Greek yogurt is a booming low-calorie, protein packed, $2 billion a year industry that has a dark side.
According to a new report from Modern Farmer, for every three or four ounces of milk, companies can produce one ounce of Greek yogurt. The rest becomes acid whey.
Acid whey is a thin, runny waste product that can’t be dumped. Whey decomposition is toxic to the natural environment, for which it takes the oxygen from streams and rivers.
To set the record straight, Chobani states on their website the “acid” in the acid whey refers only to the pH level – there are no added chemicals or acid.
If the acid whey from Greek Yogurt is dumped into waterways, it could turn them into what one expert calls a “dead sea,” destroying aquatic life over potentially large areas. Spills of cheese whey, a cousin of Greek yogurt whey, have killed tens of thousands of fish around the country in recent years, Modern Farmer reports.
Just like any other successful business story, Greek yogurt companies are trying to keep up with the consumer demand and didn’t have a plan of attack for the acid whey that is left behind.
Dave Barbano, a dairy scientist at Cornell says, “Because the Greek yogurt production grew so rapidly, no one really had the time to step back and look at the other viable options.”
While more than 70 percent of the whey ends up being a supplement to livestock feed, researchers are looking into ways of using it in infant formula.
Dave Barbano, believes that the tiny amount of protein left over in acid whey could be used in infant formula. Cheese manufacturers have managed to sell similar products from sweet whey, which is a byproduct of cheese. Whey protein is sold as an ingredient in body building supplements.
Greek yogurt manufacturers are eager to try to travel down the same road.
Chobani says it returns its whey byproduct to farmers, and the majority is used as a nutritional supplement for livestock feed. A smaller percentage is applied to fields as fertilizer, but only by farms with proper nutrient management plans.
At New York state’s Yogurt Summit last year, one producer quoted in Modern Farmer said: “If we can figure out how to handle acid whey, we’ll become a hero.”
NY State Yogurt Summit
Since 2000, the number of yogurt processing plants in New York has increased from 14 to 29 today. From 2005 to 2011, New York’s yogurt plants doubled in production. Over the same time period, the amount of milk used to make yogurt in New York increased dramatically from 158 million pounds to about 1.2 billion pounds.