Is organic dairy healthier?

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Answered by: Eli, An Expert in the Diet and Health Category
Why buy organic dairy? You get more for your money when you purchase organic dairy. You’re assured organic milk, butter, yogurt, cheese and ice cream come from animals that weren’t treated with antibiotics and hormones, so they’re healthier for you and your family.

Choosing organic dairy also supports family farmers and a system of agriculture that’s environmentally sound and assures the health and vitality of both animals and land.

What is organic dairy?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture organic seal verifies organic dairy farmers meet animal health and welfare standards, do not use antibiotics or growth hormones, feed their animals a 100-percent organic diet, and provide animals with access to the outdoors.

·     Animals are raised humanely. Cattle, sheep and goats must have access to outside pastures and direct sunlight.

·     Organic dairy animals graze on grass. Organic animals must graze on grass for the full length of the local grazing season, for a minimum of 120 days. Conventional dairy farms are not required to pasture their cows.

·     Organic dairy animals are fed 100-percent organic feed. It’s vegetarian feed, with only plant-based fiber sources. The feed never is genetically engineered and has been grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.

·     No growth promoters or hormones are allowed. Hormones are used routinely by non-organic dairies. Shoppers who wish to avoid dairy produced with hormones and drugs should choose organic.

·     Antibiotics and other drugs may not be used routinely as preventive measures. Treatment is required for illness or to save an animal’s life, but afterward the animal can’t be labeled organic.

Is organic dairy healthier?

Yes. When cows eat fresh grass, their milk is different than that of grain-fed cows. An English study found organic milk, compared to conventional, contained 60 to 80 percent more antioxidants and healthy fats when the cows are eating fresh grass in the summer, and 50 to 60 percent more in the winter. Organic dairy also has been shown to have higher levels of vitamin E, heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.

The benefits can be passed on. A study of lactating mothers found those consuming the greatest percentage of their meat and dairy from organic sources had the highest levels of heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory fats called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in their breast milk.

Is organic dairy healthier for the environment?

Yes. Methane gas produced by cows is a potent greenhouse gas. Grass-based organic dairy farms produce substantially less of it — up to 40 percent less than a conventional dairy farm. Also, organic agriculture means no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers are used to grow feed for the cattle.

Is organic dairy better for farmers?

Yes. According to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the organic dairy sector provides greater economic opportunity and generates more jobs in rural communities than conventional dairies.

What does "grass-fed" mean?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not defined the "grass-fed" label for dairy. This means milk, cream, yogurt and other dairy foods with the "grass-fed" label may be from cows that foraged on grass their entire lives, or not. There's no way for consumers to tell.

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