It’s settled. Organic milk is better than conventional for so many reasons! Not only is it more nutritious, but it contains fewer toxins and has the ability to capture carbon. But there is something very sinister hiding inside some conventional milk that could harm you–trace amounts of sulfa antibiotics. This isn’t just a problem for allergy sufferers, this could also be affecting your ability to react to antibiotics in general. You’ve trusted Mamavation to bring you topics like best chips & salsa, cereals without glyphosate, & safest teas, now join us as we take you through studies supporting the superiority of organic milk, and the details on what has been hiding in conventional milk this entire time. Then stick around till the end for a list of the best and worst organic dairy brands.
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Conventional vs. Organic Milk Study
A recent study published by Public Health Nutrition demonstrated that organic milk doesn’t contain residues from currently used pesticides or antibiotics, and has lower levels of growth hormones than conventional milk. What was found in conventional milk was very troubling. Here is a summary of the findings:
- Antibiotics: 37% of the conventional milk samples showed residue levels of antibiotics called sulfamethazine, and 26% of conventional samples showed residues of sulfathioazole, which are both banned for use in lactating cows.
- Antibiotics: Antibiotics were found in 60% of all conventional milk samples while none was found in organic samples.
- Antibiotics: Antibiotics amoxicillin, oxytetracycline, sulfamethazine, sulfadimethoxine, and sulfathiazole were detected in conventional milk samples. While most times the samples were found below the FDA limit, one sample was found to contain residue limits above the FDA amoxicillin limit.
- Growth Hormone Levels: Bovine growth hormone (bGH), the precursor to IGF-1, to be 20 times higher in conventional milk than organic.
- Pesticide Residue Levels: No level of pesticides was found in organic milk samples. However, conventional milk showed levels of several pesticides like atrazine, chlorpyrifos, cypermethrin, diazinon, hexachlorobenzene, and permethrin. Pesticides levels were within the legal range.
- Legacy Chemicals: Legacy Chemicals were found in all samples. These are chemicals that were so environmentally dangerous and persistent they were banned decades ago. These pollutants were also found in organic, however, the levels were significantly lower.
- Legacy Chemicals: One chemical hexachlorobenzene was four times more prevalent in conventional than organic dairy. And 1.5 times more ppDDE, the DDT metabolite.
ALLERGY ALERT: Sulfa Drug Residue Found Present in Conventional Milk
This specific finding is a special alert to people allergic to sulfa-based drugs! Sulfa-based antibiotics that are prohibited for use with lactating dairy cows are showing up in trace amounts in conventional dairy. Sulfonamides work systematically, meaning they distribute throughout the body tissues and will become present in the milk in trace amounts. Studies have suggested exposure can lead to health problems. Exposure to these drugs is also dangerous to farmers and farmworkers in spreading antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Some people have acute hypersensitivity and may develop an allergic reaction. Allergies to sulfonamides are similar to an allergic reaction to penicillin–happening in about 2% of the population. But if you are sensitive to sulfa-based drugs, this would be something to pay attention to. Organic milk did not test positive for any sulfa drug residue, so it would be a safer choice for anyone suffering from sulfa drug allergies.
Additional adverse side effects include rashes, headaches, vertigo, and anemia, birth defects if pregnant, hypothyroidism and thyroid tumors.
It’s Settled. Nutrition of Organic Milk Is Superior to Conventional Milk
Additional studies demonstrate organic has superior nutritious qualities. Diary provides a good source of protein, fat, calcium and vitamin D. Over 15 years of studies have proven that organic milk is healthier nutritiously.
- Organic milk contains 62% more omega-3 fatty acids than conventional milk
- More antioxidants,
- Higher nutrient mineral content such as iron, vitamin E, selenium, and carotenoids
Most Americans are getting too much omega-6 fatty acids and too little omega-3 fatty acids in their diet. A healthy diet balances these omegas in a 2.3 to 1, but anything above this is unhealthy and linked to several common diseases like cardiovascular disease, asthma, osteoporosis, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune disease. Low omega-6 to omega-3 ratios have a protective result. Organic milk contains 25% less omega-6s and 62% more omega-3s. The fact that cows in organic have to spend more time on grass is the reason for the better quality of omega-3s to omega-6s ratio.
Organic Dairy Can Help Mitigate Climate Change
Not only is organic dairy better for you, but it’s also better for our planet and can be used as a tool to mitigate climate change. Organic dairy builds healthier soil health, which results in longer roots and a greater carbon capturing capability. And this is because in organic farming, cows are on pasture eating, pooping, and frolicking around. These actions encourage a healthier ecosystem.
According to the International Panel on Climate Change, agriculture is responsible for about 14% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock is particular is the largest part of this pie. What cows eat, how their feed is produced, and where they are housed all influence their emissions. Conventional farms have some major issues with manure management, enteric methane fermentation (e.g. cow belches), and nitrous oxide emissions from soil management for livestock feed. These are all issues organic excels in.
What Is “Organic” and Why Is It Different Than Conventional Milk?
Organic dairy farmers are required to abide by special rules and regulations that govern the official USDA organic certification. This is to ensure organic dairy is produced sustainably, and with the health of the cows and health of the consumers in mind. The main distinction is what the cows eat, where they spend their time, and how they are treated if they get sick. This keeps cows happier and healthier. Here’s a synopsis:
- No antibiotics, growth hormones, GMOs, or pesticides
- The health and natural behavior of cows are prioritized
- All livestock feed must be 100% organic
- Organic dairy farmers must take care of the health of their cows by using holistic, preventative health care practices
- Cows are pasture-raised and grazed throughout grazing season
Organic Dairy Avoids Antibiotics and Because of This Doesn’t Contribute to Antibiotic Resistance
An over-use of antibiotics, especially for non-medical purposes, has led to the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which the Centers for Disease Control has as a top priority. This “emerging global crisis” dubbed by the World Health Organization could one day make many of our lifesaving medical procedures ineffective against infection. This would be the end of medicine as we know today if antibiotics didn’t work anymore.
Antibiotics are prohibited in organic dairy production, but you’ll find them in conventional dairy. And this is really bad because overuse of antibiotics, similar to the conditions in factory farms, is linked with an increase of antibiotic resistance bacteria. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria infects millions of Americans a year and kills about 23,000.
Many classes of antibiotics that are used in human health care, such as penicillin, are also used to care for dairy cows. If a class of bacteria becomes immune to antibiotics that are used with dairy cows, this could jump into a problem with humans. Humans have been known to pick up bacteria such as E. coli or Salmonella, two culprits in food poisoning, that will not respond to antibiotics.
Low levels of antibiotics in our bodies also contribute to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. So if the food we purchase has detectable levels of antibiotics, this could contribute to resistance. Because the use of antibiotics is prohibited in organic production, nor has any antibiotics been found in organic dairy, we can conclude that organic dairy is superior.
Organic Cows Are Not Given Synthetic Growth Hormone To Speed Up Milk Production
Synthetic growth hormones are prohibited in organic farming. While all cows have growth hormone inside their bodies that fluctuates, synthetic growth hormones are given to conventional dairy cows because it increases the production of milk.
Bovine growth hormone (bHG), also known as bovine somatotropin (bST), is naturally occurring in cows. It’s produced to increase milk production once the calf is born. The FDA has approved the use of recombinant (synthetic) bovine growth hormone (rbgh) in dairy production to increase milk yields. However, evidence shows dairy containing trace amounts of this hormone are linked to endocrine disruption.
Living Conditions of Organic Cows
Organic farmers must accommodate the natural behaviors and desires of dairy cows. That means they must have year-round access to the outdoors where they can forage, shade where they can hide when it’s hot, a shelter where they can sleep, exercise areas where they can have fun, fresh air, clean water to drink and direct sunlight. Continuous confinement in feedlots is prohibited.
Pasture Access of Organic Cows
Organic cows must graze for at least 120 days per the calendar year. This specific number is set to accommodate grazing seasons all over the United States. The land by which the animals are set to pasture must be managed according to organic crop standards to ensure the quality of the grass they eat.
Feeding and Grazing of Organic Cows
During the grazing season, organic cows must consume at least 30% of their diet from organic foraging on grasslands. The remainder of their diet must be completely organic. During winter months, I witnessed dairy farmers with Stonyfield Organic Yogurt giving cows fermented hay, which kept them warm and happy in the winter. Sometimes farmers plant the crops the animals eat on the farm while other times they buy organic feed to supplement. Organic feed is always free from growth hormones, antibiotics, GMOs, or slaughter by-products.
Veterinary Care of Organic Cows
Organic dairy cows are managed using preventative health care practices. They do this by providing healthy food, clean housing, safe conditions, & minimal stress. They receive vaccines, and some parasiticides, if needed. Holistic care is encouraged like using oregano oil to combat low-grade mastitis. Use of antibiotics is prohibited.
The Cornucopia Institute Organic Dairy Scorecard
The Cornucopia Institute reviewed the practices of 169 organic dairies in the United States, and placed them into 5 categories ranging from “one cow” (poor) to “five cows” (exemplary) based on their milk production or procurement practices determined by the following criteria:
- 19-question survey developed with the input of industry experts
- unannounced site inspections
- aerial photography
- satellite imagery
- examination of regulatory documents
- extensive industry interviews
The private-label brands choosing not to participate in the survey received a rating of one or two cows based on industry sources and federal records regarding their procurement processes. The top-rated brands are going well beyond the minimum legal requirements for organic certification set by the USDA. Out of 169 brands, only 85 were willingly transparent through the research process. The other 84 were not willing to participate in any way.
Top Rated – Beyond Organic (5 Cow Rating) – 32 dairies
This category of producers represents the gold standard in dairy production. Producers in this top tier manage diverse, small to medium scale family farms. They emphasize well-managed pasture. Pasture and other forage make up the majority of their animals’ feed.
These brands generally sell locally or regionally under their farm’s name, mostly through farmers markets, food cooperatives, and independently owned food stores. Many of these brands also grow most of their own feed. The majority practice superior use of manure as fertilizer and naturally control crop pests and weeds through rotations and cover crops. These brands also have “closed herds”—raising their own replacements from the young animals born on the farm. Top-rated producers deserve accolades for going beyond organic. Some long-time practitioners would argue that this is the essence of true organic farming.
- Paradise Springs Farm
- SpringWood Organic Farm
- Berle Farm
- Radiance Dairy
- Pride and Joy Dairy
- Hawthorne Valley Farm
- Dutch Meadows Farm
- Working Cows Dairy
- The Family Cow
- Alpine Heritage Creamery
- Coonridge Organic Goat Dairy
- Seven Stars Farm
- Lifeline Farm Victor
- Engelbert Farms
- Organic Pastures Dairy Company
- Burroughs Family Farms (Full Circle Dairy)
- Meant To Be Natural Food
- The Milkhouse
- Chase Hill Farm
- Camphill Village Kimberton Hills Dairy
- Butterworks Farm
- Amaltheia Organic Dairy
- Strafford Organic Creamery
- Alexandre Family EcoDairy Farms
- Nature’s One
- Maple Hill Creamery
- Thistle Hill Farm (Tarentaise Cheese)
- Crystal Ball Farm
- Saint Benoit Creamery
- Trimona Yogurt
- Rumiano Cheese Company
- Tide Mill Creamery (Tide Mill Organic Farm)
Excellent – Commitment to grazing (4 Cow Rating) – 36 dairies
Producers in this category provide ample pasture for their animals and make a credible effort to encourage natural behaviors. These brands may get milk or feed from outside sources that are certified organic. If multiple farms produce the milk for a brand, the management has close oversight and control over the practices of those farms. Dairy products from these brands come from animals that have been raised organically, at least since the last third of gestation, even if animals were purchased off-farm.
- Castle Rock Farms
- Trickling Springs Creamery
- Evans Farmhouse Creamery (Sunrise Family Farms)
- Sunrise Family Farms
- Grassmilk (Organic Valley)
- Oasis at Bird in Hand
- Kimball Brook Farm (Green Mountain Organic Creamery)
- Natural By Nature (Natural Dairy Products Corp)
- B’More Organic
- PCC Community Markets
- Fresh Breeze Dairy
- Stonyfield Farms (Lactalis)
- Organic Valley (CROPP)
- Kalona SuperNatural (Farmers Creamery)
- Annie’s Homegrown (General Mills)
- Liberte (General Mills)
- Pure Indian Foods
- Sierra Nevada Cheese Company
- Humboldt Creamery (Foster Farms Dairy)
- Green Valley Organics (Redwood Hill Farm/Emmi Roth)
- Nancy’s (Springfield Creamery)
- Green Field Farms
- Sassy Cow Creamery
- Shaw Family Dairy (New England Organic Creamery)
- Clover Sonoma
- Blue Marble Ice Cream
- Westby Cooperative Creamery
- Helios Kefir (Lifeway)
- Cedar Grove Cheese
- Good Culture
- Amish Country Farms
- White Mountain Foods
- Smari Organics
- Trader’s Point Creamery
- Organic Creamery (DCI Cheese/Saputo Specialty Cheese)
Very Good – Complying with minimum USDA standards (3 Cow Rating) – 17 dairies
Brands with a 3-cow rating are meeting the standards to qualify for legal organic status. Many are good choices for consumers. All producers in this category appear committed to meeting at least the minimum pasture requirement. In this category, replacement animals may be purchased from outside sources, sometimes from conventional management where calves have received antibiotics and young cattle might have been fed conventional and/or GMO grains.
- Upstate Farms (Upstate Niagara Coop)
- Nature’s Touch (Kwik Trip)
- Julie’s Organic (Oregon Ice Cream)
- Alden’s Ice Cream (Oregon Ice Cream)
- Cowgirl Creamery (Emmi Roth USA/Emmi Group)
- Harvest Farms (Ingles Markets)
- 365 Organic (Whole Foods)
- Stremicks Heritage Foods
- Straus Family Creamery
- Glanbia Foods
- Perry’s Ice Cream
- Wallaby (Whitewave Foods)
- Three Twins Ice Cream
- Earth’s Best (Hain Celestial)
- Sunnyside Farms Dairy (Save Mart/Super Store Industries)
Fair – Compliance with federal standards is not clear (2 Cow Rating) – 6 dairies
These brands represent industrial-scale operations or others with outstanding questions regarding their compliance with USDA organic regulations. Private-label dairy products often fall into this category because they may be getting all, or some, of their milk from factory-farm sources. These brands may have a lack of control over their milk supply due to reduced oversight at the farms that supply their milk. None of the 2-cow rated brands was willing to participate in Cornucopia’s research.
- Sky Top Farms
- Yami Yogurt (Auburn Dairy Products, Inc.)
- Boulder Ice Cream
- Greenwise (Publix)
- New Seasons Market
Poor – Industrial organics (1 Cow Rating) – 33 dairies
Brands with a 1-cow rating generally depend on industrial-scale dairy operations, some milking thousands of cows each, that almost universally skirt or misrepresent the pasture requirements. No producers in this category were willing to participate in Cornucopia’s study. Transparency is a hallmark of the organic food movement, and Cornucopia believes it is essential that producers remain open with their customers to maintain the confidence consumers have in the organic seal. At a minimum, these operations are not following the spirit of the organic label. Generally, private-label products fall into this category because of their lack of transparency and the fact that most get some of their milk from factory-farm sources.
Where Cornucopia’s investigation has found that producers may not be meeting the federally set minimum requirements for pasturing—allowing animals to exhibit their natural behaviors or other elements of the organic requirements—a 1-cow rating has been applied. We have shared what information we have available on these operations and, when appropriate, have filed formal legal complaints with the USDA.
- Meijer Organics (Meijer)
- Simply Nature (Aldi)
- Cadia (KeHE)
- MOM’s Organic Market
- Nature’s Promise (GiantFood, a subsidiary of Ahold)
- Kirkland Signature (Costco)
- Winn Dixie Organics (Bi-Lo)
- Natural Directions (Unified Grocers)
- Market Basket (DeMoulas Super Markets, Inc)
- Stew Leonard’s
- Simple Truth (Kroger)
- Friendly Farms (Aldi)
- Hy Vee
- Simply Balanced (Target)
- Trader Joe’s
- Earth Fare
- HEB Organics (HEB Grocery Company/Central Market)
- Harris Teeter Organics (Kroger)
- Wellsley Farms (BJ’s Wholesale Club)
- Nature’s Place (Hannaford)
- Great Value Food (Walmart)
- O Organics (Safeway)
- Nature’s Basket (Giant Eagle)
- Woodstock (UNFI)
- Central Market (HEB Organics)
- Wild Harvest (Albertson’s)
- Clearly Organic (Associated Wholesale Grocers)
- Full Circle (Topco)
- Western Family
- Nature’s Best
Very Poor (0 Cow Rating) – 45 dairies
No producers in this category were willing to participate in Cornucopia’s research. Transparency is a hallmark of the organic food movement, and Cornucopia believes it is essential that producers remain open with their customers to maintain the confidence consumers have in the organic seal.
- Horizon (DanoneWave)
- Olympus Dairy
- Swissland Cheese Company
- Honest Infant Formula (Honest Company)
- Galbani (Lactalis American Group)
- Double Rainbow
- Applegate Farms (Hormel)
- Spring Hill Cheese (Petaluma Creamery)
- Similac (Abbott Laboratories)
- High Meadow (Aurora Dairy)
- County Line Farms
- Hiland Dairy
- Challenge Dairy Products
- Latta (Latta USA)
- Cocoa Metro
- Steckler Grassfed
- Mama Sattva
- Rockview Farms Organic Milk (Rockview Farms)
- Umpqua Dairy
- Byrne Dairy
- Voskos (Sun Valley Dairy)
- McCluskey Brothers at Shillelagh Glen Farms
- Happy Family (Groupe Danone)
- Smith Brothers Farms
- Samish Bay Cheese Farm
- Roth Organics (Emmi Roth)
- Wholesome Valley (Galaxy Foods)
- Yoatz (Facci Food Company)
- Perrigo Nutritionals (PBM Nutritionals)
- Champlain Valley Dairy
- Rogue Creamery
- Sunrise Yogurt
- Kemps (Dairy Farmers of America)
- Green Mountain Creamery (Ehrmann Commonwealth Dairy)
- Alta Dena (Dean Foods)
- Sunshine Dairy
- Shamrock Farms
- Stonewall Farms
- Vermont Organics (Perrigo Nutritionals)
- Pavel’s Yogurt
- Mother’s Choice (Larsen’s Creamery)
- Pure Eire Dairy
- Santini Foods