While it is true that organic milk doesn’t contain pesticides, antibiotics or growth hormones, there are some dirty little secrets about some organic milk brands that you probably don’t know. Going organic for most is a really good baby step and I commend those who have made it this far in their real food journey. However, as you fall down the proverbial real food rabbit hole here is some further information to understand just how much marketing impacts our views about where our food comes from and how it is processed. Perception is not reality.
MYTH #1: Organic dairy cows eat grass.
When you buy organic milk do you picture cows grazing outside on a farm? Think again. USDA rules stipulate:
The organic cow grazes on organic pastures for the entire grazing season, which must be at least 120 days a year, and receives at least 30 percent of its nutrition from pasture during the grazing season. Organic livestock are required to have year round access to the outdoors and a total feed ration of agricultural products that are 100% organic.
So while it is given “access” to graze during that grazing season, the rules do not stipulate how often or how long those cows should be grazing outdoors. And based on the nutrition guidelines, the cows are still eating majority grains vs. grass. There are many benefits to drinking milk that comes from 100% grass-fed cows:
- CLA: 3-5 times more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than grain-fed animals. CLA may reduce cancer risk in humans.
- Omega-3’s: Only 40 percent of Americans consume an adequate supply of omega-3 fatty acids and actually consume way too many Omega-6’s which can cause inflammation. Each day that an animal spends in the feedlot, its supply of omega-3s is diminished.
- Vitamin E, beta carotene and Vitamin A and K2: The meat from the pastured cattle is higher in these vitamins than the meat from the feedlot cattle.
So why do farmer’s feed the cows grains? Economics. Grains help to make cows fatten up and produce more milk. According to Eat Wild:
On average, cows raised in confinement on grains produce more than three times as much milk as the family cow of days gone by and 15 times the amount required to raise a healthy calf.
This is a blessing for the farmer but a bane for the consumer. More milk from the cow equals less nutrients for those who consume it. The less milk a cow produces, the more vitamins in her milk.
Some organic producers adhere to more sustainable practices than this but most do not.
MYTH #2: Organic dairy cows are healthy cows.
Cows evolved to eat grass not grains. This means organic dairy farming is a very delicate system. Organic cows must also be kept free from antibiotic use. Painful inflammation of the mammary glands, or mastitis, is common among cows raised for their milk, and it is one of dairy farms’ most frequently cited reasons for sending cows to slaughter. In order to check milk quality there is system called ‘bulk tank somatic cell count’ which is used to detect bacteria levels usually indicating mastitis. This is basically testing for the amount of pus (yes PUS – yick!) in milk.
The US allows for 750,000 cells/ml in comparison to the EU which only allows 400,000 cell/ml. Normal SCC levels are below 200,000 cells/ml. Counts from 250,000-300,000 indicate mastitis. (source) You do the math – that is a lot of pus if you ask me and this isn’t removed from the milk when it is pasteurized.
MYTH #3: Organic Milk must be refrigerated.
Actually most organic milk is made to be able to sit on the counter for up to 9 months unopened before going bad due to a process called UHT. They don’t need to sell it in the refrigerated aisle but if people knew it could sit out then people won’t buy it. Currently, 80% of organic milk is UHT pasteurized. According to Food Renegade Just Say no to UHT*:
The official U.S. government definition of an ultra-pasteurized dairy product stipulates “such product shall have been thermally processed at or above 280° F for at least 2 seconds, either before or after packaging, so as to produce a product which has an extended shelf life.”
Not only do pasteurization and UHT processing kill off the enzymes present in milk needed to digest the casein, the casein itself is altered to the point of being indigestible!
MYTH #4: All Cow’s Milk is the same.
Milk consists of three parts: 1) fat or cream, 2) whey, and 3) milk solids or proteins (aka lactose, casein, etc.). One such protein is called beta casein and apparently this protein is different depending on what breed of cow produces it. There are two types: A1 and A2 beta caseins. These two proteins are digested by our bodies differently and the A1 type has been shown to interfere with our immune response (ever get excess mucous in your throat from drinking milk?). (source)
Interestingly enough, in America, we predominantly drink milk from Holsteins or A1 cows. Have you ever heard of Jersey and/or Guernsey cows? They are prized for the rich flavor of their milk and are A2 cows. The French, for example, will not use Holsteins for milk production even though they produce more milk because they say the milk is low quality and does not have good flavor from that breed of cow. French milk and cheese for the win! Lucky for us, the farm where we source our dairy is transitioning to a 100% genetically A2 herd and I have noticed that I do not get that mucous build up when I drink their milk.
So what kind of milk does that leave?!
Do your research and find a local producer of fresh, clean raw or low-temp pasteurized milk from happy cows that graze on grass outdoors – where to find raw milk. You can also check out my post with 8 questions to ask your potential dairy farmer.
This post is featured on Real Food Wednesday, Simple Lives Thursday, Thank Your Body Thursday, Monday Mania, Fat Tuesday
*This post has been updated to remove the quote regarding UHT milk not supporting a bacterial culture. I have gotten many comments that many of you have been successful with kefir and yogurt culturing in UHT milk. That is enough evidence for me to remove it from this post.
Megan Longstreet says
just when I think I’m introducing something healthier….*sigh*
Penny O says
Always do your best. No one is 100% perfect.
I shared this to enlighten not to chide. I have been learning and evolving so much over the past 10+ years – it wasn’t overnight. I share this because just 2 years ago I was giving my daughter UHT Horizon and I had no idea about any of this – I believed it was ok. I didn’t know anything else existed. I am not perfect either – no one ever is.
Lindsey @ Homemade Mommy says
I shared this to enlighten not to chide. I have been learning and
evolving so much over the past 10+ years – it wasn’t overnight. I share
this because just 2 years ago I was giving my daughter UHT Horizon and I
had no idea about any of this – I believed it was ok. I didn’t know
anything else existed. I am not perfect either – no one ever is.
I recently have seen through sites such as PETA how cruel the milking process is for cows. I switched to Almond Milk. My kids like it (and they are very picky). The chocalate almond milk is delish. For your info, chocolate milk is made chocolate because it is tainted with so much blood. Hope you find this useful.
Almonds are one of the foods testing high for radiation from Japan. Choose rice, coconut or organic soy milk instead. It’s always something. You can run, but you can’t hide as they say. Ho hum….
Katherine Kelley says
I wish I lived in a state that allowed raw milk. Frankly, I would trust a small scale raw dairy farmer more than anything in a conventional store.
Holly Beck says
I wish I did, too! I live in NC and am ‘lucky’ enough to be within driving distance (1 hour drive) to South Carolina to buy milk every couple of weeks. It takes 2 hours to drive there and back, but I do it because I refuse to drink any other kind of milk!
Dra Clevon Gilmore says
holly I live in charlotte where do you get your milk from . thanks
Tom Davis says
Organic Valley sell 100% grass fed milk, but they also sell NOT 100% grass fed milk too That’s the only one that I know of in my area. It’s amazing.
Penny O says
Thank goodness I have a local farm for raw milk.
Timo McIntosh says
I share the sentiment to not trust a label, but I’m not a fan of the attempts to attack a well meaning idea; organic food. Several of the points about grain and grass are overstated or pulled from what is known about the worst of CAFE’s. There is a HUGE range of production practices both labeled as organic and not. We shouldn’t conflate all brands and practices just for the advancement of the belief that raw milk is the one and true form of healthy milk. It’s not.
I have no affiliation with this site, but I have found that it does a good job of breaking down several of the issues brought up here, and applying it to actual organic dairies and brand names. http://www.cornucopia.org/
rita Johnson says
When farms sell their milk to be pasteurized it all gets put into one big tank. So generalizing that all farmers do the bare minimum to sell organic milk may not be fair but to the consumer it doesn’t matter if some of the organic dairy farmers are using good practices because the milk will get mixed in with farms of lower standards.
Great article, I refuse to buy any cheese or milk that isn’t raw.
Cari Osborne says
Very interesting about point #3, I just moved to Germany and have seen organic milk in boxes on the shelf (rather than refrigerator) and wondered how it was possible for it to be organic and not refrigerated. Good to know! Looks like I might be better off buying local German milk than the “organic” milk they import us from the states…would save me a lot of money too- local dairy is very inexpensive!
Jennifer AndDallas Smith says
Most milk in the stores in Germany is Ultra pasturized. That is one area in which they are not very natural about surprisingly.
Pam Arndt says
I want to point out a few things here. The A1-A2 competition was created by the company that patented the test for it. The fine print of the test states that the company can stake a claim to any animals that their test has been used to verify A2 status on. I find that highly suspicious being as there are way more than 2 types of beta casein in milk. Second, not all Jerseys and Guernseys are A2, just as not all Holsteins are A1. That’s a very broad generalization. Third, taking a cow that produces 8 gallons of milk a day (typical Jersey) and forcing her to eat only grass/hay will mean a dead cow. Grain is a necessity for the vast majority of dairy cows because of the sheer volume of milk they make. Cows do not digest ketones like we do and when they are not getting enough carbs (grain) they will succumb to ketosis, and quickly. Instead of drinking milk from a cow that is making entirely too much milk, perhaps focus on the dual-purpose cattle like Milking Shorthorns and Dexters. I currently milk a Scottish Highland and a Dexter, neither of which need grain to maintain their production, grow another baby and stay warm in sub-zero temperatures.
Lindsey @ Homemade Mommy says
The dairy farm we buy from is investing their whole livelihood in these test to make their herd an A2 herd. It is very difficult to go through this process and they obviously believe in it. My intent was to explain this as simple as possible. If you click on the link you can see how complicated this gets. But the point remains. I am not sure where you get the perspective that cows NEED grains. I am not hearing about grass fed cows keeling over on a regular basis … has anyone else heard this before?!
Pam Arndt says
I am still suspicious and skeptical of the whole A1-A2 issue.
Not all cows need grain. Today’s modern dairy breeds, unless specifically bred from grass-fed genetics (deep bodied, lower milk production) do need grain to survive. It is nearly impossible to maintain the kind of pasture needed to sustain 5+ gallons a day without grain. Even Sally Fallon Morrell’s Jerseys get grain. And my perspective comes from the experience of hundreds of family cow owners that I am in contact with, not to mention the fact that I own cows myself.
Tina Live says
Ummm are you sure Sallys cows get grain??? I live right down the street from there and can ask tomorrow. I dont think they do.
Pam Arndt says
[url] http://farmfoodblog.com/state-of-the-art-raw-milk-system-at-sally-fallon-morells-farm/%5B/url%5D This is a tour of the milking facility at the farm and the cows are given a mix of field peas, wheat and corn that is soaked in vinegar-water overnight. Sally explains why they give the grain about halfway down the page.
Almost all cow feed contains corn, 85% of corn in the country is GMO. So grain fed cows shouldn’t be allowed to claim organic milk.
Karen Lindquist says
Just because 85% of the corn in the country is GMO doesn’t mean organic dairy farmers can use it. Organic farmers must get their seed from NON GMO sources.
I raise Scottish highlands, My cows are 100% on grass and have never been fed any grain. I have big healthy cows and babies.
The dairy we get our raw milk from never feeds their Ayrshires grain. All the winter feed is grown on the farm and they graze the rest of the year. I have visited the farm many times, different times of year, been in the barns, on the fields and talked at length with my dairyman. No grains ever and no cows are dropping over dead.
Producing a mass milk supply requires tremendous energy/nutrition. My partner was starving when she breastfed, and ate around the clock to keep up. I suspect that grains supply much needed nutrients, a sense of fullness, and the energy needed to keep up with the supply and demand for milk from the cows. Private farmers don’t exhaust their cows so much with milking, thus grass feed alone is more than sufficient.
becky johnson says
When Raw Milk is not available in my area, what are we supposed to do? Any suggestions on Organic Milk brands that would be “the next best option’?
Lindsey @ Homemade Mommy says
I would search out low temp pasteurized options from small farms or I would buy Organic Valley and check to see that it is labeled Grass Fed. I can’t find that kind of Organic Valley here in Austin but I have seen local varieties here. It requires some elbow grease to find good options – took me 4 months to find what I needed – but it is worth it.
Yes, check the Cornucopia Institute. Not only is raw milk illegal in many states, but it’s not a good idea for some people (such as those who have a compromised immune system) to drink raw milk. You can check the dairy scorecard for reputable dairies here: http://www.cornucopia.org/dairysurvey/index.html
My father grew up in Poland, and my spouse in England. Both were raised on raw milk they pasteurized themselves. Left to curdle on the counter it made amazing sour cream and cottage cheese. It’s actually very easy to pasteurize your own milk on the stove top. An added bonus is that your milk won’t need to stand up to long distance shipping and prolonged storage, so you can pasteurize it safely using lower heat and less time than many industrial milk producers use. All you need is a stainless steel pot and a simple kitchen thermometer. Just follow these simple steps for home pasteurization:
Read more: http://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/pasteurize-raw-milk-at-home.aspx#ixzz2gAVYUNlo
I appreciate the general intention of this post, but I have seen others’ comments note discrepancies and corrections, and there’s another to add to the list: You CAN make yogurt with UHT milk (aka commercial organic milk). I do it all the time. The number of invalid statements in this post leads me to question its credibility.
Lindsey @ Homemade Mommy says
Straight from Cultures for Health :
*Q. Can I use UHT (ultra-high temperature aka ultra-pasteurized) milk to make kefir?*
*A.* We do not recommend using UHT milk with any of our starter cultures (including yogurt, buttermilk, kefir and cheese starters). The process by which UHT milk is pasteurized leaves the milk essentially dead for purposes of culturing and therefore you are likely to have less than satisfactory results when using it to make cultured foods.
Sorry, but I totally agree with Bella. My family has been making yogurt and kefir with UHT milk for years with absolutely no problems. It really calls into question the rest of the claims in this post when it’s clear you’ve never even tested the claims that could be easily refuted in your own kitchen.
Jennifer AndDallas Smith says
I think the problem isnt’ that you won’t be able to actually make the cultured items, it’s that the product will not be as beneficial. Atleast that’s what I take it to mean.
Robbie Bianchi says
Cows don’t need grain that is silly… Have anybody’s cows died yet? I grew up farming and had cows, goats, and even sheep… the only time they got grain was a handful for a treat… as far as the need for pasteurization… I think that a select few ruined it for the whole when they sold some old bad milk. I drink raw milk regularly and have yet to have any issues. My friends all drink it and feed it to their kids as well. When I milk the ladies I clean off the teet, I keep a clean bucket, and it is that easy…
Just dropping in to offer up myself to answer any questions you may have of a conventional dairy farmer. In the meantime you can stop by http://www.raylindairy.com a blog I need to spend a lot more time updating.
Hi I have some questions regarding using milk for kefir. If I shouldn’t use Ultra-Pasteurized milk, is plain old pasteurized ok to use? I’m feeling upset about all the money & time I’ve wasted making kefir out of expensive UHT organic milk with no actual benefits from the kefir. I was actually up all night upset about this. I don’t think I can get raw milk near me & I am on food stamps & have 3 young daughters. I’m about ready to give up on kefir altogether and just start doing kombucha instead. Please give me some advice. Thank you in advance!
Lindsey @ Homemade Mommy says
Yes–regular pasteurized would work beautifully. Can you get Organic Valley? There might be a local provider of this kind of milk as well. What area are you in?
Yes, there are a couple places nearby that sell Organic Valley, not the store I usually go to for convenience, but it will be worth it. Thank you for the reply, I live in Grand Junction, Colorado.
Lindsey @ Homemade Mommy says
ANY milk will work fine. The kefir grains inoculate the milk you are using, which is minimally changed in nutrient content regardless of pasteurization method utilized. Much of this article is simply not true. Kefir bacteria will feed on the powdered milk if you give it to them.
If you are on food stamps you could be getting much more bang for your limited buck by spending those dollars on things other than organic milk. I buy it, but I can afford it. I don’t try to trick others who can’t afford it into living my lifestyle because it’s better for the planet and the animals (which it is) at the detriment of the consumer.
Nancy Stewart Lowenthal says
I grew up on a Guernsey dairy farm and we only drank raw milk. My friends thought it tasted weird but I couldn’t drink what we got in cartons at school!
Robin @ Thank Your Body says
Lindsey, I’ve been LOVING your posts lately. This is another great one. Sharing for sure!
Lindsey @ Homemade Mommy says
Thank you Robin!
i’ve made yogurt with UHT milk. i don’t know what food renegade is talking about. in fact, if it’s not UHT, you have to basically repasteurize your milk, to denature the proteins aka casein.
Overall, I think this is a great blog! Just to add my bit on the raw milk issue. In the 19th Century, up to 1/3 of tuberculosis cases came from drinking raw milk. Yes, there are definite benefits to raw milk, but there is also a reason why we pasteurise.
Also, I lived in Switzerland and all the milk there is UHT; personally, I think it has a funny taste but generally Swiss cows make very creamy milk. All the time in the Alpine pastures makes them happy.
Ben Herring says
When looking at the statistics on TB in the 19th century, remember that refrigeration was not widespread until well into the 20th century. it would be more accurate to say that 1/3 of all cases if tuberculosis could be linked to unrefrigerated milk.
Laila moysey says
I am so lucky to have our own dairy cows and a husband who makes the most AMAZING CHEESE 🙂
Jessica Boniface says
Unfortunately, raw milk is illegal for human consumption in GA. All of the grass-fed milk in our grocery store is Ultra-pasteurized. Only the conventional and organic milks are not ultra-pasteurized. So basically per WAPF, we’re hosed. We can’t get raw. We can’t get Low Temp grassfed. We’re doing the best we can right now with the organic whole fat that we’ve managed to find at one specific grocery store. And…I’m not sure why people say you can’t culture UHT milk – I’ve made yogurt out of it several times. (I figured that was the only way to redeem it!)
I’m hopeful that we may be able to find a farmer of a more independent way of thinking, but we’ve not made that connection yet. 🙁
Paula Jean Steiner says
So, using your own statistic above…is it grassfed beef or not? I really dislike the fact that people say they eat grassfed beef, but have no idea what they are eating. Why waste your money, when it finishes in a kill yard for months on end, or winters in a barn yard for most of its life?
Jessica DuBois says
So I live at least an hour to an hour and a half away from a farm that I could get raw milk from… Which I’m a full time worker as is my husband and it’s near impossible to be able to go get milk every couple of weeks. What would you do in that situation?
Sandy Tuttle Williams says
I live in a state that does allow raw milk through herd share. The problem I have had in finding a source is that I live in high desert and all the people around do some grain at milking that contains gmo’s and give alfalfa part of the year that is gmo. It is really frustrating but there is no way for me to get the “perfect” product and to no fault of the farmers. They have to use whatever they can get their hands on in order to keep their cows fed as there has been a shortage of hay, etc. So frustrating! I go back and forth all the time on which is a better option between the gmo raw milk and the organic grassfed low temp pasteurized milk at the store. Wish there was an easy pick!
I agree with you there, that’s the same dilemma I feel!
P Dubb says
I live in Australia and discovered the ultra pasturisation of some organic milks the other day. The supermarket had run out of my favourite organic milk (the good quality backup for the jersey milk I normally get from the growers’ market) and I noticed the supermarket had an “organic” milk in their own brand… then noticed it was ultra pasturised.
I thought “what’s the point of buying organic milk if you’re going to boil out all the good stuff?!” I’ve been spreading the word ever since.
Kathryn Arnold says
The link to the source for the UHT yogurt/kefir problem doesn’t seem to work.
Lindsey G. says
It just worked for me…
See, this is the type of thing that just confuses the heck out of me. I went to raw milk, then got scared of the real NATURAL dangers due to no pasteurization. While the raw milk is good.. not all of it is good and some bad bacteria can be over looked and no way of truly detecting that.
And while Organic milk seems like the lesser evil.. which in my mind it truly is, what is more important? Putting your family at risk for bad bacteria because of a lessened cleansing method in raw milk or no good bacteria in organic?
I guess there will be no real answer to that.
I get the kalona super natural organic whole milk, it has a cream top, not homogenized and pasteurized at the lowest temperature allowed by law, how ever I haven’t done any research on the company:( do you know anything about that company?, could this milk possibly be better ?
I find this post kind of frustrating because raw or gently pasteurized milk just isn’t widely available everywhere. When we lived in Maryland, we bought gently pasteurized from a local dairy, but we’ve moved and now the best we can do is grass-fed, ultra-pasteurized, organic from a big supplier. It might not be perfect, but it’s the best we can do without adding a cow to our backyard.
Lindsey G. says
It *IS* frustrating. I want everyone to get frustrated and demand better. This isn’t a condemnation of anyone not being perfect – it is a call to action to spend money where it will drive more supply of the good stuff. This is working as Organic Valley is mostly grass fed now. Demand drives supply.
You need more accurate information on UHT pasteurization. There are two kinds of UHT systems. One maintains sterilization throughout the process, including packaging. This is expensive and results in aseptic-packaged milk. It is shelf-stable. The more common method is to package in regular milk cartons, in the usual way, after pasteurization. This milk must be refrigerated. Please do not encourage unsafe food handling.
SSSHHH! Can’t you see you’re quelling the fear!? This website exists to spread it and encourage others to take up their way of life, whether they can afford it or not! Who needs facts when you have agendas?
We have a local creamery http://www.mtcrawfordcreamery.com/faqs.html
They sell non homogenized milk that has been pasteurized at the lowest possible temperature (raw milk cannot be purchased in va) It isn’t organic. What is better, the local creamery or store bought organic? The link above has all the facts about their milk. Thanks in advance for any info/advise.
Lindsey Gremont says
Here are questions to ask of your dairy farmer: http://www.homemademommy.net/2012/11/sand-creek-raw-milk-dairyfarm-tour.html
Sandy MacKersie says
Is organic soy milk good or bad?
thomas cappiello says
What Kelly says: November 30, 2013 at 4:02 pm You need more accurate information on UHT pasteurization. There are two kinds of UHT systems. One maintains sterilization throughout the process, including packaging. This is expensive and results in aseptic-packaged milk. It is shelf-stable. The more common method is to package in regular milk cartons, in the usual way, after pasteurization. This milk must be refrigerated. Please do not encourage unsafe food handling.
This article is fear mongering and agenda driven. Dairy farmers care deeply about cows. Cows = a paycheck. they spend their life making very little.. if anything because they love what they do. When are we going to see an article that sticks up for farmers. Because loopholes exist does not mean farmers are using them. Organic farmers use grass based systems because it is healthier for the cows and they do not want issues with high cell counts and mastitis etc. Cell counts are very important to a dairyman. More important then they are to you and me.. high cell counts = a premium rate for dairy farmers which in many cases is the difference between keeping the farm and loosing the farm. So tired of this fear mongering.
I actually like the taste of ultrapasteurized milk better.
I’m slightly insulted by #1. My husband farms organicly with his family and we know several other families (including my own dad) who work very hard and go through a lot of paperwork to supply a product that we feel is worthy for human consumption. We don’t raise dairy cattle but we do raise beef cattle. We raise them organicly, but because there is no market for organic beef (resulting from opinions and posts such as this) we end up selling it as antibiotic-free instead. So our consumers are not getting the full benefit because they don’t believe we take care of our cows and feed them the best way we know how. It is hard work to maintain USDA organic status, you can’t just slap on label because you have money. We have to raise organic grain and organic alfalfa to feed our cattle all winter long – please stop insulting those organic farmers who work hard to provide food for you.