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organic living journey organic vs regular milk

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?

Organic

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.

Grass-Fed

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.

Homogenization

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?

    • Amy G.

      My daughter was diagnosed by a nutritionist with a dairy sensitivity. She can’t drink cow’s milk, but she can have some cheeses, real butter, and real sour cream. She is now drinking almond milk and her allergies are SO much better. She used to be on antibiotics every 6 to 8 weeks. She had two sets of tubes, adenoids and tonsils removed. All due to her body’s reaction to dairy. It is definitely important to know what is going into your body and how your body reacts to that food. Before her diagnosis, we were using Happy Cow milk which is super yummy and much healthier for you.

    • Lana

      The real thing to point out about milk is that humans cannot absorb calcium from cow’s milk and that seems to be the reason everyone thinks we should consume milk. Fresh spinach is a great source of calcium and that is what we rely on at our house. I do have concerns about the antibiotics in milk too. I know an advanced form of kinesiology and am able to test the milk that I buy for antibiotics. I find that not all non organic milk contains antibiotics. This would be a really difficult thing to explain but I am finding that grocery stores who get their milk from smaller dairies are less likely to have milk that contains antibiotics.

    • Lara

      I thought I heard Dr Oz say once that if you had to buy one thing that was organic, make it milk…

      • Anita

        I remember hearing the same thing

    • stacy ruska

      I LOVE milk. Cold, 2%, regular milk. I know it might not be the best for me, but it is soooo good. I would love to go healthier. However, here we go with “money talks”. Why do I have to pay more money to be healthier? If the USDA KNOWS this info, and is releasing info that states organic is better, why can’t they make laws that ALL milk should be organic and therefore, reduce the price of said milk?

      • amysanders

        stacy, you sound just like my oldest daughter. she is outraged that pesticides are legal. :)

    • Jenny

      Please if you’re going to do “research”, do it thoroughly and correctly.

      “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.” ……This is a loaded statement. and partially false.

      it does affect the milk supply. that milk is not longer good for making cheese etc. Cheese, yogurt, sour cream…all require bacteria in their production processes. So why would farmers sell milk with ANTIbiotics? this is just counter productive and doesn’t make sense.

      It is not up to the individual dairy or else dairies would not waste money by withholding milk for sale at all. Go take a look at any of the antibiotics you’re afraid of, each antibiotic has a specific “withholding” time assigned to it and it’s usually written on the bottle or on the instruction sheet with the medicine. A with holding time is the MINIMUM amount of days you must withhold that cow’s milk from being sold. This time is not based on the dairy but based on how long the antibiotic usually takes to clear the cow’s system.

      This brings me to my second point.

      All milk is tested for antibiotics before is it processed. Milk testing positive for antibiotic residue is REFUSED by the processing plant because it can’t use it. It is ILLEGAL to sell milk with antibiotics.

      My third point…

      The rBST “hormone” you’re afraid of your girls drinking, guess what? They’re drinking it anyway. There is NO TEST for rBST. It is a naturally occurring “hormone” that EVERY SINGLE cow produces, regardless of whether she’s supplemented with it or not. Companies can only claim to have “no rBST added” but they can not claim to be completely “rBST free” because there is no test to validate their claim. Also, look up the definition of a hormone and its structure and look up rBST and you’ll see it is actually digested by the body in the same manner as you would digest any other protein. (don’t tell me you’re afraid of your girls eating protein too?)

      I am currently and animal science major and have taken over 20 hours of strictly dairy related classes. I also currently work at a dairy and can tell you first hand that the only reason we take milk from cows being treated with antibiotics out from selling is because we legally can not do it. I believe the law was created because 1) this milk is not good for making cheese/yougurt/etc. because the antibiotics would hinder the process because those products REQUIRE bacteria. 2.) there are so many people with antibiotic allergies and there would be no way to label/warn consumers of which antibiotic was in which carton of milk and how much was in it. it is a $20,000 fine if our milk comes back from the processing plant and tests positive for any trace of any antibiotic.

      just wanted you to get your facts straight.

      • amysanders

        thank you for your input. and you are right in that they can’t test for rBST because it mimics the cows naturally produced hormones. i shared my initial fear that made me make my decisions–the point i was trying to make (i guess quite poorly), is that it is interesting how certain things guide us to make decisions (like my choosing organic milk because it was free of synthetic hormones) when really, i could have had the same thing with regular milk that was rBST free. i was trying to share that i am learning a ton by doing this. this is just a story of my journey and what i’m learning. my research isn’t exhaustive, so i welcome any feedback that you have to share. so thank you for sharing what you have learned! i appreciate it.

        • TheChapLeigh

          As you had mentioned in your first posting about milk, this is a highly controversial, extremely heated topic between the two groups who stand at polar opposites to one-another. Both groups have their strong opinions and most have a distinct bias. Both speak from a committed belief in their viewpoints, and will passionately defend them. When researching this topic, it is wise to consider the probably bias of that person speaking… certainly someone whose study & work is within the industrialized milk industry is speaking from the current trends within that industry, & thus from a position to defend those practices. However, as is communicated from the multitude of documentaries out there, I reiterate that the “Raw milk movement” (and associated consumer concerns) threatens the current industrialized milk industry.
          Again, I would recommend reading “The Untold Story of Milk”. It’s an easy internet download and not difficult nor time consuming to read through.

      • amysanders

        thank you for your input. and you are right in that they can’t test for rBST because it mimics the cows naturally produced hormones. i shared my initial fear that made me make my decisions–the point i was trying to make (i guess quite poorly), is that it is interesting how certain things guide us to make decisions (like my choosing organic milk because it was free of synthetic hormones) when really, i could have had the same thing with regular milk that was rBST free. i was trying to share that i am learning a ton by doing this. this is just a story of my journey and what i’m learning. my research isn’t exhaustive, so i welcome any feedback that you have to share. so thank you for sharing what you have learned! i appreciate it.

      • Melissa

        Wow, Jenny. First of all, great information. Second, you could have said all of this in a much more productive and respectful manner. She never made these sweeping claims and told everyone they better believe her. She’s just sharing her learning process. I learned a ton by this post AND by what you have stated, but I have to say I’m pretty put off by your tone. Please, if you’re going to give criticism, give it respectfully as well as constructively. Thanks.

    • katkoupon

      We were buying grass-fed dairy and raw milk, which we LOVED. But, we decided to stop consuming dairy (except for clarified butter from grass-fed cows). We did this after conducting our own test to see whether we could really tolerate it. We eliminated dairy for 30 days, and then re-introduced it and found that we all had negative side effects ranging from bloating and weight gain to sinus infections. We even tried the healthiest options available to us (raw milk and grass-fed cheeses) but still found that none of it works for us. We won’t be consuming dairy regularly, but I do still plan to indulge in the occasional raw milk and grass-fed cheese! I realize not everyone agrees with the Paleo lifestyle, but here are some great points about milk…http://paleodietlifestyle.com/place-of-dairy-on-paleo-diet/ Thanks for all the posts!

    • blessedwith2

      My pediatrician recommends buying organic whole milk while my youngest is between ages of 1 and 2, like you said above fat stores antibiotics and whole milk has the most fat

    • April C

      9 months of the year our family drinks real, fresh, straight-from-the-cow milk. It is produced by a small family farm where the cows are only eating what God intended. The farmer and I know each other by name. During the winter months he dries the cows of so that can gestate in peace (there are other, better reasons too). We have found that organic, regular, and local larger dairy non-homogenized all taste the same for the most part. You just can’t beat fresh milk.

    • Kelly

      I’m learning so much from your organic posts! Thanks for doing all this research and passing it along to us. We’ve been using organic milk for the past few years and feel that it tastes better (Organic Valley, specifically).

    • S_CarolinaGirl

      I can say first hand that there is a physical effect from drinking regular milk versus organic milk. My daughter loves to drink milk. When she was about 3 or 4, she would always complain that her breast area was hurting to the point she would cry during baths or even if her shirt rubbed against her. My aunt who is a nurse suggested that we switch her to organic milk. Since we switched to organic milk we have had absolutely no issues, and she is now 13. She has no other dairy issues.

    • Guest

      I like this series on Southern Savers. This is a request for future topics, not the milk topic. My husband and I went on a tour of a tea plantation this past spring and to quote indirectly the tour guide, he explained that black and green tea doesn’t contain pesticides because bugs are not attracted to and do not like the tea plant.

      I see in the stores though organic black and green teas. So I feel like that is a marketing scheme to prey upon people willing to pay a lot of money for the word organic on the package. So I am wondering about products that aren’t on the dirty or clean dozens list like sugar, coffee, flour, oils, chocolate, and other ingredients especially baking ingredients. Thanks for doing all this research for us readers to help us find more useful resources and helping us save money.

    • tori729

      I usually buy the Smart Balance milk when it’s on sale which is probably awful for you but it’s really cheap. However, I can and will buy organic whenever I can. For instance, Bi-Lo had Born Free organic milk half gallons on sale for $2.50 each and I had $1 coupons so $3/gallon is good for ANY kind of milk, let alone organic. I bought 7 1/2 gallons! It’s really hard for me to justify the cost of milk, even though we don’t go through it that fast but I am trying to get better at it.

    • Gwen Miller

      I honestly didn’t know that organic milk was a thing. That is so cool, it sounds like organic is a lot more pure. My kids drink a lot of milk, so I want to make sure they are getting the best. Organic would be a good way to go, no antibiotics, and just as many nutrients.