Organic and conventional milk may look the same when poured into a glass. But they are hardly the same product.
Conventional milk in the U.S. usually comes from cows raised on huge factory farms, often called “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations” or CAFO’s.
- Have zero access to pasture
- Are fed a diet of GMO soy & corn-based feed, which is unnatural to them and difficult to digest
- Receive artificial growth hormones to help them produce more milk
- Live in confined, tight quarters that promote the spread of disease
- Receive frequent antibiotics to control diseases caused by overcrowding and mastitis
- Have short life spans
Not all conventional cows are raised this way, but most are. You can assume your dairy products come from farms like this, unless you have seen the farm where your milk is produced, or know that the brand you buy has different practices.
What a CAFO might look like:
How is organic dairy different?
Organic milk comes from cows who:
- Graze on pesticide-free pasture at least 120 days a year
- Are fed either dried grasses/alfalfa or organic, non-GMO feed when they’re not out on pasture
- Are never given artificial growth hormones
- Never receive antibiotics
- Live longer, healthier lives than factory farm cows
Organic farms and brands may vary, but these are the minimum standards they all have to meet, by definition.
What an organic, pasture-based farm looks like:
Is organic milk more nutritious?
Science has proven that organic whole milk is significantly more nutritious than conventional whole milk, due to the pasture-based diets of organic cows.
The more cows graze on pasture, the more omega-3 fats their milk contains. Omega-3’s are essential for heart health, and most Americans do not get enough. Read more about the science here.
What dairy brands are the best?
Organic Valley – the only nationally-distributed brand I know of that puts a huge emphasis on pasturing their cows (more about that here) and are cooperative-based so farmers get a fair price for what they produce.
Stonyfield Organic – all Stonyfield’s products are made with Organic Valley milk.
Kerrygold cheeses & butter – though not Certified Organic – Kerrygold products come from pasture-raised cows in Ireland (where all cows graze on pasture!).
Straus Family Creamery – From pasture-based farms in Northern California; only distributed on the West Coast.
Clover Organic – only distributed in California, as far as I know.
Other small, regional brands – read the package labels of local brands in your area. If a company sources from pasture-based farms, they’ll tell you that on the carton!
Terms to look for on packaging:
- Organic and…
- Pasture-raised or grass-fed
- Certified Humane