Organic Milk: Making the Choice Based on Facts

Organic milk based on facts

Organic milk demand is gaining momentum. Images of cows basking in the sunshine, grazing on fresh grass in open pastures and being milked when they want it. This is what the movement wants to you feel when you are at your dairy case in the grocery store and reach for a gallon of organic and smile. This choice is healthier right?

Organic milk is from dairy cows that have not been treated with antibiotics.

As an industry, organic dairies make up less than 10% of all milk produced and overall sales have run roughly parallel to traditional milk sales, but they are slowly gaining ground. The idea behind milk that is free of chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides or artificial agents seems like a sound notion, but is somewhat misleading.

Consider bovine growth hormones (rBGH), which is still approved for use to escalate the growth of young heifers. These hormones do not have any natural receptors in the human body, so they are considered inactive with zero known effects on human physiology. There is a grass roots movement based on conflicting studies, that these hormones cause cancer in humans, because they increase blood levels of IGH-1, an insulin growth factor. Subsequent studies, however, have been unable to verify this link, so no clear scientific link can be established. The worst-case calculation determined that if an infant drank 1.5 liters of milk from a cow treated with rBGH, the amount absorbed would be far less than 1% of the infant’s daily production of IGF-1.

Regarding questions related to the effect of antibiotics on the quality of traditional milk, it is important to know the facts. Cows that are identified as needing antibiotics to control common infections such as mastitis infections are pulled from the herd on a traditional farm and not added back in until they test negative. After the treatment of antibiotics, the body metabolizes and cleans itself very quickly. Several factors can lengthen this like the age and weight of the cows, but overall, the antibiotics are entirely cleared within a couple of weeks. Only then are the cows put back into milk production. On organic dairies, the infected cows are completely removed from the herd if antibiotics are ever used.

Organic cows are mandated to graze for at least 30% of their lives on pastures that have been free of pesticides for at least three years.

Pesticides and fertilizers are generally broken down within six months, depending on environmental factors. This requirement is over-kill but is a guarantee that the consumer will not have to worry about chemical contamination. On traditional dairy farms the cows are moved to pasture when they are drying off for two months, if pasture is available.

Ultimately, whether the consumption of organic milk is a fad, or one based on science, it seems there are arguments for both sides. Purists would say that they enjoy knowing that there is no possibility of chemical contamination or increased risk of cancer. They may also like the idea that dairy cows get to walk around in a field for a significant portion of their lives. The average consumer would say that they have faith in the government regulations that protect them from any potential risks associated with traditional farming. An informed decision really comes down to personal preference.

By Brett Roeller
Director of National Accounts, QualiTru Sampling Systems   Follow Brett on LinkedIn



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