Childrearing

Greek Yogurt Is Destroying The Earth But My Kids Eat It For Every Single Meal

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shutterstock_117421366Greek yogurt has an evil dark side that no one talks about.  Acid whey, the by-product of the yogurt making process, is causing a world-wide toxic waste problem, which is probably more important than the panic I feel over having to try to find something else to feed my kids at every meal.

My son is a very picky eater, but he doesn’t follow the rules of typical toddler likes.  He won’t touch white bread or brightly colored yogurts.  Instead he wolfs down crunchy multi-grain Pullman bread and plain Greek yogurt.  My daughter, who is a great eater, happens to love plain Greek yogurt too, which pretty much confirmed to me that what you eat while pregnant affects your unborn baby because I ate that stuff by the bucket-load with fresh berries during both of my pregnancies.

While a lot of my friends thought this was strange (they won’t even touch one of the flavored versions), I was just happy they were eating and that we could all share the same bowl. When I heard the news that Greek yogurt is particularly good for your health – full of calcium, packed with protein and healthy fats (we eat the whole milk variety) – I patted myself on the back for being lazy and a good mom at the same time!  Until I read that Greek yogurt is destroying the Earth.

According to Modern Farmer, the Greek yogurt toxic by-product, acid whey is a massive problem:

For every three or four ounces of milk, Chobani and other companies can produce only one ounce of creamy Greek yogurt. The rest becomes acid whey. It’s a thin, runny waste product that can’t simply be dumped. Not only would that be illegal, but whey decomposition is toxic to the natural environment, robbing oxygen from streams and rivers. That could turn a waterway into what one expert calls a “dead sea,” destroying aquatic life over potentially large areas.

One such example of this dead sea consequence?

In 2008, Minerva Cheese Factory agreed to pay more than $6,000 in restitution after it accidentally released acid whey into Sandy Creek, Ohio, which temporarily depleted oxygen levels and killed more than 5,400 fish along a 1.5 mile stretch downstream.

No one could have predicted the explosion of consumer demand in the Greek yogurt industry and now scientists are scrambling to find a solution before people find out about this dark side of their favorite snack.  According to the same article in Modern Farmer, “ the yogurt industry is highly secretive and competitive.”

As it is, nearly all of the acid whey is being handed off to farmers to mix with their cow feed.  The farmers accept the by-product — even though it’s like “feeding a candy bar” to their cattle and causes digestive problems in the cows if given in large quantities — because the yogurt makers are paying them to take the problem off their proverbial plates.

In searching for answers to this toxic issue, scientists are looking to follow in the footsteps of cheese makers, who can easily convert sweet whey, the cheese by-product. Dave Barbano, a dairy scientist at Cornell, who “specializes in filtration methods for separation and recovery of protein, has his sights set on the tiny amount of protein in acid whey. He believes it might be usable as an infant formula ingredient.”

Death (of fishes), scandal, hush money, and top-secret solutions unearthed by mad scientists. Who knew the Greek yogurt industry was so intriguing? Someone call Shonda Rhimes — I see a pitch meeting for a new series, “Chobani Confidential.”

(photo: Sunny Forest/Shutterstock)