As a registered dietitian who works for the dairy industry, I am often asked, “Is organic milk healthier than regular milk?” The short answer is no. There is no difference in health benefits of dairy, quality, or milk safety between organic and conventional milk. The difference between organic milk versus regular milk lies in the farming practices, rather than the end-product, delicious, good-for-you milk.
Grass Fed Milk
Milk showcasing the USDA Organic seal on the label has come from a farm that adheres to the following set of regulations:
- Cows are exclusively given feed grown without the use of pesticides or commercial fertilizers.
- Cows are given periodic access to pasture so they can be grass-fed.
- Cows are not treated with supplemental hormones such as bovine growth hormones.
- Cows have not been given certain medications such as antibiotics to treat illness.
Additionally, I am asked why organic milk has a longer shelf life than conventional milk and the answer lies in pasteurization. Organic milk is pasteurized using ultra-high temperature (UHT) processing, in which the milk is heated to 280˚F (138˚C) for 2-4 seconds. Conventional milk is pasteurized using the standard method in which the milk is heated to roughly 160˚F (71˚C) for at least 15 seconds.
The reason the organic milk pasteurization process differs from that of conventional milk is there are far fewer organic dairy farms throughout the country. The milk needs a longer shelf life in order to travel to the grocery store with ample time for the consumer to enjoy it.
The Choice of Conventional or Organic Milk
Choosing to buy organic milk over conventional milk and vice versa many times all depends on the convenience of it. If you live in the city and do not have any local organic dairy farms near you, you probably choose to buy milk at the grocery store along with other items.
Although, if there is a local farm near you that sells pasteurized organic dairy products, you may choose to support this small business farm. There’s nothing better than supporting your neighbors. Yet, supporting mom and pop grocery stores is also very important to the local community.
Studies have shown differences in the production of conventional versus organic milk. You may also choose to buy organic milk because organic farms create lower pesticide levels. Research shows that while organic farms create less pesticides, more land use is demanded for them.
Organic Milk vs. Regular Milk
Whether you choose organic milk versus regular milk, you can rest assured it has the same safety, quality and nutrition. Drink milk as part of a healthy diet for essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals for strong bones and teeth. Give your body the gift of dairy.
For more information on milk and other dairy products, read The Dairy Alliance’s blog. You can also learn more specifically on conventional and organic dairy farming to understand why it is so important to the economy and health of our country.
Lanier Dabruzzi, MS, RD, LD