Organic vs. Conventional Milk: What's Really in Your Cup?

While most consumers believe that a $6 gallon of organic milk is healthier than the $4 conventionally-produced kind, New Zealand researchers argue that the "differences" aren't so different after all.

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There's something about a Saturday breakfast that differs from the other weekly mornings.

Oh, that's right. You actually have the time to make something more than a bowl of Cheerios.

Egg scramble with cheese and veggies — check. Hasbrowns — check. Bacon and toast — double check. And to help wash it all down, a tall glass of milk.

But what's in a cup of milk? Well, that all depends — is it organic or conventional?

While most consumers would stand to believe that a $6 gallon of organic milk is healthier than the $4 conventionally-produced kind, New Zealand researchers argue that the "differences" aren't so different after all.

In a review published in the Journal of Dairy Sciencescientists concluded that after analyzing nearly 200 publications, previously conducted studies investigating whether differences exist between organic and non-organic milk have so far only been largely ambiguous.

"When comparing organic and conventional milk composition (especially milk fatty acids), previous studies have generally compared organic dairying with milk produced from grass-fed cows to conventional dairying with milk produced from concentrate-fed cows," said Don Otter, PhD, Senior Scientist, Food & Bio-based Products. "The differences in milk composition observed are actually due to the different diets of the cows (i.e. pasture versus concentrate feeding) rather than organic versus conventional farming systems."

The researchers said the shear number of factors and variables can greatly influence milk composition, therefore making the question of 'Which is better for you?' a complex one to answer.

According to the investigators, the term "organic" when applied to dairying is not universal. Organic, in most cases, is defined by regulations that differ from one country to the next.

And "conventional" basically is anything that cannot be considered organic. In most parts of the world, however, conventional dairying is associated with high levels of grain feeding, the use of cow breeds — which produce high milk volumes — and the application of large amounts of fertilizer. 

Organic dairying, though, is tied to pasture and forage feeding, lower amounts of fertilizer application and the use of mixed or minority breeds.

"The vast majority of differences reported between organic and conventional milk come from what the cows are fed and their breed, and is not anything unique to being organic or conventional in itself," Otter said.

Therefore, the researchers concluded that in terms of nutrition, there is no distinction between organic and conventionally-produced milk. If the cow's genetics, health, breed, diet, management and environment differs, though, then so too will the composition of the milk produced.

 

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