Monday, October 24, 2011

How Healthy is Organic Milk?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dairy Market News, sales of organic reduced-fat milk rose 18 percent in the first half of 2011. Conventional milk sales fell nearly 3 percent. But is organic milk healthier and worth the added expense? (Organic milk typically costs 57% more than regular milk.)
Cows at organic dairies:
• Are fed only organic grains, free of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
• Get at least 30 percent of their feed from pasture.
• Aren’t treated with antibiotics, or with bovine growth hormone to increase milk production.
Additionally, most organic farms treat the environment better as well, because they have a greater respect for water resources and healthy soils. But they don’t have to prove these eco-friendly practices to be certified as organic.

The USDA’s National Organic Program regulates the standards to determine what qualifies as an organic farm. Accredited agents inspect the dairies, according to Heather Mangieri, MS, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. 
But is organic healthier?
In the 1990s, the US FDA approved the use of recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) in cattle. This practice resulted in greater milk production at less cost to the dairy farmer. Higher milk production means lower prices at the supermarket.  But rBGH boosts milk's concentration of insulin-like growth factor (IGF), a hormone that's been linked to cancer. rBGH is not good for the cows either. The hormone causes an udder infection, among other problems, that results in the cows receiving more antibiotics.

But is rBGH dangerous to humans? That's debatable. “Unlike steroid hormones, which can be taken orally, rBGH and IGF must be injected to have any effect,” says Alan Aragon, M.S. of Men's Health magazine. “That's because the process of digestion destroys these ‘protein’ hormones. So drinking milk from hormone-treated cows doesn't transfer the active form of these chemicals to your body.” (except it has been linked to cancer)

But how much of the antibiotics and hormones are reaching the consumer? All organic and conventional milk is tested for antibiotic residue, and any milk that contains it is removed from the food supply. As far as nutrients go, regular milk offers the same essential nutrients as a glass of organic milk.
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