by Janelle Sorensen
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there is supposedly no difference between regular milk and organic milk, aside from how the cows are raised and an obvious difference in price. For some, the environmental benefits of organic farming are enough justification to pay the premium, but many others need to know they’re paying more for a better product. Now the studies showing that organic milk is indeed better are building up.
Let’s count the reasons why…
- Organic milk has fewer pesticide residues. The USDA Pesticide Data Program (PDP) regularly checks food for pesticide residues. For many years the milk studies showed the same level of pesticide residues in both regular and organic milk (some residues of banned pesticides are so persistent they are still found in water and soil, thus the entire food chain). In 2004, the PDP used more sensitive testing equipment and found synthetic pyrethroids in 24 percent of conventional samples, and in no organic sample. They also discovered a breakdown product of the insecticide carbofuran in 8.8 percent of the conventional milk samples, but in no organic sample.
- Organic milk has more vitamins. Organically reared cows, which eat high levels of fresh grass, clover pasture and grass clover silage, produce milk which is on average 50% higher in Vitamin E (alpha tocopherol) and 75% higher in beta carotene (which our bodies convert to Vitamin A).
- Organic milk has more antioxidants. Studies show organic milk has two to three times more of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthine than non-organic milk. These antioxidants are extremely important for eye health and are effective in preventing numerous eye diseases.
- Organic milk has more omega-3s. Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid required for healthy growth. Regular intake of Omega-3 helps reduce incidences of heart disease, inflammations (in skin diseases such as eczema), cancer, arthritis, etc. One particular type of omega-3 that is higher in organic milk is DHA, which is important for brain development.
- Organic milk has more CLA. Cows that are grazed on pastures have 500% more CLA in their milk. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) increases metabolism, immunity, and muscle growth. It also reduces abdominal fat, cholesterol, and allergic reactions. Recent animal studies have also shown that CLA may be beneficial in cancer treatment. Since the human body cannot produce CLA, we get most of it through the milk and dairy products that we consume.
- Drinking organic milk helps improve the quality of breast milk. European scientists have found that mothers who consumed mostly organic meat and milk had around 50 percent higher levels of rumenic acid in their breast milk. This acid protects against cancer and inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, heart disease and asthma.
- Drinking organic milk protects young children against asthma and eczema. Researchers found that children of breastfeeding mothers who ate organic dairy products and who were weaned on organic milk, cheese and yogurts were a third less likely to suffer from allergies. Dr. Machteld Huber, one of the authors of the study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, said: “The difference was significant, but only for children exclusively eating organic dairy products. We didn’t find a relationship if they had organic and conventional dairy products.” Almost all the children eating organic dairy also reportedly ate organic meat, fruit, bread and vegetables. However, it was only milk that appeared to have any impact on allergies.
All of this is compelling evidence of the superiority of organic milk, but one point must be highlighted. From these studies examining the differences between organic milk and regular milk, it seems clear that the diet of the cows may be one of the most important factors. Most organic cows are pasture-fed as opposed to grain-fed, and it’s their natural diet that leads to superior quality milk. So, it’s not simply organic milk that holds the prize, it’s organic, pasture-fed milk that does the body better.
The Organic Center, 2008. Pesticides in Milk FAQs.
Soil Association, 2005. New research proves organic milk is higher in vitamins and antioxidants than non-organic milk.
Bergamo P et al, “Fat-soluble vitamin contents and fatty acid composition in organic and conventional Italian dairy products.” Food Chemistry 82, (2003) 625 – 631.
Robertson J & Fanning C (University of Aberdeen), 2004. Omega 3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Organic and Conventional Milk.
Dewhurst R J, Fisher W J, Tweed J K S and Wilkins R J (2003). Comparison of grass and legume silages for milk production. 1. Production responses with different levels of concentrate. Journal of Dairy Science (volume 86 pages 2598-2611).
Newsday, 2004. New Studies Show Benefits of Organic Milk.
eFood. 2008. Organic Milk is Cream of the Crop.