Wednesday, December 12, 2007

(Un) Happy Cow Campaign Continues

The California Milk Advisory Board (CMBA) developed its "happy cows" campaign quite a few years ago. Their slogan: "Great cheese comes from happy cows. Happy cows come from California." Accompanying this cheery message were pictures of cows looking, well - very happy.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sued the CMBA under California's Unfair Competition Law (UCL) alleging that the advertisements were false and deceptive. The courts never reached the merits of the allegations, however, as the case was dismissed on the grounds that the CMAB was not a "person" that could be sued under the competition law. PETA has maintained a website titled "Unhappy Cows" that works to expose the realities of dairy production in California.

As I was raised on a traditional midwest family dairy farm, I have always had an interest in cows. And, milk and cheese have always been a significant part of my diet. I am the kind of consumer who can tell the difference in the taste of different brands of milk and who thinks that there are few things better than a well crafted cheese. When I moved from Minnesota to Arkansas, my options declined, and in particular, I missed the good cheese readily available from local processors in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

With this background in mind, consider my reaction when one recent evening on my way home, I stopped to pick up some groceries (probably milk, but I can't recall for sure). I was confronted by a grocery store employee that offered me some "cheese from happy cows in California." I considered her offer long enough to discover that it was from our local Arkansas dairy manufacturer, and that she was bragging about the fact that its cheese came from milk from California cows. I was astounded. There was just so much that was wrong.
  1. Shipping a perishable commodity across the country when it could just as well be produced locally at lower cost and with less environmental impact.
  2. Raising cows and producing milk for mass production in a location that is far from ideal - too hot and too dry and with food that has to be either heavily irrigated or shipped in.
  3. Claiming that the cows are somehow happier in California's industrialized dairies.
  4. Turning all of the negatives into a marketing campaign to make consumers think that the dairy product will somehow be better.
Since my grocery store encounter, I notice that Arkansas has been flooded with television ads for the "happy cows." Are American consumers in the midwest really going to buy cheese because it comes from California?

I hope not. My advice - Support your local dairy - buy local.