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Should I Buy Organic Milk?

Updated on March 5, 2013

What Is Organic Milk?

If you're used to thinking about organic produce, even the question "should I buy organic milk?" might seem a bit odd. It's true – even conventional cows aren't sprayed with pesticides. There are some important differences between organic and conventional dairy farming techniques, though. Cows that produce organic milk must graze on organic pastures and eat organic feed, meaning that these foods are not treated with synthetic fertilizers or other chemicals. Perhaps more importantly, organic dairy cows can not be treated with RBGH, a hormone given to most dairy cows to increase milk production, and if they are treated for disease with antibiotics, they must be taken out of milk production for a year. In addition, all organic dairy cows must have some access to pastures during the growing season.

What Does the Science Say?

Scientific reports on organic versus conventional milk are actually mixed. Proponents of organic dairy claim that it is higher in nutrients, including A and E vitamins and essential fatty acides. They also claim that toxins accumulate in animal fats, like those in milk. Other scientists argue that while small nutritional differences exist in a few areas – for example, levels of protein, fat, and beneficial hormones and bacteria counts in milk samples – that these differences are not significant enough to make a major health difference. Scientists who support conventional dairy argue that the increased price of organic milk could prevent consumers from buying other nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables.

Reasons to Consider Organic Dairy

Although organic milk may not have significantly higher levels of nutrients, there are a few other factors to consider. For one thing, only certain nutrients have been analyzed by scientists. Whole foods contain many beneficial qualities that work together, and these are not always well understood. The same goes for the problems caused by pesticides and other chemicals in food. Many pesticides that were previously thought to be safe are now known to cause health problems. It's entirely possible that in the future, science will recognize damaging effects of pesticides at lower levels than it currently does.

There are also environmental factors to consider. Even if you believe that organic and conventional milk are equally healthy, conventional farming involves the addition of large amounts of poorly understood chemicals into the natural environment. The effects of this practice may be felt for generations to come.

Saving Money on Milk

Organic milk can be expensive, but there are a couple of things you can try to reduce your cost. First, see if any small local farms follow organic practices but haven't paid the fees to become certified. Prices from these farms are usually quite affordable, and you can also support your local economy. Plus you may be able to get raw milk – a whole different issue, nutritionally. Second, there are plenty of vegetable sources of calcium, like greens, molasses, white beans and broccoli. Consider spending your milk budget on organic milk and supplementing your diet with extra calcium from fruits and vegetables. If you want, you could also try non-dairy milk alternatives.

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      Jill Deibel 5 years ago

      Thanks for this informative article! I was trying to decide whether or not to switch my kids to organic milk, and your article has provided me with several facts to consider. I think I may just stick with regular milk, since there doesn't seem to be a detrimental reason why we should go organic. Thanks for the research and interesting read!