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.
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 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.