What's the difference between organic milk and regular milk? About $3 per gallon in most stores -- but smart consumers are realizing that for health reasons alone, it's worth paying extra for organic milk.
One big advantage organic milk has over regular milk is its shelf life: most brands of organic milk are sterilized at very high temperatures (around 280 degrees F), so it can keep for up to two months. Because regular pasteurized milk is heated to only 165 degrees F or lower, it doesn't have the same shelf life. So if you're concerned about milk going bad in your refrigerator, organic milk might actually save you money.
Organic Milk: A Healthy Choice
Organic milk also shines in comparison to regular milk when you consider what's left out -- artificial hormones in milk, for instance. Before the U.S. Department of Agriculture gives its coveted "USDA Organic" label to milk, the USDA certifies that cows are not given the synthetic hormone known as recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH, also known as BGH, recombinant bovine somatotropin or rBST). Farmers often give rBGH to dairy cows to make them more productive.
But rBGH also makes these cows more sickly, causing mastitis (inflammation of the udders, often caused by infection). And it's not just cows that are getting sick: rBGH has also been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer in humans. The additive has been banned in Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and the entire European Union -- many are calling for a U.S. ban on rBGH, too.
But hormones aren't the only problem with regular milk: the overuse of antibiotics in milk is rampant among dairy farmers, just like it is on most factory farms. These antibiotics are given routinely to cattle (and many other livestock) and the drugs show up in the milk the cows produce. Pesticides, too, are also present in the feed of dairy cattle, and these too can show up in milk. Organic milk, however, has none of these ingredients, since their use is forbidden in USDA-certified dairy cows, who can only eat certified organic feed.
Organic Milk and Them Wide Open Spaces
In 2010, the USDA closed a loophole in their organic regulations, so all organic dairy cattle must now spend much of the year grazing in open pastures, as opposed to feed lots or indoor feeding pens. While this may seem more natural and healthy, there is some controversy over whether it makes the milk healthier.
Advocates claim that milk from cows that graze in pastures contains more conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs), which is a healthy fat that some research shows might have health benefits. There is not, however, any significant body of scientific evidence supporting the nutritional superiority of organic milk.
There's little argument, however, that organic farming and dairy practices are better for the environment, if only because of their reduced use of pesticides, antibiotics, hormones and other synthetic chemical compounds. When these benefits and the longer shelf life of organic milk are considered, it's easy to see why organic milk is a good buy.