Is Organic Milk Healthier? Best Options for You

Monday Aug 11 | BY |
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Organic milk

Is organic milk really better for you than conventional? A new study reports on the issue.

For years the debate has been ongoing—is organic really better for you?

Several studies over the last few years have indicated that yes, organic produce tends to have fewer pesticides. A recent 2014 comprehensive study review, for example, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, reported that organically grown fruits, vegetables, and grains had lower levels of pesticides than conventionally grown produce.

But do organic foods have more nutrients? Studies have produced conflicting results. In 2012, for example, a team of scientists from the Stanford University conducted a study review and reported that organic meat and produce are no more nutritious than conventionally grown foods, though they agreed that organic foods reduce exposure to pesticide residues.

This study was in direct conflict with a previous study published in 2011, in which scientists from the Newcastle University in England reviewed the same research and concluded organics were more nutritious, with more vitamin C and other beneficial nutrients like flavonoids than conventional food.

Results from the 2014 study mentioned above also showed that organic produce was healthier—with 17 percent more antioxidants than conventionally grown crops.

While that debate continues, a new study looked at dairy products, specifically, organic milk. Is it really healthier for you, or should you save the extra cash?

What the Study Found

Researchers from Washington State University (WSU) compared nearly 400 samples of organic and non-organic while milk from 14 commercial milk processors over a period of 18 months. Results showed the following:

  • Organic has more omega-3 fatty acids: We’ve come to accept that we need more omega-3 fatty acids in our diet. This study found that organic milk contained a much healthier ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s than conventionally grown milk. Specifically, organic milk had an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 2.28 to 1, which is what health experts recommend for reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer. Conventional milk, on the other hand, had a ratio of 5.8 to 1—up to 2.5 times or 62 percent higher.
  • It’s all about diet: Why the difference? Researchers pointed to the cows’ diets. While conventional dairy cows eat corn and corn silage, which is high in omega-6s, organic dairy cows spend a minimum of 120 days a year on a grass pasture and eat hay when grass pasture isn’t available.

According to lead researcher Charles Benbrook, program leader with WSU’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, “The very large increase in omega-3 fatty acids in organic milk…really surprised the whole research team. The magnitude of the difference is the largest I know of between an organic food and its conventional counterpart.”

Interestingly, similar results have been found with grass-fed beef. A study published in 2006 looked at fatty acid concentrations in Australian beef, comparing grass-fed to short-term grain fed and long-term feedlot fed. Results showed a significantly higher level of total omega-3 fatty acids and long-chain n-3 fatty acids in the grass-fed beef than the grain fed.

Studies Also Indicate Organic Milk Has More Nutrients

Besides the fatty acids, does organic milk have more vitamins or other nutrients? There are some studies that say “yes.”

  • 2004: A Danish study found that organic milk had more vitamin E, and more free-radical-fighting carotenoids—two- to three-times higher than in conventional milk.
  • 2011: A study funded by the European Union reported that organic milk has higher concentrations of healthy fatty acids and lower levels of saturated fat.
More Benefits of Organic Milk

Fans of organic milk typically choose it for it’s other benefits:

  • No growth hormones: Conventional dairy farms in the U.S. are allowed to use growth hormones in their dairy cows to increase milk production. Bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST), which is not permitted in the European Union or in Canada, has been linked with several types of cancer. That alone is enough for many health conscious consumers to happily part with a bit more money for the organic product, which does not include growth hormones.
  • No antibiotics: Conventional dairy farms may give the cows antibiotics to prevent disease. The CDC recently reported that antibiotic-resistant bacteria is one of our most serious health threats, and that the use of antibiotics in our food supply is encouraging the growth of bacteria that can resist current medications. Organic milk doesn’t contain antibiotics—the USDA doesn’t allow it in organic farming.

Still, some questions remain about organic milk. Though the standard consumer may imagine the cows enjoying a wide, green pasture most of their lives, the rules for organic milk don’t say how long or how often cows should graze outdoors. That means that some companies may allow the occasional venture outdoors, followed by a long period of time in a small pen or stall.

The solution? Choose grass-fed organic milk to be sure it comes from cows that really do enjoy most of their lives on a green field. Look for the “100% grass-fed” label and talk to your grocer or dairy cow farmer to find out how the animals were really raised. To find small, local farms in your area, check out Local Harvest and Eat Wild.

What do you think of this recent study? Will you switch to organic milk as a result?

* * *

Charles M. Benbrook, et al., “Organic Production Enhances Milk Nutritional Quality by Shifting Fatty Acid Composition: A United States-Wide, 18-Month Study,” PLoS One, December 9, 2013,

Sam Frizell, “Study: Organic Produce Has Fewer Pesticides, More Antioxidants,” Time, July 12, 2014,

Crystal Smith-Spangler, et al., “Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?: A Systematic Review,” Annals of Internal Medicine, September 4, 2012,

K. Brandt, et al., “Agroecosystem Management and Nutritional Quality of Plant Foods: The Case of Organic Fruits and Vegetables,” Critical Reviews in Plant Sciencies, April 29, 2011; 30(1-2): 177-197,

Kenneth Chang, “Parsing of Data Led to Mixed Messages on Organic Food’s Value,” New York Times, October 15, 2012,

“Frequently Asked Questions About Antibiotic Resistance and Food Safety,” CDC,

Jacob He. Nielsen and Leif Skibsted, “Higher antioxidant content in organic milk than in conventional milk due to feeding strategy,” Danish Research Centre for Organic Farming, September 2004,

G. Butler, et al., “Fat composition of organic and conventional retail milk in northeast England,” J. Dairy Sci. 94: 24-36,

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho.


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  1. Neil says:

    Cows aren’t known for their mental gymnastics, nor are there any good reason why humans need to drink it. If i was to have any milk it would be goats milk direct from a farm goat, more omegas.
    There is a reason why a large percentage of people in the world can’t tolerate milk – we aren’t supposed to drink it! We created ‘ the dairy industry’, great for making a profit, poor for human health. Choose organic almond milk, oat milk and rice milk instead.

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