Organic Versus Conventional Milk: Health Issues And Environmental Perspectives (Guest Post at Science of Mom)

I’m guest-posting today! Alice at Science of Mom has recently featured two articles about conventional versus organic milk; the first claimed that milk from rBST-treated cows was the same as (or even preferable to) milk from non-rBST-treated cows, while the second claimed that conventional milk was just as good as organic. As a chemist with a special interest in environmental and social issues, I have a different take. Here are the major points/conclusions:

  • Small, idyllic-sounding conventional family dairy farms (like the one described in in this recent guest post on Science of Mom) sound lovely. If everyone raised dairy cattle like she does, there’d be little reason to consider organic milk. However, farms like this one are the exception in the U.S. dairy industry, and are rare exceptions at that.  The vast majority of U.S. dairy cows are housed in animal feeding operations (AFOs), and specifically in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). By EPA definition, then, both AFOs and CAFOs are crowded, and CAFOs are major sources of environmental pollution.
  • Milk from dairy cows, regardless of how they’re raised, is free from antibiotics. However, antibiotic overuse — meaning use of antibiotics in a prophylactic sense and as necessary for treatment of diseases spread through unnecessary husbandry practices — is promoting the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Because conventional operations including CAFOs promote the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (thorough antibiotic overuse) that then proliferate in the environment, it’s not necessary to have contact with or consume a conventionally-raised animal or product to be negatively impacted by these practices.
  • CAFOs produce tremendous amounts of concentrated environmental waste. There’s far too much of it for the land to absorb, so it runs off into the surface water (lakes and rivers) and leeches into the groundwater (aquifers that feed municipal supplies and wells). Excess nitrogen in the water is associated with acid rain, fish-kills, blue-baby syndrome (methemoglobinemia), and global warming.
  • Conventional farming practices result in dairy cattle consuming large amounts of chicken feces and chicken feed, which contains cattle meat. This cannibalization of cattle by cattle increases risk of spreading BSE (mad cow disease) in the U.S.
  • Conventional farms that use rBST increase the likelihood that their cows will suffer mastitis (an animal welfare issue.
  • Conventional dairy cattle have less access to pasture, which results in a different (and less healthy) fatty acid profile in the milk. Organic milk is higher in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, while conventional milk is higher in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid.
  • In the end, organic milk is healthier for everyone: your family, the cows producing the milk, humanity as a whole, and the planet.

Read the full article at Science of Mom.



1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Ken Troyer
    Feb 19, 2013 @ 18:49:01

    I just happened to stumble across this website and since I am a dairy farmer I would like to give my point of view. We are very passionate about the animal care given on our farm and the health of the cattle is the most important factor in our operation. We milk 150 cows so I don’t know if that would be a CAFO or not. Yes they are housed indoors and it is interesting to note that that is where they prefer to be. The place we provide for them is more comfortable than nature can give. And about the global warming… It is a proven fact that the milk produced today is leaving a much smaller carbon footprint than 40 years ago. This is due to the advancement in technology and genetics, not forcing the cows to milk but learning what holds them back from being a healthy cow and utilizing the feed given to them. I will admit there are some bad apples in every basket but we are proud of the operation of this 3rd generation family farm.


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