Most people have noticed organic milk in their dairy sections as organic foods have grown in popularity. There are many brands, and often the price is a little steeper than the conventional milk right next to it. Have you thought about buying it, but the price turned you off? Have you wondered about the health benefits of organic milk or possibly if the conventional milk you have been drinking is really that bad for you? There is a lot of confusing data about this topic, so let's look at the facts.
What Is Organic Milk?
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has put into place strict guidelines of what qualifies as organic. Organic milk must follow the exact methods that have been outlined by the USDA so farmers can label their milk specifically "organic." What do farmers have to do to ensure that their milk is organic?
Organic milk comes from cows that have not been treated with antibiotics. If a cow at an organic dairy farm has received antibiotics for an infection, the farm can no longer use her milk. The main reason cows receive antibiotics is to prevent Mastitis. This is an infection of the mammary glands that can occur during lactation. Conventional farms give antibiotics to all of their cows regardless of infection or not. But organic farmers believe that Mastitis is a genetic problem. To prevent the need for antibiotics, organic farmers cull cows with this infection, reporting that Mastitis has been largely eradicated from their cows, leading to no need for widespread antibiotic use.
Some of the most common hormones administered in conventional dairy farming are Synthetic Bovine Growth Hormone (rBST) and reproductive hormones such as Prostaglandin, Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone, and Progesterone. When these hormones are injected into a dairy cow, they are also present in her milk. When we drink milk with added hormones present, it can lead to excess hormones in our bodies causing mood swings, acne, and problems with insulin just to name a few.
Why do farms use these hormones?
- Synthetic Bovine Growth Hormone is used to increase the productivity of the cow, to ensure that she produces more milk than can occur naturally.
- Reproductive hormones such as Prostaglandin, Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone, and Progesterone, are used to help with fertility. This increases chances of pregnancy for the cow much more quickly than without hormones.
Organic milk farmers use more natural methods for reproduction and increased production of milk. Because their feed has to be organic, and the cows have to have grass and clover as a component of their diet, they are generally healthier than conventional dairy cows.
The USDA requires organic dairy farms to have their cows graze on open pastures allowing at least 30% of a dairy cow's diet to be grass and clover. In more temperate climates, farmers allow for more time for the cows to graze. This is a much more natural way for the cows to receive their nutrients than in conventional dairy farming where cows are kept in feedlots and indoor feeding pens, not grazing at all.
They must feed organic dairy cows with organic feed. This means the food farmers buy for their cows cannot be made from plants grown with chemical fertilizers, pesticides or genetically modified seeds. This requires farmers to pay more for the feed they provide their cattle, which is why the price of organic milk is usually higher than regular milk.
Organic milk is sterilized at higher temperatures than conventional milk. Conventional milk is heated to 165 F or lower for its pasteurization process where organic milk is given ultrahigh temperature (UHT) processing at 280 F. The reason for this is that often, organic dairy farms have to ship their milk farther than conventional dairy farms. An added benefit is that the milk can last up to two months in the fridge.
Organic milk keeps all the benefits of conventional milk, and it also provides certain additional benefits.
More Omega 3
Organic milk has more Omega 3 than conventional milk. Omega 3 is a fatty acid required for healthy growth. The lack of Omega 3 in the average diet is responsible for many health problems. With regular amounts of Omega 3 added to our diets, it can protect you from various diseases, and help reduce the incidence of heart disease, inflammation, eczema, cancer, and arthritis. Organic milk has about 71% more Omega 3 than conventional milk. Organic cows feed on red clover as they graze unlike cows from traditional farms. Red clover contains a large amount of Omega 3, which passes to the cow and then to us through the milk.
More Conjugated Linoleic Acid
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is found in milk and milk products. It increases the body’s metabolic rate, immunity, and muscle growth. It also reduces abdominal fat, cholesterol, and allergic reactions. We don't produce this substance naturally in our bodies, and most of our intake happens through milk products. Cows that are grazed on pastures produce 500% more CLA than cows that do not. Since they require organic cows to graze, this increases the amount of CLA in organic milk. A better diet for the cow equals better milk.
They graze organic cows on pastures grown through organic means. Therefore, their milk does not contain contaminants and chemicals that can be harmful to humans. Some of these include the residues of pesticides, fertilizers, and hormones. Organic milk does not contain traces of antibiotics like conventional milk does. Also, conventional dairy farms often have genetically modified feed, large amounts of urea exposure, and fertility hormones which can all contaminate the milk in small amounts making it less healthy.
Organic milk has two to three times more antioxidants than conventional milk.
- Lutein is an antioxidant important for eyes and is effective in preventing macular degeneration and cataracts.
- Zeaxanthin is another antioxidant important for good eye health. It prevents cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and macular degeneration.
It has been shown that organic milk has more vitamins, such as Vitamin A and Vitamin E than conventional milk. Because organic cows graze, their milk has 50% more vitamin E and 75% more beta-carotene than conventional milk.
- Vitamin E is useful for protecting your body from signs of aging. It also reduces the incidence of various diseases including heart disease, diabetes, and cataracts.
- Beta-carotene converts into Vitamin A in our bodies. Vitamin A, also called retinol, is useful for guaranteeing strong eyesight, increased resistance to infections, healthy skin, bone growth, teeth, and reproduction.
Organic Milk vs. Regular Milk. Which Is Healthier?
When cows are healthier, the milk they produce is better for us and the environment. Using antibiotics widespread on livestock increases the resistance of bacteria and germs that will make it more difficult to combat. These same antibiotics are also used for humans as well, and if we consume traces through milk, we are being exposed to antibiotics in our diet creating more resistance.
Organic dairy farms are more sustainable to the environment than conventional large-scale farming which uses pesticides. These pesticides are wiping out beneficial insects, bees, butterflies, and birds. They also trickle down through the feed given to cows, then into their milk where we consume the pesticides. It has been shown that many cancers are caused by widespread pesticide use.
Changes on the Horizon
In the coming years, traditional farming will see a multitude of changes as non organic methods are not responsible or as healthy for our ecosystem. There is a call for change in our food production. We want our food to be more sustainable, and we want to know what we consume and give to our families is good for them. As education about food and how it is produced continues, the popularity of organic foods has increased. Awareness of the health benefits not only to our bodies but to our world is increasing.
The higher cost associated with sustainable farming will eventually decrease because of this. It makes sense that we should treat livestock as humanely as possible. It is also important that we do not poison our land with pesticides and inject chemicals we don't fully understand into our food supply.
The Bottom Line
Organic milk prices have been decreasing over time and given the added benefits associated with it; many people feel it is well worth the added price. The most effective way to change the way we farm is consumer supply and demand. If consumers let the industry know we want responsible organic products by purchasing them over the non organic versions that will send a message and eventually cause more products and decreased price.
The production of organic milk is better for the environment as they do not use the pesticides, chemicals, and hormones that traditional farming does. Cows able to graze on grasses and clover as nature intended produce better milk that helps us to be healthier.