many aspects of it and didn’t grasp how important milk is for you. She agrees that if the facts are readily available and presented to the consumer, milk will “sell itself”. Education will also combat misconceptions about milk and the dairy industry, for example, the myth that milk contains antibiotic. In reality, it is illegal to add antibiotics to milk, and milk itself only contains two ingredients. In order for the industry to succeed, education is going to have to become a priority.
Finally, we spoke of the goals Jackie had for 97 MILK. She says the goal is to continue the website and social media, but her hopes are that it will allow people to open “a different
chapter”. She hopes the openness will encourage people to get involved in their communities, for consumers and dairy farmers to connect with each other, and for 97 MILK to be the reference for both.