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Organic Moo or Regular Moo?
June 5, 2011 4:06 PM   Subscribe

Organic milk: what is the benefit?

My baby is going to switch from formula to whole milk later this month. I want to get organic milk for him. My husband thinks this is a waste of money. Can you help me evaluate clearly what the benefit is of organic milk over regular milk? Assume both are rbgh free.

I admit some of my desire to buy organic milk is probably from peer pressure - it seems to be what all our friends are doing. But it is pretty expensive. I've read several articles about this is they all seem biased one way or the other.

I know that cows which produce organic milk probably have more enjoyable lives, and organic milk may be better for the environment. I will factor that into my decision. In this question I am solely concerned with the differences in the milk itself, be they nutritional, hormone content, pesticides, etc., whatever. Evidence based stuff is preferred but anecdotal data is acceptable.

Thanks for your help!
posted by bq to Health & Fitness (50 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
We've found that the organic milk we buy seems to have a far greater expiration date than the other milk available at the store, and seems to stay fresh longer; I'm assuming there is a processing reason for this. For us, having milk that doesn't go bad before we use it is a good reason to buy it - works out to be cheaper in the long run.
posted by jenkinsEar at 4:12 PM on June 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Interesting article here.

The thought of drinking milk from a cow that's been pumped full of artificial growth hormone and antibiotics weirds me out. But I don't think non-organic milk is actually worse for your health.

Depending on how much milk you go through, the point jenkinsEar made about increased time before expiration dates is important for financial calculations.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:17 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Shelf life of organic milk explained.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:17 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


The organic milk I buy is only $1.30 more per gallon than the non-organic milk at my grocery store. Have you done the math? You may be surprised. I was. I was only looking at the numbers and not really processing the actual difference. The $1.30 per gallon is an acceptable cost for me because we don't go through several gallons a week.

Organic milk tastes more like milk than non-organic milk, in my opinion, and the expiration date thing that jenkinsEar mentioned makes it a better value for us, too. I can buy two gallons at the same grocery visit and not have to worry about one of them going bad in the fridge.
posted by cooker girl at 4:20 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


We've found that the organic milk we buy seems to have a far greater expiration date than the other milk available at the store, and seems to stay fresh longer; I'm assuming there is a processing reason for this. For us, having milk that doesn't go bad before we use it is a good reason to buy it - works out to be cheaper in the long run.

Organic milk is often ultrapasteurized (often because it is shipped long distances, which could negate an argument that it is better than the environment). I usually buy ultrapasteurized non-organic milk, myself.
posted by grouse at 4:20 PM on June 5, 2011


I've read before that if you can only buy a few organic foods, milk should be one of them because of the antibiotics and growth hormones. WebMD cites a Consumer Reports study and says:

The Consumer Reports article mentions concerns that widespread use of antibiotics in conventionally raised animals may spawn drug resistance and that synthetic growth hormones (which are banned for poultry and any organically raised animals) could cause cancer or speed up puberty for girls.
posted by triggerfinger at 4:20 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


a far greater expiration date

It's likely that it has been ultra-pasteurized (UHT) in anticipation of slower sales. This has nothing to do with quality, and I tend to prefer the taste of non-ultra-pasteurized milk.
posted by pullayup at 4:20 PM on June 5, 2011


Organic milk tastes more like milk than non-organic milk

The taste difference is more likely to do with ultrapasteurization making the milk sweeter.
posted by grouse at 4:21 PM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Buy it for the same reason you buy your pets decent food: it tastes better. I swear, the 2% organic tastes richer than whole non-organic.
posted by notsnot at 4:23 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


It should be noted that not all organic milk is equal, for example here in the UK its pretty rare to find UHT treated milk. Also homogenised vs non homogenised makes quite a difference.

Groundbreaking research proves the benefits of buying organic milk throughout the year.
In total, six studies have now found that organic milk has more fat-soluble nutrients - omega-3 fatty acid, Vitamin E and beta-carotene - than non-organic milk, as well as a healthier omega 3:6 ratio (skimmed milk does not have these nutrients). [1] The most scientifically robust study is by Glasgow and Liverpool Universities, which found that UK (whole) organic milk has on average 68% higher levels of the essential fatty acid omega-3 and a healthier omega-3:6 profile than non-organic milk.
posted by Lanark at 4:26 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've read before that if you can only buy a few organic foods, milk should be one of them because of the antibiotics and growth hormones.

That's mostly my take, though it's also an implicit vote against the miserable standards of dairy production in the US. That said, not everything with an "organic" label is an improvement on conventional practices, and there are non-miserable producers that aren't organic, but you have to seek them out.

(I buy organic non-UHT milk from grass-fed cattle, and I can taste the difference.)
posted by holgate at 4:34 PM on June 5, 2011


I do not know the full story behind this, science-wise, but my dermatologist told me to switch to organic milk because it was possible that the hormones were causing my acne. I never drank that much milk in the first place, but it did make a noticeable difference for my skin and the number of acne breakouts that I have.
posted by jschu at 4:34 PM on June 5, 2011


If you can get Straus Family milk where you are, get that. It's not ultrapasteurized, and the cream-on-top kind is ridiculously delicious. No growth hormones, no antibiotics.
posted by rtha at 4:34 PM on June 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Antibiotics and synthetic growth hormones in US dairy farming are the compelling reason as far as I'm concerned. To give you a frame of reference, while we eat whole foods, we bought no organic goods at all - except milk until I researched standards for dairy farming here and was satisfied by the regulations for milk you can buy here. Just so you know, not every country raises and farms dairy the way it is farmed in the US and if you want to look at non-organic milk as being tampered or tainted, I am not going to argue with you.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:40 PM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I cannot find the link right now but as I recall, PCBs and other chemicals accumulate in the environment and eventually find themselves near the top of the food web. With long lives orcas (killer whales) accumulate quite a bit of this in their fat before they have their first calf. Unfortunately their first calf usually dies whereas future calfs survive. As I recall, the hypothesis was that the first calf received a flood of contaminants from the mother's milk leading to death but after so much had been released to the first born, the subsequent calves would receive smaller doses of these chemicals.

I was able to find this article published in Science of the Total Environment showing how mothers milk is contaminated in orcas and how in turn this gives a high dose to calves. Key sentence here: "These concentrations in the blubber were higher in calves than in lactating females, indicating that large quantities of the persistent organohalogens transferred from the mother to the calf through lactation."

I know orcas are carnivores and cows are herbivores, and I know that orcas are near the top of the marine food web and cows are only one step above grass, but the point is that what's in your (a cows) environment eventually gets in you (a cow) and if it's fat soluble it often times gets in your (cow) milk. It's this line of reasoning that makes me say that if I were you, I'd limit the amount of non-organic dairy (not just milk) you or your family consume.
posted by pwb503 at 5:07 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is a powerful argument as far as I'm concerned.

"Dutch research provides us the first proof of an actual health impact from organic food. This peer reviewed study shows that if infants up to two years old and their mothers eat organic dairy foods, then the infants suffer a 36% lower incidence of eczema (a type of allergic reaction common among Western children). [2], The mechanism is unknown but could be due to the higher CLA level in organic milk and in the breast milk of mothers consuming organic milk (as shown by another study - [3])."
posted by bq at 5:28 PM on June 5, 2011


Not that you asked, but please buy the full-fat stuff.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:38 PM on June 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


Full Disclosure - I was raised on a dairy farm and have worked at farmer's markets for a organically certified farm that sells raw (non-pasteurized) dairy throughout the state of California. So I have a bias towards raw.

Advance apology if this is TMI!

All dairy farmers and families drink their own milk. It is unpasteurized/raw. This is how I was raised. My mother drank it when I was in her womb. I have always had a strong immune system and healed quickly from bone breaks. I still eat raw dairy and my good cholesterol levels are off the charts. There are 9 others in my family. They are similar and my mother is still kicking along at age 93.

The basic belief is that the beneficial bacteria are destroyed in the pasteurization process. Once pasteurized the food is considered "dead," Vitamins are added along with other fillers.

This is a hot-button issue right now - raw vs. pasteurized.

Cows are ruminants (four-stomached) Grass is their natural diet. If they are fed corn and grains only it's is too rich for their system. It would be as if we ate chocolate all the time. Our livers would be thrashed very quickly. The animals are more prone to have e-coli H157 issues as corn in the gut provides a host for H157 to survive whereas grass will do the opposite. The corn/grain diet also increases sickness (mastitis, etc.) which then leads to more use of anti-biotics to treat the animal, etc.

The ideal environment is for the animals to be on grass. A lot of problems would be mitigated and it is better for the animal. Some farms can do that. Others can't due to weather/water concerns. At my family's farm, the cows were in corrals and on cement and fed very little grass (outside of hay) Of course we drank the milk and there were no issues.

Pasteurization boils. Homogenization crushes. Homogenization crushes the cellular structure of the cream so it is evenly dispersed throughout the milk. That is why you won't see cream-lines in homogenized milk.

Pasteurization is a fail-safe system that covers a lot of issues that affect the quality of the milk.

If the environment is a slop-hole, not beneficial to the animal and the cows have increased occurrences of mastitis or probability of e-coli due to diet....all of these issues are taken care of through pasteurization. So a tradeoff is made

My feeling is that most people (not all) who have issues with dairy is because of the process that it goes through rather than the dairy itself. Having said that the dairy farmer needs to uphold his end of the bargain and not only produce a quality product but to do it with care and cleanliness.

And if critics are going to argue the negative aspects of raw dairy, then make sure they do the same with pasteurized. There have been E-coli H157 and listeria outbreaks with pasteurized dairy also.

There is risk in everything. Get informed and go from there.

If this is not a concern, this is what I would look for if you want organic, pasteurized product

-Does it all come from one specific farm or is it milk that is combined from several farms?
-Is it a CAFO or smaller operation?
-What are the animals fed?

-The more milk is mixed the higher probability there will be issues with the milk. Horizon Milk does this. They source from many dairies to various creameries throughout the west. And ost organic farmers will now tell you that "organic" doesn't mean anything anymore. It has been watered down by regulations, high certification fees, etc. Most farmers I know don't get certified for those reasons. They rely on their customer base, trust, quality of food and "open door" policies where the buyer can visit the farm themselves so they see the processes first-hand.

-Look for one dairy, preferably small, with animals that are being fed grass, hay, sileage, hayleage and grain. Also look for one with a good business model. Straus Farms out of the Bay Area has done a good job across the board with this. This will take care of issues of milk combining and what the animals eat.

-If you can get milk from the non-obvious breeds, get it! Most farms milk Holsteins. They produce a lot and butterfat content is low. Jersey's produce less with butterfat content higher....and so. Higher butterfat content is richer and sweeter.

I am not sure what is available in the Seattle area. The whole west coast is pretty well on it regarding issues and availability.

If you'd like more info contact me and I can hook you up with more resources

Milk is a fascinating subject
posted by goalyeehah at 6:01 PM on June 5, 2011 [141 favorites]


I made yogurt from a half gallon of Straus Family Farm cream topped milk in a glass bottle a couple of months ago.

I heated the milk to 110F in a stainless pitcher (with a water bath) instead of the bottle because I thought thermal expansion would make the bottle overflow, and a lot of cream and other material stuck to the inside of the bottle. After I added the culture, mixed everything up thoroughly, and put it all in the thermos, I just put the top back on the bottle and sat it out of the way on the floor.

Four weeks later, my partner asked me "what's with all the gunk in that milk bottle on the floor?"

"Oh my God" I said, took it to the sink and, holding my breath, took off the cap. There was no whoosh of escaping foul gases of corruption of the sort I've come to expect in such circumstances, so I took a cautious sniff. It smelled good enough to make my mouth water. A little like cheddar.

That's why I think you should give your baby organic milk.
posted by jamjam at 6:07 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


tl;dr organic milk holds its milky-goodness flavor into the lower %, which is a plus if you are wanting to go lower fat but can't hack the flavor change. It lasts, as other people have mentioned, about a month under normal storage conditions. Also, should you happen to forget it on the counter in the morning, it will generally still be drinkable at the end of the day, which is NOT true of regular milk: It may develop a slightly "cheesy" flavor, but you will not have to throw it out.

In my experience, regular milk, even when stored & handled correctly at my end, goes bad at the drop of a hat, often slightly before its expiration date (I'm assuming that's bad handling at my local store). I *hate* throwing out milk. The stuff's not cheap, and it's a slap in the face to have it go sour before I finish the quart. Organic milk is slightly more expensive, but because of its overall durability, I *never* end up pouring half-bottles down the drain the way I do with regular milk.
posted by Ys at 6:20 PM on June 5, 2011


Again, those are all consequences of UHT pasteurization, and not of an organic growing process. It's stable for months at room temperature before opening.
posted by grouse at 6:23 PM on June 5, 2011


Personally I find this discussion fascinating, and I love the fantastic amount of real life and scientific details above.

But, for me, the single biggest reason to give your baby organic milk is YOUR peace of mind. Your baby will be far more keyed into your stress or relaxation than you might realize, so anything that makes you feel more confident will make baby feel more confident and less stressed. And less stressed is healthier :)
posted by digitalprimate at 6:42 PM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


One more thing regarding basic breeds.

Here is the major to minor in this order...

Holstein
Jersey
Guernsey
Ayshire
Brown Swiss

From top to bottom, production drops and butterfat content increases, and the harder it will be to find.

For some reason I had to say that : ) The ghost of all 4-H moderators were hovering over me.
posted by goalyeehah at 6:45 PM on June 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


And still another thing before you wean your child off.

I would suggest to mothers who were still nursing and who wanted to put their children on raw milk to drink it first and continue to nurse a week or two more; in essence weaning them on.

Kinda cool. Do the same with the organic.
posted by goalyeehah at 6:49 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I believe my experience may contradict your assertion, grouse; I've had both Horizon and Organic Valley unopened ultra-pasteurized quarts spoil in my fridge in 6 weeks, about 3 weeks past their pull dates. I don't know how long after the packing date either manufacturer sets the pull date.

The Horizon milk smelled bad, but not terrible, and the Organic Valley milk had a strong, but not offensive odor.

The Straus Family Farm milk I talked about above was not ultra-pasteurized, and was completely spoiled, but the organisms responsible made it smell good.
posted by jamjam at 7:02 PM on June 5, 2011


To get the best benefit for your buy.....

1) Look at the expiration date. Obviously buy closest to the day you buy. If date seems far out then look in the back of the reefer unit. The stores tend to keep the oldest stuff out in order to move it. Or have a manager go back and get the freshest. OR, if your hardcore, find out the date of delivery.

2) Ideal fridge temp is 40 degrees.

3) Do not store in side rack or in front. It's warmer here. Store in back, top or bottom (whatever is colder)

4) Drinking straight from jug will increase bacteria in milk (due to backwash) and quicken it going bad.

(Sidebar - raw milk ferments (live cultures) and basically turns into a kefir, pasteurized goes bad (dead cultures....or maybe taken out of its stable form and put into an unstable form - for awhile it looks for something to work with and then gives up. In CA, all yogurt sold retail needs to be pasteurized. Cultures are added back after the process is completed. Stable to unstable back to unstable. Another way of saying it is jump-starting a dead battery)

It's so cool to be talking about this!
posted by goalyeehah at 7:03 PM on June 5, 2011


I think the main benefit of going organic is the effect it has on the cows more than the people. Organic cows aren't given prophylactic antibiotics, which contributes to the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bugs.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:23 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


If your milk is grass-fed, it has more omega-3s, CLAs, and vitamins such as K2.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 9:07 PM on June 5, 2011


Organic milk tastes more like milk than non-organic milk

The taste difference is more likely to do with ultrapasteurization making the milk sweeter.


UHT milk is disgusting, and frankly I'm not interested in milk that lasts longer than normal- that's a weird thing. The organic milk we buy is non-UHT, non- homogenized, and in glass bottles. It tastes far better than any other milk because it's fresh, doesn't taste like carton, and doesn't have the gummyness of homogenized milk. I can't say it tastes better because it's organic, because there's nothing around here to compare it to, like non-organic, non-homogenized milk in a glass bottle.

Anyway, OP, you might want to look into whether the milk you buy comes in BPA-free cartons. Both Horizon and Organic Valley use them. I don't know about Clover.

Here's a list of pesticide residues found in milk. click the conventional vs. organic link to see a chart. Some of these chemicals are found equally in both (ie DDE, which is a product of the breakdown of DDT, and is extremely persistent- it's found in pretty much every rangeland soil), and some are found at much lower levels in organic milk. You can click on the chemical in question and see more information.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:10 PM on June 5, 2011


Different brands of organic milk have very different taste. Almost every time I bought Horizon or Organic Valley they had plasticky or other off-taste. I finally settled on Stonyfield. These are the 3 brands commonly available around here, I believe all of them are ultra-pasteurized. Stonyfield is always good, at least to my taste. By the way, it seems like it's slowly pushing other brands out of this area, they used to be about equally available about 4-5 years ago but now it seems like almost every store has Stonyfield milk, I think people prefer its taste even though it's mostly (always?) a bit more expensive.
posted by rainy at 9:11 PM on June 5, 2011


A lot of people either drink very cold milk or only have milk with cereal. If people drank plain milk alone at room temperature, non-organic milk would disappear because it tastes freaking vile. Of course, when it's covered up with super-sweet cereal, you don't notice it. (I don't mean small farms that make good milk but don't bother with certification, of course).
posted by rainy at 9:21 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


A bigger question for you would perhaps be, if this is done for your baby's health, then perhaps you should ask why feed your baby cows milk in the first place?
posted by wilful at 9:27 PM on June 5, 2011


grouse, in your first comment you say:

Organic milk is often ultrapasteurized (often because it is shipped long distances, which could negate an argument that it is better than the environment). I usually buy ultrapasteurized non-organic milk, myself.
posted by grouse at 4:20 PM
,

and your link says:

Ultra-high temperature processing, (less often) ultra-heat treatment (both abbreviated UHT), or ultra-pasteurization is the sterilization of food by heating it for an extremely short period, around 1–2 seconds, at a temperature exceeding 135°C (275°F), which is the temperature required to kill spores in milk.[1]

But I found a site which makes a distinction between UHT and ultra-pasteurization:

This article is not entirely correct because it implies there are only 2 levels of pasteurization (I think the author read the Wikipedia article and didn't do any further fact-checking). There are 3 levels of pasteurization:

- batch pasteurization which the milk is slowly heated to 145 F for 30-35 minutes; on a food label in the US this is typically called "pasteurized"; most milk in the grocery store goes through this method

- high-temp, short time (HTST) pasteurization where the milk is heated to 162 F for 15 seconds and then quickly cooled; on a food label in the US this is called "ultrapasteurized"; most organic milk and most cream goes through this process. It actually takes more energy than regular pasteurization, but allows a much longer shelf-life (6 to 8 weeks rather than 1 to 2 weeks)

- ultra-high temp (UHT) pasteurization where the milk is heated to 265-300 F for 1-3 seconds and then rapidly cooled; when packaged in aseptic packaging, this milk doesn't need to be refrigerated and can be found on the grocery store shelves. Parmalat is a familiar brand of UHT milk and I believe is much more common in Europe than the US. UHT milk is shelf stable for many months.
[my emphasis]

It seems likely that the milk which spoiled in my fridge was ultra-pasteurized in the sense of the site I found, giving it a six to eight week shelf life, and that you were using ultra-pasteurized in what I presume may have been the European sense (and you've spent a lot of the time you've been a member in Europe-- Great Britain, rather-- as I recall), which would have an indefinite shelf life unopened, just as you say.

However, if you are in the US, the non-organic ultra-pasteurized milk you're buying is probably not UHT milk.
posted by jamjam at 9:52 PM on June 5, 2011


I'm not big on organic. While in cali, I had switched to organic milk, and my god it tasted freaking great!!!

more expensive, but better taste.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:59 PM on June 5, 2011


Thanks for the additional information, jamjam, although I'm not sure how much stock to put into a web comment. The non-organic "ultra-pasteurized" milk I buy is from Darigold, which says this on their web site:
  • Ultra pasteurized simply means that the milk has been heated under pressure at a higher temperature for a shorter period of time (280° for two seconds versus 167° at 15 seconds for standard pasteurized).
  • This advanced technology extends the shelf life to 60 + days (from l8 days).
That certainly doesn't seem to fit into the HTST category above. Both Darigold and Wikipedia seem to think that HTST is "standard" pasteurization.

This page from Cornell University's Department of Food Science includes many more categories and seems to distinguish ultrapasteurized from UHT mainly based on the length of pasteurization time, and that only the longer holding times are suitable for room temperature storage.
posted by grouse at 10:09 PM on June 5, 2011


UHT still needs to be consumed within a reasonable time frame once opened- it isn't miracle "never goes bad" milk.

as others have said, UHT isn't necessarily organic and organic isn't necessarily UHT.
posted by titanium_geek at 10:24 PM on June 5, 2011


My family started buying organic milk because 1) I went through a brief period of obsession with Horizon milk (first organic milk I ever tried and it was beautiful) and 2) Shelf life is pretty awesome compared to regular milk.

I don't understand how anyone can drink regular milk now.
posted by quirkychowder at 12:40 AM on June 6, 2011


I buy non-organic milk from a co-op of smallish farms in my area. It tastes great.
posted by mskyle at 6:35 AM on June 6, 2011


Regarding taste of the milk.....

Unfortunately with some large creameries and bottlers of milk. (It's hardly ever done on the farm) there are techniques and fillers applied to alter taste (for the better), look (so it really does look white) along with other openly shown additives. (Think about it... "vitamin D enriched?")

On the good side, good milk has flavor variability due to the seasons and what the animals are eating. That is another reason why what is going on in the previous paragraph is happening. They want to have a product that is consistent in flavor.

This is very evident is the grass fed-animal. The flavor is subtly influenced by the grass. Europeans and other across the Atlantic are more aware of this than us here. Check out the color of butter in springtime as opposed to winter......you'll the butter is more yellow and tastes richer as opposed to winter when the cows are eating more hay and sileage (chopped and fermented corn) Again, per paragraph above, the large commercial farms add coloring to the butter to keep it consistent.

This is more evident in raw dairy as opposed to pasteurized.

There is an argument that cheap food is not really cheap. Most ag concerns (corn, soybeans, etc.) are heavily subsidized so your paying for it through the backend. The argument against higher cost of the quality product loses some of its thunder when people realize, especially if they buy from farmer's markets, that they are helping support experimental practices and small, family farms who are responsible for their own growing, transportation, marketing and sales. For me personally I have found that the more I pay for quality, good food, I find that I eat less of it as I am actually getting food that satiates me. That takes care of my issues of cost. I think that the we eat more and more because our body is seeking nutrition and we keep filling up to get it when its not there. It's like we are eating air.

If anyone gets the opportunity to visit a farm, do so. You'll learn a lot.
posted by goalyeehah at 2:17 PM on June 6, 2011


I just came to correct a couple of issues with goalyeehah otherwise excellent answer,

"Cows are ruminants (four-stomached) Grass is their natural diet. If they are fed corn and grains only it's is too rich for their system. It would be as if we ate chocolate all the time. Our livers would be thrashed very quickly. The animals are more prone to have e-coli H157 issues as corn in the gut provides a host for H157 to survive whereas grass will do the opposite. The corn/grain diet also increases sickness (mastitis, etc.) which then leads to more use of anti-biotics to treat the animal, etc."

The strain of Escherichia coli that has been such a problem in the US these last couple of decades is defined serologically by its 157 O antigen and its 7 H antigen, making it E. coli O157:H7. I study this bug and its prevalence in meat cattle. When either meat or dairy cattle are fed corn or other grains it causes the otherwise neural pH of the ruminant's stomachs to drop like a rock and digest the corn without the aid of its natural gut flora. Normally a cow eats the bacteria, including coliform, that eat grass and normally that bacteria would be absolutely harmless to us as it would never survive our very low stomach pH. However, if that gut flora comes preselected to grow up in a low pH environment our main defense is useless, causing disease. (What I've spent a bit more than a year doing is searching for phages that can be used to eliminate O157:H7 in cattle herds such that it never gets to people)

As for your question:

Aside from the price, the difference between organically and non-organically labeled milk is absolutely negligible. The difference in the cost of production on the scale that would end up in your grocery store is also negligible, the 250% markup is made entirely at the grocery store. The customers who buy organic milk tend to not be what groceries call price sensitive and they know they can get away with it.

With regard to Raw/various sorts of Pasteurized? I am not your microbiologist and this is not microbiological advice:

I drink unpasteurized goat milk, but I only do it because I can squeeze it out of one of a couple a healthy happy goats I know directly into my breakfast cereal. Back before Pasteur A LOT of people died of bacterial disease that was entirely preventable by either good farming practices or pasteurization. I would never buy raw milk from someone I didn't know personally, to be done properly in a commercialized (ie: not personal) setting it would need to be regulated as if it were a GMP produced animal sourced medical product, which is of course stupid. I would not recommend even this unless you know what to look for.

When I'm away from these goats I get my milk from local co-ops where you can get milk that actually tastes like something.


tl;dr, In a grocery store get the cheap stuff, all the expensive stuff does is enrich the grocery store, but I recommend your local co-op.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:02 PM on June 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


Oh, and next time you go south enough to pass through Olympia, memail me and I'll hook you up with a glass of the finest goat milk you'll ever taste and a hug from the goat.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:11 PM on June 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm uneasy about milk from cows given recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), and beef cows fed lots of antibiotics, cows milked during pregnancy when the milk they give is much higher in progesterone, and I'm incredibly uneasy about the safety and quality of the American food supply, esp. milk, eggs, meat. I think pasteurization is a wonderful thing, and has saved many lives. Look into how milk is produced, you may find a big difference in local brands.
posted by theora55 at 9:35 PM on June 6, 2011


Before you let rBGH scare you I would actually read that wiki article, also,

"An early test of bovine growth hormone was as a possible treatment for children suffering from hypopituitary dwarfism. Although the bovine hormone was injected in large doses, it did not affect the children. An extract from human pituitary glands was successful. There is not enough similarity between human and bovine growth hormone for bovine produced growth hormone to cause desirable or undesirable effects in humans.

After careful review, the Food and Drug Administration, World Health Organization, American Medical Association, American Dietetics Association, and the National Institute of Health have independently confirmed that dairy products and meat from BST treated cows is safe for human consumption.

BST is digested by humans just like any other protein. Therefore, even if it were active in the human body, one would not obtain the active hormone by drinking milk or eating cheese. About 90% of BST is destroyed during pasteurization and it is also denatured by processing for baby formula
." *(PDF)

There are enough real dangers in this world worth worrying about, this is not one of them.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:51 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't really speak to organic milk, but I did work in a dairy fill facility for a while and have a bit more information on what goes into actually putting milk into bottles after it's pumped out of the milk truck.

The bay the trucks pull into to be pumped out is washed between every truck's visit and the lines which pump the milk from the truck into the facility equipment is washed and sterilized between every truckload.

The cream is skimmed off and held separately, and then is added back into produce the different grades of milk. (Whole milk has actually been separated and then reintegrated to 3.5-4% milkfat. It isn't actually milk straight from the cow.)

After the reintegration, the milk is homogenized and pasteurized. I personally don't like ultra-pasteurized milk -- it has a slightly burned taste to me.

Here's the part which blew my mind when I first started working at the dairy facility -- different brands of milk are the exact same milk with different labels on the bottles. The place I worked in did production runs for 4 different grocery store brands plus Costco. We would literally stop the line, swap out the labels, and start back up again. So that bargain brand milk is probably the exact same milk as that top of the line label. The important thing to try to find out is where it's processed and bottled.

I'd assume this last point is similar for organic milk. There might be several brands in the store where you shop -- see if you can find out where they're processed.

Even with regular pasteurization, milk leaves the fill facility with expiration dates which are about 21 days out. When you're in a store and you see "new" milk which is dated a week from now, that milk has actually been sitting in warehouse coolers for 2 weeks before it even got to the shelf.

One other thing I learned from working in the dairy facility was that there are a LOT of people involved with getting milk into bottles. The crew I worked with was the overnight crew and was a smaller crew than the daytime crew, but even then we had a good dozen people working our asses off to get all those plastic bottles filled. I've never complained about the cost of milk since then, because I know how much work it is and how many people get paid with those dollars.

Anyway, I wish I had real answers about organic milk, but at least there's a little glimpse as to what that part of the process is like.
posted by hippybear at 12:13 AM on June 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh, and next time you go south enough to pass through Olympia, memail me and I'll hook you up with a glass of the finest goat milk you'll ever taste and a hug from the goat.

I once stayed at a hostel on a tiny island off the coast of Ireland, and they offered goat's milk for cereal and coffee. It was awful. But I was also fifteen, so I was probably an idiot (I didn't much like goat cheese then, either). If I'm ever in Olympia, I will take you up on this!

Re: the UHT thing - I always think of UHT milk as that stuff that comes in juice-box-like boxes and can be found on shelves in thee grocery store - doesn't need to be refrigerated before it's opened. We keep a little around for those "Whoops, out of milk" moments. It's okay in an emergency.
posted by rtha at 3:12 AM on June 7, 2011


Thank you so much for all the feedback. Given this information I've been able to have a fruitful discussion with my husband about this and we've decided to go organic. Now, if anyone can tell me the cheapest place to buy organic milk in Seattle, I'll feel double blessed.

Wilful - the kid is turning one, and is currently drinking almost 24 ounces of formula per day. I don't think switching to water and expecting him to get all his nutritional needs from solid foods is feasible. I'll probably give him some alternative milk beverages (soy, rice, almond) every now and then, but nothing I've heard convinces me that, say, goat's milk, is going to be better for him than cow's milk. Both of them, are, after all, non-human milks. And goat's milk would be a lot more expensive and difficult to find. If cow's milk challenges his digestion, that will be another story.

As he gets older, and gets better at feeding himself, I'll encourage him to drink less milk. I'm not one of those people who thinks older children and adolescents need to be chugging milk all the time. But for an infant who is currently getting the majority of his nutrients from formula, switching to cow's milk is the best alternative.
posted by bq at 3:53 PM on June 7, 2011


Good post, Blasdelb. Thanks for collection and clarification!
posted by goalyeehah at 10:02 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


While I can't speak for cheapest, I can recommend Spud, they'll deliver fresh and local organic milk (and lots of other stuff) once a week. (Spud Milk)

Specifically, they offer Fresh Breeze, a small local dairy (their site suggests they'd be goalyeehaw approved)


They're offering 1 gallon for $6.99, whereas Amazon Fresh has Organic Valley (much larger, and not local) for $6.19.

If you're going for non-local, check your local grocery stores for ads, as that will be the cheapest, and it does go on sale once-in-a-while.
posted by hatsix at 11:05 AM on June 9, 2011


Oh man, there are some really excellent local organic dairies in Western Washington! I was going to say it won't be cheaper, but I didn't realize Organic Valley is $6+ ... it might not be *that* much more expensive to buy from the local dairies.

Regarding the big organic dairies, I really prefer Organic Valley to Horizon Organic. OV is a co-op, and in general seems to be a good place to work as a human, or to be a cow, or to be a milk consumer. Horizon Organic has been accused at least once of failing to follow organic standards. It looks like they were found to be in compliance, though.

And re: local dairies ... before I got my milk goat and stopped buying most dairy products, we drank Fresh Breeze milk which is super delicious. There are a couple others but I think at least one of them stopped selling milk recently (still doing butter and cheese) so I am not sure what the current status is. You might try just going to PCC or a Town & Country Market (find yours here) or whatever other locally-owned store or chain you have, and seeing what is on the shelf, or asking folks about it.

Have friends who love Smith Brothers, which includes a delivery service. Not sure about prices, but you might like them for convenience.
posted by librarina at 9:44 PM on June 10, 2011


All dairy farmers and families drink their own milk. It is unpasteurized/raw. This is how I was raised. My mother drank it when I was in her womb. I have always had a strong immune system and healed quickly from bone breaks. I still eat raw dairy and my good cholesterol levels are off the charts. There are 9 others in my family. They are similar and my mother is still kicking along at age 93.

The basic belief is that the beneficial bacteria are destroyed in the pasteurization process. Once pasteurized the food is considered "dead," Vitamins are added along with other fillers.

My feeling is that most people (not all) who have issues with dairy is because of the process that it goes through rather than the dairy itself. Having said that the dairy farmer needs to uphold his end of the bargain and not only produce a quality product but to do it with care and cleanliness.


How did this uncited, folksy-wisdom load of garbage make the sidebar?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:34 AM on June 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


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