The Greek yogurt industry recently made headlines after a Modern Farmer article claiming companies are “scrambling” for a solution to the “dark secret,” of a byproduct's potentially toxic effects on the environment.
The ballooning demand for Greek yogurt in the United States has created a $2 billion industry, as well as a huge surplus of acid whey. The article suggests that disposal or accidental dispersal of the byproduct could, "turn a waterway into what one expert calls a 'dead sea,' destroying aquatic life over potentially large areas."
But according to John Lucey, director of the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, “The suggestion that acid whey is some toxic material is just plain silly.”
Let’s strain out the facts.
The toxicity of Greek yogurt production is on par with a lot of other cultured dairy products in the United States. Sweet whey, for example, is the byproduct of manufacturing cheese. It has higher protein levels, so its waste is much more commercially useful than the acid whey in yogurt. It, too, can become an environmental issue if handled improperly.
The straining process used to make Greek yogurt products creates a natural byproduct called acid whey, which contains lactose, lactic acid from the fermentation and a small amount of dairy proteins and milk salts like calcium. If you’ve ever opened up the product, you will notice some of the whey still topping the cup. That’s because it’s healthy to eat within certain amounts. The rest is removed, and particular care must be taken with its disposal.
“No food product can be just dumped into streams," Lucey wrote in an e-mail to CNN. All foods contain organic matter and the decomposition of this organic matter involves oxidation. Putting a lot of organic matter into a stream would end up exhausting all the oxygen and dissolved oxygen is what fish need to survive.
"Acid whey is no different from any other food material in this regard,” Lucey continued, noting that dairy facilities are subjected to stringent regulations and testing from agencies like the Department of Natural Resources. An accidental leak from a dairy plant could result in a fine and loss of plant license, so producers pay particular care to leak prevention when building their facilities.
Lucey sees the whey situation as "a complete red herring, a non-issue." The U.S.'s major yogurt producers agree.
Chobani, a leading producer, uses three pounds of milk to make one pound of yogurt. The company returns the majority of the acid whey to farmers, who use it as part of a fertilizer or as a protein supplement in their animal feed. A small percentage is also sent to community digesters, where the whey is used to produce energy.
Dannon, which produces Oikos, Activia Greek yogurt, and Dannon Light & Fit Greek, has a similar production ratio, and the process to make one cup of yogurt leaves two cups of acid whey. Michael Neuwirth, senior director of public relations for Dannon, told CNN: “There is nothing environmentally hazardous about it when it is re-used or disposed of properly. Most of our whey is used for animal feed for local farms, about one-third is used for land application as fertilizer, and the majority of the rest is treated in a biodigester.”
Scott Gilmore, director of global communications for Müller Quaker Dairy, claims that the company's yogurt making process doesn’t produce whey waste because it adds in milk protein from strained milk to maintain consistency.
But James McWilliams isn’t on board. “Producers typically hire farmers to haul it off and dispose as they see fit. The damage could be much worse than we know,” he said.
McWilliams is a food and agriculture writer as well as a history professor at Texas State University. He argues that, “Anything is potentially toxic. But the acid whey that's a byproduct of the Greek yogurt industry is, at the level at which it's produced and disposed, toxic enough to rob aquatic ecosystems of enough oxygen to harm fish and other species.”
“Consumers can take action by limiting or eliminating animal products from their diets, as virtually every aspect of animal agriculture has profoundly negative ecological impacts.”
Walter Jeffries, the owner of Sugar Mountain Farms in Vermont, calls the recent headline a “scare article.” Jeffries has between 200 and 400 pigs at his farm at any given time. He feeds them acid whey delivered from a local dairy farm.
In an e-mail to CNN, Jeffries says his pigs can clean out his 4,000 gallons of whey storage easily, “The pigs would drink up to 2,000-3,000 gallons a day if we had that much available.”
He also added that the dairy farm reports its whey deliveries to the government, who once paid him a visit. “We had someone come check it out at one point. Realize that it is not stored for long. Basically it comes off the truck, goes into the tanks and then gets fed out to the pigs. Each load of whey is fed out to the pigs within about 24 hours or less. The pigs eat it and grow. It's like feeding milk.”
Chobani and Dannon say they are looking for better ways to utilize their growing whey waste. As Neuwirth put it, “We believe there are nutritional and water uses for whey that are potentially an even greater use than that of animal feed and fertilizer.”
Lucey places his faith with the yogurt makers. "Greek yogurt plants will invest in facilities and processes to derive more uses for this whey as they move forward. We have a very inventive industry," he said.
There is no telling when the industry will develop a better solution for the acid whey, but until then, consumers will eat Greek yogurt until the cows come home.
I eat Greek yogurt, but I don't buy it. I make my own yogurt, and strain it myself to make Greek style. I make my own fruit sauces to add to it, or just mash up some fruit and stir it in. I also like it just sweetened with a little vanilla added.
I use the whey for baking, and any extra is fed to the animals. Cats, dogs, and chickens love it. If I were raising pigs right now, they would get a share, too.
Who's really telling the truth?
Has anyone read the article? Beyond the point where it says acid whey "may" have an environmental impact? Because if you keep reading past that point, it says that acid whey is used in fertilizer AND is being used as feed for pigs. There's really very little reason for acid whey to end up killing every living creature in our waterways if it is utilized as fertilizer and for pig food.
We quit eating Greek yogurt a year ago after we saw an article about the environmental impact. Bye bye Greek yogurt.
Did you read the article? It doesn't cause an "environmental impact" such as you are suggesting.
I eat Greek yogurt. I have been following this story closely and reading a lot of articles. I don't eat it every day because I am a part-time vegan, have problems with allergies and yogurt in general raises histamine production.
Having said that – I am very suspicious of this story. It has been bandied around the internet without any concrete, on-the-ground examples somewhere that has been impacted or affected by the process of making greek yogurt. I live in upstate NY. The dairy industry has deep roots in this state and yogurt is one of the major products.
I would not support the idea that processed foods are good. I suspect there are many, many processed foods out there that create massive amounts of trash and toxic waste products. Eating at fast food restaurants like Dunkin Donuts creates massive amounts of Styrofoam trash. They use this product, still in this day. Then everyone throws it out and it is burned in local trash incinerators. This contributes to the constant emission of dioxin into the air and soil around these facilities – which is happening all around the country right now. We do not hear anything about this from the mainstream media.
So like I said – telling us disposal of acid whey "could" lead to environmental pollution says absolutely nothing. The lack of an actual news story here just makes me suspicious. Would these news outlets propagating this story take responsibility for the electric they that is generated by burning coal obtained by mountaintop removal? 500 mountains gone from the Appalachians, and we are really up in arms about yogurt.
Or is yogurt public enemy number one now. And if it is – there is probably a pretty manipulative reason behind it.
sorry giggling at part time vegan,, is that like a part time murderer?
I used to, but no more after reading this.
I make fresh cheese with yogurt, sour cream and other varying dairy products. The leftover whey I use as liquid for homemade bread. That is the most delicious bread ever!
I make my own Greek yogurt, and use the strained off whey in smoothies and in making oatmeal. No point in wasting a product that still has plenty of nutritional value.
You had my attention at this point
"The ballooning demand for Greek yogurt in the United States has created a $2 billion industry, as well as a huge surplus of acid
whey. The article suggests that disposal or accidental dispersal of the byproduct could, "turn a waterway into what one expert calls
a 'dead sea,' destroying aquatic life over potentially large areas."
I had no idea!
I know any processing byproduct is a concern as it has the potential to be harmful. I see that there is a viable solution to the use/disposal of acid whey. I would be much more concerned about the facilities that store chemicals along waterways, such as the Elk River. I would be much more concerned that there are no regulations about above ground storage of chemicals and those said chemicals that spilled into the Elk River. I would be much more concerned about uncontrolled and unregulated chemicals making their way into the water system. I also find it ironic that you're all concerned about acid whey but don't give one second's thought about GMO/GE foods.
I stopped buying it due to the environmental concerns. I do not trust the industry to tell the truth about the issue. They just want to make a buck.
I'm curious...is there somewhere specifically that we can write to urge farmers to dispose of this acid whey responsibly? It seems that if there are positive economic advantages of reusing this potentially harmful byproduct, why not? It also sounds like the Greek yogurt industry simply needs to be educated, and, dare I say, regulated to do so? If anyone knows of a specific email or causes.com petition going around, please respond to this post. Thanks!
I am a partner of Casesu Energy and can address the concerns. Jointly with the community we can address the issue of acid whey disposal.
'Greek' or strained yogurt is simple to make if you have a piece of cheese cloth. Then you can be sure it's real strained yogurt with lots of bacterial cultures, not thickeners.
BTW, an Armenian family, the Colombosians, were the first to introduce/commercialize yogurt in the U.S. Colombo yogurt in Mass, in the 20s. Dannon arrived in the 40s, from Spain.
Thanks Barbara...this was helpful. I'm going to google "how to make Greek yogurt". I believe we can make a difference one person at a time.
I make my own full milk Greek Style Yoghurt, I started with some Fage Total 2% & 2L. whole milk in my yoghurt maker, I strain it through a fine sieve to approx 1L of yoghurt & 1L of whey. I save some yoghurt for my next batch.
I use the whey in place of water or stock in stews/casseroles, even using it for cooking rice, I also dilute it well & place it on my garden. Initially picking up ideas from The Prairie Homestead Blog @ http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2011/06/16-ways-to-use-your-whey.html If this may help you
Could someone please explain to me why the whey by-product can't be used for body-building supplements?
Acid whey has very little of the protein left. It is very different from sweet whey protein. The high acidity and fraction of the protein makes it almost impossible to process like sweet whey and economics are not there.
Acid Whey is an awesome source of Lactic Acid, which your body produces from glucose via the muscles as a better form of energy during strenuous and long exercise. Lactic Acid is quickly transported through cells unlike glucose and requires no insulin to use. The brain also makes better use of lactic acid as its preferred source of energy.
For athletes doing strenuous and long exercise, such as bike riding, use the acidic whey as part of your protein shake, substituting it for water. You get the faster metabolized whey protein, calcium salt, lactic acid. To avoid lactose, the milk sugar, let the whey ferment for a full 24 hours, or use the whey from 24 hour thermogenic yogurt. You'll be amazed how much energy you will have for your long rides...
As an athlete and a science educator, I would like to denounce that Lactic Acid is good for you in large quantities- it's the product released by muscles after extraneous use and causes soreness. In fact, most athletes refrain from eating foods with Lactic acid in order to avoid this. Yes it produces pyruvate which eventually produces ADP/ATP but only in certain quantities.
While I'm on this rant, milk, any dairy product isn't a good idea. Think about it- we are the only mammals that drink the milk of another mammal. It would be like a woman allowing a dog to nurse off of her breast. Awkward.
Sorry for the tangent.
Anyways, even if this is being used as fertilizer, it still has a higher pH concentration than what is viable for aquatic life, runoff is still going to be an environmental issue. Not to mention, I don't know that I want a highly processed product being put in baby formula; it's harmful to the environment and kills fish, let's put it in baby formula. That makes sense. (And yes I know they would be extracting another product within the whey not the actual acid, just still doesn't seem like a good idea considering there has been no testing on this.)
Shouldn't bi-product waste be something considered before a company mass markets and produces a product? Just a thought.
BNR, you need to update your knowledge of Lactic Acid, Lactate. Many scientific studies and peer reviewed articles published that debunks that old understanding. Lactic Acid does not cause soreness, that occurs long after the Lactic Acid has been processed, usually a day or two later. It may cause temporary burning sensation during prolonged rigorous exercise, due to the temporary increase in acidity. However, it provides needed energy to the surrounding cells. Lactic Acid, takes two forms d-lactate and l-lactate. The l-lactate is reprocessed by the liver whereas the d-lactate is made available to the cells through a special pathway that converts into ATP directly within the cell.
Our process turns acid whey into renewable advanced biofuel and dairy feed additive. We are offering our services to all Greek yogurt producers. We would remove all cost associated with acid whey disposal and our process has no waste but clean water.
The unfortunate result that the big Greek yogurt companies tend to make light of is the whey and wash water, and it's disposal. We farm and Chobani when it was built in Twin Falls, Idaho, they contracted with an individual who assured them he had an isolated place to dump the waste, no houses within a mile etc. Well, the land is surrounded by many homes and farms less than a mile away, including ours which is located adjacent to the dump site. So I wonder how the other large Greek yogurt companies dispose of their waste?
If you have any information on who the individual is, or you can put me in the contact with that person. I may be able to help the community and potentially create new jobs using this waste product.
No one that I know of just dumping the waste. I am not sure if its legal or safe for the environment. There limited uses for the waste as is: sewer (waste treatment), feed (cattle,pigs)
Why don't they just dump the toxic leftovers into our cities water supplies and tell us it's good for our teeth? :D
PS – Fage is the best Greek yogurt in my opinion. Try it
Agree on FAGE!
If you think about it...CNN, like all other new media stations, use fear to invoke people to do things. If you really think about there are a lot of things that we use that are not really good for you. ALL processed foods, mass produced foods, un-natural are bad for you. Take a microwave for example. Most people in the US and the world probably have one in their kitchens and use them almost on a daily basis. "Nuking" foods are not the safest way to heat and eat your food. Try this test to see the effects of the microwave. Take a cup of water and nuke it for about a minute and then let it cool off and water a plant with it. Give it a couple of days and you will see that the plant most likely has died. Imagine those kinds of substances ingested? We are surrounded with things that are not good for the environment or to ourselves but we always put ourselves in harms way and not even notice it. Food for thought.
Welcome to the message boards, Chicken Little.
Microwaved water plant thing is false: http://www.snopes.com/science/microwave/plants.asp
These concerns are fear mongering. Europe's idea of yogurt is Greek yogurt. There have not been dead seas forming there from it. Acid whey is far too valuable to be throw in rivers. Farmers in areas with alkaline and often arid soils can use the whey to water, fertilize, and reduce the PH of their fields. That would be the entire state of California for the most part, for example. As they said this product can also be fed back to animals and digested in a fermenter. The end result is that it is a closed waste to green cycle. I am not sure what the motivation is for this ignorant campaign but I am sure someone is making some bucks off it.
Emily mentioned an easy, cheap way of "making your own", that I had forgotten about. Another huge advantage is that you're highly likely to be able to buy better milk than what's put in commercial yogurt. Fresh, and whole, and organic, and in glass bottles ... oh, yes!
your all retarded stop bitching about yougurt
If you're going to make a general statement about the intelligence of the population that chose to read this article, at the very least, use correct grammar.
Most farmers feed the Whey back to the cows and also feed pigs and poultry with it. Nothing should go to waste. the article it just trying to make something from nothing as usual. I am just not sure why there are attacking yojust and cheese producers now.
"Scott Gilmore, director of global communications for Müller Quaker Dairy, claims that the company's yogurt making process doesn’t produce whey waste because it adds in milk protein from strained milk to maintain consistency."
This is basically saying... we don't strain our yogurt, we add in protein concentrate to simulate Greek yogurt. In other words, they're not making real Greek yogurt, so of course they don't have the whey problem.
Marketing spin if I've ever seen it.
I used to eat it, but not any more (although it can be better quality yogurt than, say, YoPlait, which I consider sort of semi-liquid plastic...).
Nowadays I eat either goat yogurt, Stoneyhill yogurt, or a local yogurt produced nearby in Litchfield, Connecticut.
The only reason I purchase Greek Yogurt is to support their economy. With everything they have gone through it's the least I could do to support those proud people.
Are you being serious? Danon originated in Spain and then immediately came to America and started a plant in New York. Chobani is owned by a Turkish man, also run out of New York. "Greek Yogurt" is a style of yogurt.. Are you supporting Switzerland if you use Swiss Cheese?
LM AO! He got you.
Danone is FRENCH!!! GET IT RIGHT!
Oikos is the best!
(the NonFat kind has a weird aftertaste, though :p )
OK, quoting a Texas history professor on the dairy and environmental science issues associated with whey? Come on! I guess that makes me qualified to espouse on history topics. Nice piece, but I expect more from CNN than quotes from random history professors who claim to be "food writers."
Beware of greek yogurts. Many american companies are cheating their customers. You are not buying greek yogurt most of the time, as they don't strain the yogurt to make it thick, instead they just add thickeners . If your yogurt contains "milk protein concentrate", carageenen, and or pectin. Greek gods yogurt for example, is NOT greek yogurt. It's just regular yogurt thickened with pectin, and they charge you more for it.
As long as the health benefits are the same...high protein, no fat...then who really cares?
Hm; that's interesting to know. :/
Do you recommend any brands?
What about sperm? High in protein, no fat...
Most yogurt is not vegetarian. It is made with gelatin, which is a beef byproduct. Kosher gelatin is made from fish bones.
Most Greek yogurt is made with live culture and no gelatin.
Still, you have to rad the labels because there are exceptions on both sides.
I always thought it was mainly just the pre-mixed yogurt that had the gelatin. Could be wrong though.
the only greek yogurt is fage .
Greek yogurt is nothing but a marketing scheme. It costs only 5 cents more per carton to make it and they mark it up 300 percent more than regular. It was a dream come true for manufacturers. I avoid it like the plague because there is no additional pro-biotic benefit from eating it. I have also yet to see a non sugar variety so the carbs are way too high.
Rick, Greek yogurt is much, MUCH higher in protein and has no fat. From a workout/athletic perspective, it absolutely destroys regular yogurt.
Fat is an essential nutrient. At the moment, I am not doing Greek yogurt at all, although the better brands are nutritional. I do mostly whole milk goat yogurt (a couple of brands are out there). Or one local cow milk brand, and I usually chose their whole milk version.
I have lost 40 lbs on real food, and no longer have angina attacks, so this is where I stand. Your milage may well vary.
No – I asked Greek yogurt, and it told me that it hates the earth. It's not at all earth-friendly. Seriously, they had to write an article about this? Sometimes I think they just throw anything up her just to take up space.
They should sell it to the bread industry. Whey is awesome in bread. Even acid whey gives it a good flavor and adds nutritional value. If I have some onhand, I use it in addition to powdered milk for the liquid measure. My friends call this "Elvish Wheybread." I should probably copyright name that before Arnold picks up the idea and makes a million off it. :)
We make our own, easy and cheap to do – mix quart of 2 percent cow's milk mix in some powdered non fat milk to thicken it, and 1/4 cup or so of store brought greek yogurt – put in food dryer in big glass bowl, covered at 120 degrees overnight, and in am, new yogurt. We pour off a little of the whey, a clear liquid at the top, into our compost bin. Use some of this batch to "seed" next.
good article, nice to read some truth and my wife eats this regularly and helps a lot, thanks
Dumping acidic animal byproducts into the environment? NO WHEY!
Pigs. Natures filters. I wonder what whey fed bacon tastes like.
The bacon and pork from whey fed pastured pigs is delicious.
Why does CNN lend credence to the rantings of an (obvious) vegan crank (McWilliams)? He is purposefully misleading people in an attempt to take advantage of people's fear of anything that might be "acid". Note that the same volume of plain (even raw!) milk has a greater concentration of organic material than the whey byproduct over which he is trying to scare us, and spilled milk would cause significantly more damage in a waterway than whey. I am certain (from reading snippets of his blog) that McWilliams doesn't want us to feed milk to our children, either.
A milk spill on the highway requires a full hazmat cleanup because bacteria might grow in it while it's waiting to be cleaned. True story.
You should be a lot more worried about herbicides and pesticides used on home lawns than a dairy spill. Milk is an excellent soil additive and organic fertilizer. Don't over react. Most of all, don't listen to the likes of McWilliams. Stick with facts.
It requires a hazmat team because of EPA stupidity.
Greek yogurt is nasty, I don't see how anyone could eat it. Regular is just fine for me.
Greek Yogurt per serving typically has 50-100% more protein and less fat that most regular yogurt. Alot of people, myself included, love the tangier, slightly bitter taste it has compared to regular yogurt. It goes better with alot of fruits, like blueberries, or honey, than regular yogurt does in my opinion. Also, try making a raita or tzatziki sauce with regular yogurt... it just doesn't taste right.
Interesting. Maybe I didn't give it a fair chance. Got a brand you would recommend? I had tried Oikos and found it unappealing, but in its defense I had tried it plain with nothing added.
My wife and daughter use our goat milk to make Greek yogurt. Wonderful stuff. The chickens will eat the whey. We like to make frozen yogurt with it or eat it with blueberries and stevia and it also makes the best tzatziki you have ever tasted.
Plain Greek yogurt also works great as a sour cream substitute...tastes pretty much the same.
It's all bacteria pudding to me.
I love how the "expert" they quoted is actually pushing for people to become vegan since he's against animal farming because of the environmental effects. I take everything he said with a grain of salt and a bit of horseradish.
I don't eat Yogurt of any kind and if I do, it's Stonyfield Farm Organic Yogurt. Otherwise, I drink Kefir. YUM!
I tried Greek yougurt once. All I could taste was the plastic container it came in. I probably will never consume it again....
I'm so glad I purchased stock in Procter & Gamble the makers of Tide. No skid marks for me.
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