Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Organic Milk vs. Regular Milk - What's the Difference?

If you’ve done any research into organic milk, you’ll find many articles claiming that there is very little difference in the quality of the product when compared to regular or conventionally-produced milk. This research is based on the study of the end product, but in order to make an informed decision, you need to investigate the way milk is produced.

You may have also seen dairy labels that say “rBGH-Free” or “rBST-Free” and immediately below, you’ll inevitably see the disclaimer, “No significant difference has been shown between milk from rBGH [or rBST] treated and untreated cows.”

English: Trader Joe's organic milk label
Trader Joe's organic milk label (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This disclaimer a result of a lawsuit Monsanto (remember them?) brought against Maine’s Oakhurst Dairy. In the lawsuit, Monsanto objected to the use of the statements “rBGH-Free” or “rBST-Free” because it implied that these things were undesirable.

See, Monsanto created this synthetic hormone that basically forces cows to produce more milk and for longer periods of time, and they wanted to protect it. (The hormone is actually banned in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel and a number of European countries.) Thank goodness, public pressure has also pressured some retailers not to sell milk made with the hormone.

These hormones do cause the cows to produce more milk, but they cause a number of problems for cows, including a higher rate of mastitis, which is an inflammation/infection of the udder, often caused when milk supply is not fully expressed. To help prevent mastitis and the resulting pus that gets in the milk supply (yes, I said pus - in your milk - how gross is that?!), cows are given a large amount of antibiotics, adding even more foreign substances to our milk.

Then when milk is ready to be processed for human consumption, it goes through pasteurization. Milk is pasteurized to kill potentially harmful bacteria that are introduced to the milk directly, like from a less than sanitary collection process.

But one of the worst things about the pasteurization process, which most people don't realize, is that it kills the nutritional value in milk and instead of just getting rid of harmful bacteria; it also gets rid of beneficial bacteria. The sad thing is many minerals and vitamins are added in after the pasteurization process when they were already found in the milk naturally, but removed by processing. Add to that, pasteurization has been linked to allergies, poor digestion of milk products and even heart disease. (See extensive research by the Weston A. Price Foundation for more on this.)

So does organic milk solve these problems?

Well, it’s really not that simple, so let’s walk through it.

Cows that produce organic milk are grass fed, rather than fed unnatural grains like their conventional counterparts. That’s a good start. They are also hormone and antibiotic free, so that’s another check in the column for organic. The cows are a lot healthier, which means fewer bacteria in the milk, much lower rates of infection, more nutrients in the milk, etc. The problem is, a lot organic milk is also pasteurized, killing nutrients and making it harder to digest, as we just discussed regarding conventional milk above.

A bottle of green-top (raw, unpasturised) milk...
A bottle of green-top (raw, unpasturised) milk". (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Your best bet really is to purchase raw organic milk, if you can find it. Raw milk contains more minerals and vitamins than pasteurized milk. It also has 20 amino acids and contains beneficial enzymes and bacteria, which makes it much easier on the digestion, and more easily tolerated - sometimes even those with long-term milk allergies can drink raw milk with no ill effects. It can be expensive, but it’s milk in its natural form and provides the most health benefits. The problem is it isn’t available everywhere, and is actually only permitted for sale by law in 28 states, so it’s not always easy to find. Herd shares are becoming more popular in other states, as they allow you to own part of a share in a cow (or cows) - including their milk production. For sources of raw milk in your area, visit the Weston A. Price Foundation website:

But when you can’t find raw milk or if it’s cost-prohibitive, you may want to consider what you’re putting in your body when you consume regular milk. Going organic doesn't solve all the problems, but if it's all you can find, it's definitely a start.

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