Organic lobby defends health value of its milk from study claims

By Guy Montague-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Organic milk Nutrition

The Soil Association has hit back at claims made in a newly published study that organic milk is similar in “nutritional quality and wholesomeness” to conventional milk.

An article published in last week about the study in the Journal of Dairy Science​ attracted a good deal of comment from readers. (Journal of Dairy Science, 2010, 93: 1918-1925). To read the article, click here​.

Several readers argued that there is plenty of evidence suggesting that organic milk has a better nutritional profile than conventional counterparts. Others added that the scope of the study, which looked at the fatty acid profile of different milks, was too narrow to carry any significant weight in a debate about the overall health credentials of the two milk types.

Soil Association spokesperson Clio Turton pointed in the direction of a group of studies indicating that organic milk contains more beneficial nutrients than non-organic alternatives.

Nutritional value

Turton noted six studies that suggest organic milk contains more fat-soluble nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acid, Vitamin E, and beta-carotene. Of these studies, Turton said the most scientifically robust found UK organic milk to have on average 68 per cent higher levels of fatty acid omega-3 and a healthier omega-3:6 profile than non-organic milk (Journal of Dairy Science, 2006, 89:1938-1950).

Research into the nutritional value of organic milk also includes in-vivo​ studies, which Turton said provides evidence of positive effects on human health.

“Dutch government funded research found mothers who eat organic dairy products and drink organic milk have more beneficial nutrients in their breast milk.​ (British Journal of Nutrition, 2007, 97:735-743)

“And organic mum’s children suffer more than a third less eczema up to their second birthday than children of non-organic mum’s.”

Supporters of organic milk argue that it contains more beneficial nutrients and is better for human health because organic cows eat more grass and less feed like maize and soya.

Agree to disagree

The scientists behind the new study in the Journal of Dairy Science agreed that diet was a crucial factor in determining the fatty acid profile of milk but argued that the profile is affected by “dietary components and formulations rather than by production management practices.” ​As an example, the authors noted the potential of feeding cows supplements of fish oil or other products rich in EPA and DHA.

Considering the data on the fatty acid profile of organic and conventional milk alongside a previous analysis, the authors concluded that the two milk types were “similar in nutritional quality and wholesomeness.”​(Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2008, 108: 1198-1203).

This previous study concluded that there are “few and minor differences in the composition”​ of organic and conventional milk having analysed both for quality (antibiotics and bacterial counts), nutritional value (fat, protein, and solids-not-fat), and hormonal composition. Its lead author, John Vicini of Monsanto Company, was also part of the team behind the latest study in the Journal of Dairy Science.

Funding for the first study was provided by Monsanto Company while the support for the latest second was provided by the Monsanto Company as well as Cornell Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, USDA.

Related topics R&D Fresh Milk Dairy Health Check

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Study sounds "udderly" manipulative

Posted by Joi Gleason,

Thank you Dr. Benbrook. As someone who grew up on a farm, near a dairy farm in central Illinois, I can attest to the fact that there is slim pickings in the pastures from late August through Spring. You have to wonder if the timing of this study was purposeful by it's sponsor. I doubt farmers are profiting as much as Monsanto.

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Posted by Mike Watters,

I have worked as a dairy nutritionist for over 35 years, with both conventional and Organic dairies. My one observation is that most farmers couldn't give a rip about their customer's health. Its all about making the most profit. Look in the mirror and ask yourself which matters most to you, healthy children or profits?

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More On Milk Quality Study

Posted by Charles Benbrook,

The Monsanto study tested milk samples collected in October and November, the months of the year when pasture quality would be at its lowest in most parts of the U.S. As a result, relatively modest differences in CLA and omega 3 levels would be expected. Instead, the differences were large (23% and 63%) and highly statistically significant. If the samples had been taken evenly over a 12-month period, to more fairly represent the milk supply, the differences would surely have been even greater. The authors failed to point this out, for obvious reasons. In addition, their dismissive statements about the highly favorable fatty acid profile in organic milk versus conventional and rbST milk are expressions of editorial opinion, not statements of scientitifc fact. On whole, this study actually confirms what several other studies have found -- meaningful nutritional and health benefits associated with consumption of organic milk, especially during the times of the year when cows are feeding on lush pastures.

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