Food Comparisons Food Myths Nutrition

Why Organic and Conventional Milk Are Completely Different

organic milk

Organic and conventional milk may look the same when poured into a glass. But they are hardly the same product.

Here’s why.

Conventional milk in the U.S. usually comes from cows raised on huge factory farms, often called “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations” or CAFO’s.

Conventional cows:

  • 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:

organic milk

Image source: USDA NRCS

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:

organic dairy cows

My friend Emily’s organic dairy farm in Elko, Minnesota

Is organic milk more nutritious?

Yes.

Science has proven that organic whole milk is significantly more nutritious than conventional whole milk, due to the pasture-based diets of organic cows.

organic dairy

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
  • Sustainable

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14 Comments

  • Reply
    Emily @ Life on Food
    June 15, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    My husband thinks Stonyfield Organic is the best milk. I have read a lot about milk lately and there is no way I am buying anything but organic from now on.

    • Reply
      Amelia Winslow
      June 15, 2014 at 9:25 pm

      We don’t have Stonyfield milk on the West Coast, but I know you’re in good hands with that brand!

  • Reply
    Kaylin @ Enticing Healthy Eating
    June 15, 2014 at 8:23 pm

    Hello! I have been following your blog for a few months now, but have never commented until today. I just had to comment on this article and thank you for bringing up this topic as well as explaining the differences between organic milk and conventional milk in such a way that it’s easy to understand and also just reinforces my decision to ALWAYS buy organic. I can’t afford to buy all my foods organic. Actually I can barely afford to buy any organic! But one in particular I always do is milk. And it’s for these reasons. So thank you again! Great article!

    • Reply
      Amelia Winslow
      June 15, 2014 at 9:27 pm

      Thank you for your comment, Kaylin! I’m so glad you are enjoying my blog, and agree that this is an important topic. We are certainly on a budget too, but obviously I’m with you — organic dairy is totally worth the extra money!

  • Reply
    Emily @ Zweber Farms
    June 18, 2014 at 7:37 am

    Thank you for the shoutout Amelia! Your post shares a lot of good information. If any of your readers have questions about how organic cows are raised they can always email me at emjfull1 (at) gmail.com. We need to get you and your family out to our farm soon. Maybe after baby #2 is born 🙂

  • Reply
    Bean Bytes 95
    June 22, 2014 at 9:00 pm

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  • Reply
    Erin @ Girl Gone Veggie
    June 23, 2014 at 8:26 am

    Thank you so much for this info! We recently switched to organic milk and my husband has been complaining about the price difference. I’m sending this to him to show him why it’s worth it. 😀

    • Reply
      Amelia Winslow
      June 23, 2014 at 10:37 am

      Glad I could give you some organic ammunition, Erin 😉

  • Reply
    F&F Friday Favorites ~ 06.27.14 | Fitness & Feta
    June 27, 2014 at 5:48 am

    […] Did you know this? Why organic and conventional milk are completely different […]

  • Reply
    Francesca
    June 29, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    Awesome piece! The more expensive price is relative due to the longer expiration date. Thanks 🙂

  • Reply
    Lauren
    February 20, 2015 at 10:03 am

    Hi Amelia, I love your blog. I have been reading for a long time, but I think this is my first time commenting.

  • Reply
    Lauren
    February 20, 2015 at 10:11 am

    Oops it looked like my entire comment didn’t go through! I read this post a while ago and wanted to ask a follow-up question. I give my 15 month old daughter organic milk. I recently found out about a local dairy company that will deliver fresh milk to our house. They are not certified organic, but I know that can sometimes be cost prohibitive for smaller farms. They do not use bovine growth hormones or antibiotics. The cows are pastured and eat grass, hay and homegrown feed (corn and hay silage). The milk is not ultra-pasteurized and comes from small farms within 40 miles of home – there are only three days from udder to fridge. It seems like this is a better option than buying organic milk from the grocery store. What are your thoughts? Is there something I’m missing, follow-up questions I should ask, etc.? Thanks so much, again love your site 🙂

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