Should I buy organic milk?

Question: Should I buy organic milk? My little boy is just about to turn one and move from breast milk to cow’s milk. My partner thinks it is much healthier than conventional milk, but my Mum thinks its just a marketing gimmick!

Answer

Organic milk comes from cows which are only fed organic cereals and graze on land free from artificial fertilisers and pesticides. There is scientific evidence that organic milk contains higher levels of types of fats called short-chain omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants as well as more vitamin A and E than conventionally produced milk.

However, your Mum’s view is understandable. Last year the Food Standards Agency funded a controversial report in 2009 stating that organic food is no healthier and provides no significant nutritional benefit compared with conventionally produced food. Although the FSA have concluded that organic milk contians higher levels of omega 3 than non organic milk, they advise the public to get their allowance from two portions of oily fish each week.

However, the FSA conclusions on organic food have been called into question by scientific experts and organic food campaigners.

Before making your decision, consider the following research on organic milk:

More Omega 3, Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA)

  • The FSA funded study excluded the EU-funded four-year study by Carlo Leifert, professor of ecological agriculture at Newcastle University. The EU study found that organic milk contained 60% more antioxidants and healthy fatty acids than normal milk.
  • The EU study above corresponds with the Universities of Glasgow and Liverpool whose research between 2002 and 2005 showed that organic milk is on average 68% higher in omega-3 than non organic milk.

Omega 3 essential fatty acids play an important role in maintaining a healthy heart, supple and flexible joints, healthy growth and strong bones and teeth.

Lower Rates of Allergies, Asthma and Eczema

  • The British Journal of Nutrition published a study from the Netherlands showed that the incidence of eczema in young children was reduced by 36% where the children consumed organic dairy products. Researchers followed 2,500 pregnant women until their children were two years old, recording information on their health and their lifestyle and dietary habits. They found that the rate of allergies was 36 percent lower among children who drank or ate organic milk, cheese and yogurt and whose mothers had consumed these products while breastfeeding than among children and mothers who had eaten either only non-organic dairy products or a mix of organic and non-organic products.

More Vitamin E, Vitamin A and Antioxidants

  • Research carried out by Jacob Holm, a senior biochemist at the Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences, in conjunction with the European Union funded Quality Low Input Food (QLIF) project at Newcastle University shows that organic milk has higher levels of vitamin E, vitamin A and antioxidants.

Less Pesticides

  • Organic dairy farms do not use artificial pesticides (insecticides, fungicides or herbicides) on pastures where cows graze. By contrast, there are about 500 different pesticides licensed for use on non-organic dairy farms and 1,550 which can be used on non-organic mixed farms (farms which have both dairy cattle and grain crops). All pesticides must be tested and approved by the government who set ‘safety limits’. However, some experts believe children are more susceptible to pesticide residues than adults.

Less Antibiotics

  • Organic cows are only given antibiotics when they are ill, while non-organic farms often routinely treat cows with antibiotics as a preventative measure, whether they are ill or not. If an organic cow needs to be treated with antibiotics then the ‘withdrawal period’ (ie, the time that the milk is not allowed to be sold for human consumption) is at least double that recommended for non-organic milk.

Price Comparison Organic Milk Versus Non Organic Milk

Look for promotions of organic milk in your supermarket, some times organic milk can be cheaper than non organic milk if it is on a promotion as seen in the table below.

Price of Organic Milk

References:

Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture,Antioxidant concentrations in milk, 2008 Biological Agriculture and Horticulture, Comparison of Organic and Conventional Raw Milk,2008 Journal of Diary Science, Fatty Acid Composition of Organic Milk and Non Organic Milk,200 University of Newcastle, Organic cows produce more Omega 3,2008 Aberdeen University, Organic milk – good alternative source of Omega 3,2004 OMSCO, Organic Milk Health Benefits (Accessed 2010)

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