Joan Endyke: Organic milk now considered better
Q: Is organic milk better? -- Kerri D. from Duxbury, Mass.
A: Years ago, this question would have been hard to answer. But with tighter regulations, data collection and scientific study, organic milk is emerging as a better product.
The “certified organic” stamp on a milk carton means the producer has met the following criteria:
- No hormones have been used to promote growth.
- No antibiotics have been used.
- Cows have been fed 100 percent organic feed, which reduces pesticides in the milk.
- Cows have been grass fed for at least 120 days out of the year.
Organic farmers must document their organic plan, and this is verified annually with an on-site inspection from the United States Department of Agriculture.
Today, many major brands of non-organic milk do not use growth hormones, and they make this pledge on the carton, similar to organic in this regard.
Antibiotic residue in milk should not be a concern to the consumer, either, because it is not allowed in any milk, organic or not. This is strictly enforced with testing at the receiving station, and whole batches are discarded if any residue is found.
However, some fear antibiotic use is promoting resistant bacteria and none should be allowed on organic farms. Veterinarians argue responsible use of antibiotics. Separating sick cows from the herd until they are well, as is done now, is more humane because it keeps sick “organic” cows from suffering needlessly without antibiotics, and it keeps farmers from slaughtering them to maintain an “organic” herd.
A good reason to buy organic milk is to limit exposure to pesticide chemicals. Studies have found non-organic milk has more than four times the amount of chemical residue as organic. In addition, ingestion of substances like DDE –– a by-product of now-banned DDT –– and others is related to skin and respiratory problems, infertility and, in the long-term, increased rates of Parkinson’s disease and certain cancers.
Organic milk comes from cows fed 100 percent organic feed, which means it was produced without using pesticides. Organic milk has more beneficial nutrients, too, according to one large study conducted in England at Newcastle University.
Researchers in England analyzed organic milk from 25 farms and found it had 67 percent more antioxidants and vitamins than non-organic milk. The organic milk also had higher levels of health-promoting omega-3 fatty acids and 60 percent more conjugated linoleic acid, a nutrient that has been shown to shrink tumors.
The nutritional quality of the organic milk was higher in the summer, when cows grazed more, and researchers attributed this to their diet of fresh grass and clover. The organically farmed cows in this study ate more than 80 percent of their diet from grazing on grass, compared with 37 percent for the conventional cows.
But does organic milk in the U.S. have the same nutritional profile? A year ago, organic farms did not need to meet a grazing regulation. But last summer, the USDA enhanced its definition of “organic” to only include milk from cows that have been grass-fed for at least 120 days per year.
Joan Endyke is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in food and nutrition. Send your questions to her at www.wickedgoodhealth.com.
This column is not intended to diagnose or treat disease. Check with your doctor before making any changes in your diet.