A new milk product has hit the shelves in the Pacific Northwest and other parts of the United States: It’s called Neutral. No, not almonds, not cashews, not peas; Neutral is real dairy. There is nothing in the carton except for the real dairy we all know and love.
So what makes Neutral stand out against all the other beverages? Neutral is the first certified carbon-neutral food processor in the U.S. The milk is coming from farms that are net negative on carbon emissions — they actually offset enough greenhouse gases in order to “pay for” the milk processing and refrigeration of the milk, creating a product with no impact on the atmosphere.
Being totally carbon neutral is a tough thing to do. Neutral only sources milk from dairy farms that are verified with Climate Action Reserve, American Carbon Registry, or VERRA. Neutral has to know the climate impact of growing and milking the cows, the energy used in day-to-day activities on the farm, trucking to the processing facility, the processing in the facility, trucking to stores, and refrigeration of the products. It also needs to know how much carbon sequestration happens while growing all the crops on the dairy farm.
Neutral is certified through SCS Global Services. There is only one certification that is internationally recognized that labels a business as carbon neutral: the PAS 2060.
The PAS 2060 must be verified annually, and it requires the stakeholder to publicly publish a carbon-footprint report, a carbon-management plan, and qualifying explanatory statements. The PAS 2060 is no easy feat.
So this new milk is no joke. Neutral is here to make an impact. But they are not keeping things to themselves. Neutral is showing us that carbon neutral food is possible and affordable. Neutral has set out to help other farmers become neutral as well.
“They’re talking about reducing climate impacts through pretty reliable and important ways,” Isaac Emery, the founder and principal consultant at Informed Sustainability Consulting in Seattle, told Grist. Emery explained that Neutral’s promise relies on “avoided emissions” — meaning that by consumers swapping a higher-emissions milk for a lower-emissions one, some emissions are avoided, (while not actively drawing carbon down from the sky).
Bill Gates and Mark Cuban have donated $4 million to Neutral, hoping that the company will be able to start to overhaul agriculture in a big way. This money will by used by Neutral to help farmers implement technologies and practices to get them to carbon neutral.
Neutral has a list of projects that it is already working on. It plans on helping farms install manure digesters at little to no cost. Neutral is also conducting research on forages that reduce methane production in cattle and on highly effective carbon sequestering plants.
Neutral plans to eventually process more food products than just dairy. Dairy is a very impactful place to start. Not only is dairy a staple food in the U.S., dairy is at the front lines of the race to being carbon neutral.
Neutral is based out of Portland Oregon, and was founded in 2019 by former Nike executive Matt Plitch. The CEO of Neutral is Marcus Lovell Smith, a New Hampshire dairy farmer.
“My startup work with the environment and technology, and dairy farming, all came together in one company,” Smith told business strategist White-Summers. “I couldn’t not but do this job.”
Neutral’s dairy products are not available all over the U.S. quite yet. Over the rest of this year, the company will be pushing products farther and farther from Oregon. As of now, its products can only be found in the Oregon and Washington areas, along with Whole Foods Markets nationally.
Neutral milk products, as of now, are organic whole, 2%, and half & half, as well as conventional whole, 2%, skim, half & half, and whipping cream. Under its products listing page, Neutral publishes just how much extra carbon the product has taken from the atmosphere in its making.
You would think that a product this good must come at a cost, but Neutral’s milk is comparable to other name brands. Neutral’s organic whole milk is $5.49 for a half gallon in Whole Foods Markets in Oregon, compared to Horizon Organic’s standard $4.79 for a half gallon. Not all of Neutral milk products have hit the shelves yet — they will be rolling them out over the rest of this year.
Neutral is setting precedence in the food industry. It is showing us that food can be produced at no cost to the atmosphere. As a processor, it will be investing in its local community to try to get the ball rolling.
Elizabeth Maslyn is a Cornell University student pursuing a career in the dairy industry. Her passion for agriculture has driven her desire to learn more, and let the voices of our farmers be heard.