Organic Milk: Does it make sense to pay higher prices for organic milk?

Organic Milk: Does it make sense to pay higher prices for organic milk?

Organic milk is sold just about everywhere now, and usually at a higher price. But some dairy farmers argue that consumers need not pay for the same thing.

Turns out, chemicals for cows are expensive, so most dairy farmers are loathe to use them, UNLESS the health of the cow is at state.  As one farmer told us, "I care for these animals, they're like part of the family.  And when they are sick, they need medical attention.  If an antibiotic can save a cow's like, of course, I do that!; and organic dairy farmers do the same thing; they don't let their cows die, so they give them antibiotics and remove them from the herd." 

But the laws for NON-organic milk already require that once a dairy cow is given antibiotics, it must be removed from dairy production for 6 months and tests show that any residues are gone from their system.
You can argue that organic milk also means the cows are fed organically-grown grain.  The USDA requires:

All feed supplements, including minerals and salt blocks must be approved by your certifier. Antibiotics, GMO-derived products, animal by-products and synthetic preservatives are not permitted in any feed products. Be sure that any mineral supplements do not contain prohibited ingredients (such as mineral oil). Agricultural substances in feed supplements (molasses, soy oil, roughage, etc.) must be organic. All purchased grain and forages must be certified organic. You must keep receipts and accompanying certificates as documentation of off-farm feed purchases. The receipt must verify the quantity and source of feed purchased from off-farm.

But, again, the non-organic dairy farmers say tests comparing organic and non-organic milk show no differences, at least not when the only difference is the NOP certification. So say dairy farms using similar practices (pastured, grass fed, minimal corn feed.
NBC News quotes a study that says there is a difference:

Organic milk contains more heart-healthy fatty acids than regular milk, says study author Charles Benbrook, a research professor at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University. The WSU researchers tested nearly 400 samples of organic and conventional milk over 18 months. “There’s really no debate around the world -- when you feed dairy cows more grass, you improve the fatty acid profile of milk. You also increase the protein level,” Benbrook says. On the other hand, cows fed a corn-based diet produce milk that’s higher in omega-6 fatty acids. 

But NBC seems to confuse what the researcher is saying; he says that grass-fed is better than corn fed; which is not at all the same as organic vs. non-organic.  He apparently did not directly compare organic grass-fed vs. non-organic grass-fed milk.

Back in 2010, The Los Angeles Times, identified a more important aspect: Starting in mid-2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture  imposed strict standards for what kind of milk qualifies as organic. The USDA required that cows must get plenty of fresh grass and spend at least four months a year grazing in pastures.

Once again, most non-organic dairy farms we spoke with said their cows get the same treatment.  Feed is expensive, so dairy farmers prefer their cows to be eating grass out in the pasture. The farmers say the only reason they don't seek the NOP organic certification is that, like many well-intended government run programs, it is expensive, time-consuming and difficult to obtain without providing any substantial benefits.
At the end of the day, it may be a moot point as most Americans are drinking less milk that ever before, and organic milk continues to become less expensive, often little more than non-organic milk. Wal-Mart's own brand organic milk is less than some branded dairy's non organic milk.

References

  1. USDA Guidelines for Organic Certification of Dairy Livestock
  2. NBC News "Yep, organic milk really is better for you than regular milk"
  3. The Los Angeles Times, USDA imposes new standards for milk to qualify as organic, By P.J. HUFFSTUTTER, FEB. 13, 2010