What does organic milk mean? Many people who are thinking about switching from conventional to organic milk are concerned mostly about their health. Is organic milk really better for you? Is it worth the extra cost? Organic milk has many benefits all along the production chain, not just for the consumer. Here are six you should think about.
6 Things That Make Organic Milk Great
What Does Organic Milk Mean?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines organic products as “produced using sustainable agricultural production practices.” That means no fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, no genetically modified organisms, and no ionizing radiation. Most pesticides are banned.
Organic meats, eggs, and dairy products must come from animals that were not given non-therapeutic antibiotics or growth hormones. In addition, cows, sheep, and other grazing animals must get at least 30 percent of their food from grazing. In other words, they spend a minimum of about four months a year on pasture instead of in feedlots.
What Does Organic Milk Mean for Cows?
Conventionally raised dairy cows eat a variety of things, but hay, corn, and corn silage are the bulk of their diet. According to the USDA, about 92 percent of the U.S. corn crop in 2016 was genetically modified, mostly to make it resistant to pests and herbicides. Farmers can spray their corn heavily with herbicides (usually glyphosate, trade name Roundup) to kill weeds without killing the corn. However, the herbicides don’t necessarily break down before the cows eat the corn. Although there’s no hard evidence that glyphosate traces harm cows or people, it probably isn’t doing them any good either. Also, cows evolved to digest grass, not grain. Eating large quantities of corn stresses their digestive system and upsets their body chemistry.
Organically-raised dairy cows don’t receive genetically modified corn or any other GM crop. Unlike their conventionally-raised sisters, they don’t spend most of their lives crowded into barns with dozens of other cows. They aren’t treated with artificial bovine growth hormones that force their bodies to produce more milk. When the season permits, they get to walk, stand, and recline on grass, not concrete.
What Does Organic Milk Mean for Farm Workers?
Exposure to pesticides and herbicides is part of the job for workers on conventional farms. Many of these chemicals pose serious health risks, both in terms of immediate toxicity and long-term exposure. On organic farms, the allowable pesticides are strictly limited and are less toxic. Farmers prefer other methods to control weeds and pests, such as cultivating and releasing beneficial insects. Workers stay healthier.
What Does Organic Milk Mean for Farmers?
The organic milk market is about 3 percent of the U.S. milk market, according to the USDA, and the demand is increasing faster than the supply. While conventional dairy farmers struggle with market gluts and prices below their cost of production, organic dairy farmers have a growing market.
The organic certification process is expensive and time-consuming and organic milk costs more to produce, but consumers are willing to pay a premium to get it. Farmers can make a profit and stay in business, often continuing a farm that has been in their family for generations.
What Does Organic Milk Mean for the Consumer?
Organic milk is free of synthetic hormones and traces of herbicides and pesticides! Parents who are concerned about reducing their children’s exposure to agricultural chemicals are likely to choose organic milk for them. Tests show that organic milk is higher in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and some antioxidants, especially vitamins A and E. Also, the ratio between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is closer to what nutritionists consider healthy for people. This is due largely to letting cows graze instead of feeding them corn, which is high in omega-6 fatty acids. The flavor of milk reflects what the cow ate. Some people think organic milk from grass-fed cows tastes better.
It should be noted that because antibiotics can interfere with bacterial cultures in products like yogurt, no milk, conventional or organic, can be sold if it contains antibiotics. Milk from cows that need antibiotic treatment for illness or injury is discarded.
Organic milk is significantly more expensive than conventional milk, in part because of its higher production costs. Since the demand is still relatively low compared to the overall dairy market, it is not as easily available and the product selection is limited.
What Does Organic Milk Mean for Farm Communities?
Many dairy farmers made the switch to organic when they realized that to survive as conventional dairies, they had to either get much bigger or get out. Farms generate jobs on and off the farm, at services such as equipment and supply dealers, financial institutions, veterinarians, fuel and construction companies, and local stores. Farmers pay taxes. When a farm goes out of business, all too often the land is sold for development and is lost to agriculture. Organic dairies keep rural communities vibrant.
What Does Organic Milk Mean for the Earth?
Organic farming methods are first about keeping the soil, water, and air healthy. Organic farmers return nutrients and organic matter to the soil. As the soil regains its fertility, it grows stronger, healthier, and more nutritious plants and animals. Persistent pesticides kill many insects, not just pests. Organic farming protects insects, birds, animals, and fish by keeping pesticide use to a minimum. Organic farmers encourage beneficial insects, birds, and insect-eating animals such as bats to live on their land and control pests the natural way.
Sustainable farming methods prevent soil erosion. Waterways stay clean and healthy when they aren’t polluted by silt and chemical runoff. Organic farmers are concerned about carbon emissions and climate change. They are likely to conserve energy and be careful about how they use fossil fuels. Many use renewable energy such as wind and solar.
Organic milk is good for cows, farm workers, farmers, consumers, farm communities, and the earth. What does organic milk mean for you? Try some today!