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Organic: Worth the Hype? Part II: Dairy

Welcome, friends, to the second instalment in my mini-series about organic foods. Today, we will tackle dairy.

What does it mean for dairy to be labeled "organic"?

The USDA has strict guidelines as to the requirements for dairy to be labeled as "organic". According to the USDA guidelines, among other things, to be certified as organic, the animals must be fed a diet of 100% organic feed. The pastures that the animals graze in and bedding where they sleep must also be certified as organic. The animals must be fed organic for at least 1 year before their milk is considered organic. It is prohibited to use growth hormones, antibiotics or anti-parasite medications in the absence of treating a specific illness (ie. no broad use of antibiotics).

What is the difference between "organic" and "grassfed" dairy?

Organically raised animals can still be given corn and soy in their feed. Grassfed animals are raised in the pasture, given their natural diets.

Is there a difference in the nutritional value between conventional, organic and grassfed dairy?

In fact, YES! There is a difference. A meta-analysis of 170 studies show that organic milk has a more favorable fatty acid profile compared to conventional milk. A study published in 2018 found that grass-fed cows had more omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and improved omega-6:omega-3 fatty acid ratios when compared to conventional or organic dairy. Another meta-analysis shows that organic dairy also has higher protein than conventional dairy.

Some studies reassure the public that there is no known effects on humans from consuming dairy from cows given recombinant bovine growth hormone. However, a study by Kolik et al, expresses concern that steroids given to cows in conventional dairy might cross into the milk and affect the consumer.

Given the known health benefits of organic and grass-fed dairy, I would rather not take my chances with hormones and steroids in conventional dairy.

Learn more!

Benbrook CM et al . Enhancing the fatty acid profile of milk through forage-based rations, with nutrition modeling of diet outcomes. Food Sci Nutr. 2018 Feb 28;6(3):681-700.

Benbrook CM et al. Organic production enhances milk nutritional quality by shifting fatty acid composition: a United States-wide, 18-month study. PLoS One. 2013 Dec 9;8(12):e82429.

Collier RJ, Bauman DE. Update on human health concerns of recombinant bovine somatotropin use in dairy cows. J Anim Sci. 2014 Apr;92(4):1800-7.

Kolok AS, Ali JM, Rogan EG, Bartelt-Hunt SL. The Fate of Synthetic and Endogenous Hormones Used in the US Beef and Dairy Industries and the Potential for Human Exposure. Curr Environ Health Rep. 2018 Jun;5(2):225-232.

Palupi E1, Jayanegara A, Ploeger A, Kahl J. Comparison of nutritional quality between conventional and organic dairy products: a meta-analysis. J Sci Food Agric. 2012 Nov;92(14):2774-81.

Średnicka-Tober D et al. Higher PUFA and n-3 PUFA, conjugated linoleic acid, α-tocopherol and iron, but lower iodine and selenium concentrations in organic milk: a systematic literature review and meta- and redundancy analyses. Br J Nutr. 2016 Mar 28;115(6):1043-60.


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