Insurance Update
June 2015
Issue No. 58            
In this issue

June is Dairy Month  

Milk offers flavor in a unique nutritional package.



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Since 1937, the month of June has celebrated dairy products. I invite you to explore this issue of Insurance Update, and I hope you will gain a bit more insight into the consumption and production of dairy products. 


I have been associated with the production of dairy products most of my life. My husband and I owned a small pasture-based dairy farm with around 30 cows and two milking machines -- and later purchased the farm I had grown up working on, with a dairy herd of about 400 cows and 20 milking machines. I feel I have many insights to share with you, and welcome any individual questions you might have. In my role as Director of Employee Benefits for BBT, it is not appropriate for me to promote my personal beliefs or a product that I have a personal connection with.  However, I was asked to share some of my knowledge on this subject, and it is within that spirit that I share these words and this issue with you.


It is very clear from an abundance of research over many years that milk is a nutrient-rich food.The most viable milk to cultivate and offer on a large scale is the milk from bovines, aka dairy cows. Dairy products, like milk, contain up to nine essential nutrients, and most or all of them occur in the product naturally. Federal law mandates the addition of vitamins A and D to some milk products in order to address vitamin deficiencies in the U.S. diet.


As U.S. consumers modern agriculture gives us many choices, and I love that about our country.We can choose the fat content we wish to consume in our milk, we can choose lactose-reduced or lactose-free products, and in many cases we can choose non-homogenized milk if we like the cream to separate to the top.In some states, consumers can even choose to purchase unpasteurized milk, or choose to support milk that has been produced using organic standards. We may even choose to use plant-based alternatives to milk for our own reasons.I am a huge advocate of choices. I am also a huge advocate of getting facts from credible sources before making those choices. 


Some of the most common questions people ask me are about why dairy cows are so skinny, and whether cows on "factory farms" are abused. I can tell you that from my experience on many farms that dairy cows get all the food they want to eat. They are genetically predisposed to convert feed to milk, as opposed to beef breeds that may eat the same amount of feed, but put on extra flesh instead of putting out high yields of milk. I can also tell you that some of the best-run dairies I have seen would be considered "factory farms," and the cows are healthy and appear content and social within their herd. It's good business for a farmer to take good care of his or her cows, and more and more large farms are installing video monitors so farmers can ensure their employees are treating the cows with the level of respect and care they deserve.   


I can also tell you from personal and industry experience, that dairy cows are only given antibiotics if they are sick, and if they are being treated with antibiotics, their milk has to be withheld from the tank. Milk is tested for several antibiotics before it leaves the farm, as well as after it arrives at the processing plant. If any milk is found to have antibiotic residue, it must be discarded, and the farmer responsible for it has to bear the cost of the entire tanker of milk.Just because one label might use the words 'antibiotic-free' for marketing, it doesn't mean other milk does have antibiotics in it. Likewise, I see some milk advertised these days as gluten-free. It is part of that retailer's marketing strategy to label it as such, since all milk is gluten-free.


In closing, I will share with you that I have the honor of mentoring a young Kenyan woman who owns and operates a dairy in Kenya. Her farm is very special in that the employees are all women who have taken refuge from abusive situations and they gain a new life by working on the dairy.  When they complete their time on the dairy, they are all granted a small plot of land and have their own hut built upon it. This program provides them with a livelihood, and a new self-esteem. I was honored to be gifted with the beautiful heifer calf pictured above. I love that she has a heart on her forehead, and I am very honored that she also bears my name.  I hope to travel to Kenya someday to see her in person.


On behalf of Tammy and Connie, and our entire employee benefits team, I wish you health and happiness during this dairy month of June.




In honor of milk

For people of a certain age or older, milk was once the mother of all foods, and when researchers began to raise questions about it, it was as though an irreverent act had been committed -- as though motherhood itself had been called into question. As with so many things, studies were released supporting both enthusiasts and detractors.


But in the end, milk has survived this scrutiny and held its own. It may no longer command its once exalted status as "the complete food" with all audiences, but milk and other dairy products are still a key component in dietary guidelines and believed to be an important part of the average person's daily requirements. More than that, dairy is part of the culture and cuisine across the world and especially in the United States.


And so, since June is National Dairy Month, we are going to celebrate this sometimes questioned but much-loved food.


Diet & nutrition

Milk is an acknowledged, convenient, and concentrated source of both vitamin D and calcium, two elements essential to our diet. It also supplies two important proteins: whey and casein, which are key for promoting muscle growth and muscle recovery after exercise. Further, milk provides additional vitamins and minerals and a portion of daily fat requirements.


But it is here that milk's critics begin to speak up. Some argue that its fat content is not good, and that it adds unnecessary calories. To address this, companies producing milk products began developing low-fat and non-fat milks, which enable you to get all the value of milk without the fat. These can even be a choice for children, because removing the fat does not remove calcium or protein, and it is still fortified with vitamins A and D. Recently, food purists proclaimed the benefits of whole milk products as a more natural choice than lower fat versions, where the fat has been reduced or removed. Others seek their nutrients from plant-based sources where soybeans, almonds, coconut, rice, hemp, or other foods are pulverized and mixed with filtered water, then enriched with vitamins, calcium, and other minerals to create a beverage that simulates the nutritional package found in milk. As always, it is important to read labels so you know what additives are in the product you are consuming, as well as the nutritional value.



Regarding children, the thinking is clear. Milk is a necessary food. The American Academy of Pediatrics argues that milk is an essential source of calcium for children from one year old through adolescence since it is needed for healthy bone growth. A recent study notes with dismay that today's teenagers are drinking less milk.1 



Then there is that phrase, "lactose-intolerant," that has become part of our nutritional lexicon. Lactose intolerance is a food sensitivity, rather than a milk allergy. An increasing number of people drinking milk experience some discomfort, and sometimes even symptoms of nausea, abdominal cramps, bloating, and gas. These occur when the small intestine doesn't produce enough lactase, an enzyme needed to digest milk sugar, which is called lactose.


The good news is that manufacturers can add a small amount of lactase to milk, breaking down the lactose into the smaller molecules known as glucose and galactose, which are easier to digest, creating "lactose-free" milk that can be found in the dairy section, and can even be used in recipes in place of regular milk. Other choices for the lactose intolerant can include hard cheeses such as cheddar and Swiss, which are naturally low in lactose, as well as yogurt because the live and active cultures found in the yogurt digest some of the lactose.



Let's put aside the pros and cons of milk for a moment and look at its production and prevalence. It is found in large quantities in nations around the world, especially in the U.S. and Europe, but also in many other countries. As of 2013, the last year for which complete statistics are available, the U.S. was the largest producer of cow's milk, with India in second place and China in third, followed in order by Brazil, Russia, Germany, France, New Zealand, Turkey, and the U.K. India is actually the largest producer of milk if buffalo milk is included in the statistics.2


Fun facts -- China and Turkey produce the most sheep's milk; India and Bangladesh, the most goat's milk; and India and Pakistan, the most buffalo milk. It seems that the general opinion across the world is that the milk of mammals is a desired food source.


But since this is National Dairy Month here in the U.S., let's look at U.S. stats. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, in the month of April, there were 9.31 million milk cows producing 17.8 billion pounds of milk.3 Obviously, milk and milk products are still immensely popular.


Dairy products

Think of the various forms and flavors of milk itself, then think of the additional dairy products of butter, cottage cheese, yogurt, sweetened condensed milk, whipped cream, sour cream, half-and-half, ice cream, frozen custard, gelato, and sherbet; along with dozens -- even hundreds -- of cheeses, from American to Swiss, mozzarella to brie, gorgonzola to Gouda. This is only a small sampling of the long list of dairy products that are in demand every day.


Changes in dairy farming

But the circumstances of milk production in the U.S. have changed greatly. According to USDA Economic Research Service, between 1970 and 2006, the number of farms with dairy cows fell steadily and sharply, from 648,000 operations in 1970 to 75,000 in 2006. Total number of dairy cows fell from 12 million in 1970 to 9.1 million in 2006, while the average herd size rose from just 19 cows per farm in 1970 to 120 cows in 2006. Moreover, because milk production per cow doubled between 1970 and 2006 (from 9,751 to 19,951 pounds per year), total milk production rose, and average milk production per farm increased twelvefold.4 One of the biggest factors affecting the increase in production was the move to artificial insemination of dairy cows, allowing farmers across the country to have access to high quality breeding stock. Not only did this provide a more productive genetic base for the U.S. dairy herd, it was driven by practicality and safety concerns. Dairy farmers no longer have to keep unpredictable and sometimes hostile herd bulls on their farms, significantly increasing safety for farmers, their families, and employees. This management practice is a win/win.


The changing landscape of dairy farming is a complex and maybe troubling picture. Though nearly all dairy operations in the U.S. are still family owned, the traditional small dairy farm is almost gone. From 648,000 to 75,000 farms in 36 years is a staggering change. Today, the number of dairy farms of all sizes still in operation varies between 47,000 and 51,000. And as herd size and production per cow rise, and the availability of a labor force willing to do dairy farm work dwindles, the business of milk production seems to demand larger and more mechanized operations.


This has led milk's detractors to raise the question of whether milk can be trusted if it is mass-produced in larger and larger automated operations. Adding to this concern is a practice where some producers use synthetic rBST hormone to increase production. The FDA's official stance is that it is safe to use this hormone because it is not biologically active in humans, and is broken down into proteins by our digestive systems. Regardless of the FDA's position that it is safe to ingest, some consumers prefer not to consume milk that has been produced using rBST. As a result, several conventional -- and all organic -- dairy cooperatives have policies against its use. Further along the continuum, producers and cooperatives that embrace more "natural" management practices can produce certified "organic" milk.


Role of dairy

If we really want to appreciate the place of dairy in this country, we have to consider not only its role in our nutrition, but its role in our changing rural culture, and its role in our own self-understanding. The small family farm was once as "American as apple pie." It's part of our mythology about ourselves. It's a strong motif in 19th- and 20th-century American literature. We have to consider how its disappearance affects not only milk production but how we think about ourselves. And last but not least, we have to consider its role in our cuisine.


Apart from the nutrition and dietary debates, there is no question how important milk products are as ingredients in beloved recipes in the U.S. and across the world. The global palette is partial to dairy. Where would French cuisine be without butter and cheese? But more to the point, where would traditional American cookery be?


Celebrating dairy

To conclude this narrative, let's turn our attention to both the vanishing dairy farm and the cookery that it supports, by looking at a new book called: The Dairy Good Cookbook: Everyday Comfort Food from America's Dairy Farm Families.5 The book blurb on reads:  


The Dairy Good Cookbook is a celebration of the world of the 47,000 dairy farm families and their contributions to American life. The 115 recipes showcase the taste of dairy in many forms, from cheese to yogurt, milk, and butter. The book gives a unique perspective through recipes and photographs of a day in the life of dairy farms, cows, and the farmers who bring us our dairy.


Let's revel for a moment in this book's possibilities for cooking with dairy, looking just at the recipes for breakfast, a traditional occasion for consuming milk products. Consider "Fresh Berry-Stuffed French Toast with Vanilla Yogurt Sauce," or "Waffle Panini with Maple Butter, Bacon, and Cheddar," or "Apple-Yogurt Smoothies," or "Triple Cheese Veggie Rolls."


Wherever you may be in the ongoing discussions about the place of milk in your diet, you have to admit that milk products have been an important food staple, a gift to the American palette, and a key element in American culture. So let's hear it for milk, in whatever form you choose to consume it.


1 Neville H. Golden, MD, Steven A. Abrams, MD, and the Committee on Nutrition, "Optimizing Bone Health in Children and Adolescents," clinical report, American Academy of Pediatrics, Pediatrics 2014;134;e1229; originally published online September 29, 2014;




3 This link will change when the May figures go onto the website. To find the new stats each month, go to, scroll down and click on 2010s, then click on 2015, then click on the month of your choice.


4, p. 2.


5 Lisa Kingsley, editor. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2015. It is being released on June 2. The book can be found on

 LTCILong-Term Care Insurance

Adults over 50 have a higher risk of breaking bones or losing bone density -- both things that can cause them to lose mobility and independence, and need home care.  Broken bones from falls account for 40 percent of nursing home admissions, and 40 percent of those admitted do not return to independent living. So no matter how much milk you drank as a kid, or how much calcium you've taken to keep your bones strong, it's best to think about practical steps that will help ease the financial burden, should you suffer an injury that requires care.  Brethren Insurance Services can help.  We offer Long-Term Care Insurance for all members and employees of the Church of the Brethren and their family and friends; and also for employees of Church of the Brethren-affiliated agencies, organizations, colleges, and retirement communities and their families and friends.


If you are interested in obtaining this coverage, contact Brethren Insurance Services at or 800-746-1505 for a free, no-obligation proposal or click here to request more information.