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The following is part of an Organic Journey Guest Post Series, written by Amy a long time helper behind the scenes of Southern Savers.
While doing research for my journey, I have had several interesting conversations with my kiddos’ pediatrician. He is a card carrying member of the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) and very much agrees with everything they say. That makes our discussions lively at times, but I appreciate his wisdom and perspective. That said, at our last well visit for the baby, I asked him what he thought about organic milk. He was candid with me that he didn’t recommend that people pay the extra money for it, but, and I found this part especially fascinating because he is always so confident, he wondered if 20 years from now he would regret that counsel. Today, in researching, I was curious what exactly the AAP said about organics. Interestingly enough, they just released a major study at the end of October on organic foods. Here are some highlights:
1. “At this point, we simply do not have the scientific evidence to know whether the difference in pesticide levels will impact a person’s health over a lifetime, though we do know that children – especially young children whose brains are developing – are uniquely vulnerable to chemical exposures.”
2. “Purchasing meat from organic farms that do not use antibiotics for non-therapeutic uses has the potential to reduce antibiotic resistance in bacteria that infect people. The AAP calls for large, well-designed, prospective cohort studies that directly measure environmental exposures such as estrogen at low levels to understand the impact of hormonal exposure of children through milk and meat.”
3. “The AAP report also notes that the motivation to choose organic produce, meat and dairy products may be reasonably based on larger environmental issues, as well as human health impacts like pollution and global climate change.”
4. “The AAP found no individual health benefit from purchasing organic milk, but emphasizes that all milk should be pasteurized to reduce the risk of bacterial infections.”
After I read all of this, my mouth hit the ground. This is a major organization actually admitting that there is some goodness to be had for both our bodies and the environment by going organic. I also found it interesting that they would acknowledge the effects of antibiotics in meat, but not in dairy. Which leads us to our discussion on organic milk. The AAP says that there isn’t a known health benefit, but what can we discover?
My big question was what makes organic milk different? If I am going to pay twice the amount for organic dairy products, I want to know why. There are several differences. Last week, we looked at growth hormones and how getting organic dairy definitively eliminates those. That’s a good thing in my book, but as we talked about then, you don’t have to go organic to get rBST eliminated. So what else makes it worth the cost?
Antibiotics. There is a loaded word. Even the AAP is commenting on the overuse of antibiotics in our meat supply and the negative effects that has on us. Well, according to the USDA antibiotics usage is prohibited in cows that are used for organic milk. In conventional dairies, cows given antibiotics are held off from milk production for days. How many days depends on the individual dairy and their practices. Just the fact that they hold the cows off the line for any length of time is indicative to me that the antibiotics do affect the milk supply. I tried to find research on exactly how long antibiotics affect milk quality but couldn’t. Bottom-line, if you are buying organic, you don’t have to worry about being overly exposed to antibiotics.
I was also wondering about the toxins that the cows are exposed to. In conventional farms, there are pesticides used and synthetic fertilizers. If I eat toxins, it affects me adversely. So why would a cow be different. What goes into their bodies has to affect their milk. Toxins are stored in fat. Milk has fat, and that fat came from the cow. Choosing organic would undoubtedly reduce toxin exposure.
One thing that seems to be pretty well agreed upon is that a cow’s diet affects its milk composition. A Newcastle University study showed that organic dairy is significantly healthier due to the cows diet. Cows that eat grass (and thus the milk is labeled “grass-fed”) produce healthier milk which has higher levels of healthier fats, antioxidants and vitamins. Gillian Butler who led the study said, “…this research [is it] clearly shows that on organic farms, letting cows graze naturally, using forage-based diet, is the most important reason for the differences in the composition between organic and conventional milk.” This quality of milk varies too between the seasons. Warmer weather allows cows to graze outside on clover and grass as opposed to cold months where they are inside eating hay. So, during warmer months, grass-fed cows will produce better milk.
Now, if you buy organic dairy, you are not guaranteed to get it from grass-fed cows. The USDA requirements are that, “Producers must feed livestock agricultural feed products that are 100 percent organic, but they may also provide allowed vitamin and mineral supplements.” So this is a whole other label that you are looking for on your milk.
How about the differences between homogenized and non-homogenized milk? If you buy non-homogenized milk, you will notice that there is a thick layer of cream at the top. Left to its own devices, the fat globules will separate out leaving thick cream at the top and a watery milk underneath. Even if you shake this milk up, the globules will not completely incorporate into the milk below leaving tiny chunks. In raw milk, the globules incorporate more than in pasteurized milk. (Which for the record, if your kids are used to homogenized milk, they might take issue with aforementioned tiny chunks. Consider yourself warned!) Homogenization is the process that milk undergoes that prevents the cream from separating from the milk. So the first question is, are there health benefits to homogenizing milk? The answer is no. There is nothing gained by homogenizing milk except a smoother textured milk. Which leads to the next obvious question, are there health benefits to non-homogenized milk?
There are many doctors who would say that there are no health risks in consuming homogenized milk. However, there are also doctors who have concerns. The process of homogenizing milk changes the molecular structure of the milk. Some say that this molecular change makes it more difficult for the body to absorb nutrients. If you can find non-homogenized milk, you definitely aren’t going to be hurting yourself. Plus, you will have a lovely layer of cream to make all kinds of yumminess that we will talk about next week!
It’s funny that when I started buying organic milk, it was because I was afraid of how the growth hormone would affect my girls. Little did I know that I could easily find rBST free milk that was not organic. My husband and I were talking tonight about all of this, and we were both just amazed by the amount of information you have to process to make a good decision about MILK. (Knowing full well that there are many people who think that milk, even organic, raw, grass-fed milk, is bad for us.) I hope that all of this has helped you to prioritize what is important for your family and where you want to spend your money. Next week, we are going to look at a few ways that we can make our dairy dollars stretch.
After gathering all the info, what are your priorities in buying dairy products? Avoiding hormones, grass-fed cows, antibiotics, the best price or something else altogether?