Research shows that organic foods, including cows’ milk, may have nutritional benefits for the consumer and positive benefits for the world we live in. But there are so many buzzwords around health and nutrition these days that it can be confusing to know what’s good.
Let’s take a closer look at six benefits of organic and grass fed cows’ milk.
Nutrition: beneficial fatty acids
Certified organic cows’ milk has a more favourable fat profile than conventional cows’ milk.
Omega-3 fatty acids are known as healthy fats because they help support the health of the brain, eyes, heart, joints and nervous system, and strengthen the immune system1.
Globally, organic cows’ milk has been shown to contain more omega-3 fatty acids and Conjugated Linolenic Acid (CLA) than conventional cows’ milk2. And because organic cows’ milk has proportionally more omega-3, they offer a better ratio of omega-3 to omega-63,4. Why is this important? Studies suggest that a lower ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 plays a role in reducing the risk of many chronic diseases 5.
Organic farming fosters biodiversity and sustainability because it involves practices that keep the land in good condition.
The practice of organic farming only allows for the use of specific fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides – the majority of which are non-synthetic – while it also promotes the use of practices such as composting, crop rotation and cover crops6.
The practice of crop or pasture rotation reduces soil erosion and nitrous oxide emissions. Plus, diversifying crops helps with soil quality7,8,9.
Not derived from GMOs
Certified Organic foods and the ingredients used in making them are not derived from GMOs.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are organisms (i.e. plants, animals or microorganisms) where the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination10.
The foods produced from GMOs, referred to as genetically modified (GM) foods, are not compatible with the principles of organic production methods. In organic food production, the use of genetically engineered organisms or their derivatives is not accepted7. This includes animals, seed farm inputs such as fertilisers, soil conditioners, or crop protection materials, as well as, ingredients in the final product.
Cows’ have a grass-based diet
A grass fed certification for a farm ensures that feed of the milking cows is strictly managed.
Milking cows’ on grass fed farms are fed on a diet which constitutes 95% grass-based feed. The Grass Fed Standard enables appropriate livestock density and pasture management to ensure that nutritional needs of the animals are met by grazing during milk supply.
Certified Organic milk is made without the use of synthetic growth hormones and antibiotics*
These are not intentionally added to the farming or manufacturing process of Certified Organic milk.
Antibiotics are often used by primary producers to keep animals healthy11. Growth hormones are sometimes used to speed up growth in animals as part of food production, too. Under requirements for NZ dairy and organic food production, synthetic growth promoters or stimulants must not be used in feeds6,12,13. And, unless an exemption is granted, the use of synthetic veterinary drugs or antibiotics will cause the animal to lose its organic status. *
*Exemptions may be granted when withholding such medication will result in the unnecessary suffering of the cows.
Care for animal welfare
Ethical treatment of animals is at the heart of organic and grass fed farming practices.
The Organic Standard certification process governs pasture management and includes information on animal welfare provisions6. Cows on organic and grass fed farms have access to roam on pastures in the open air, feed on high-quality grasses and have sufficient protection against the weather.
Srednicka-Tober et al (2016) Higher PUFA and n-3 PUFA, conjugated linoleic acid, α-tocopherol and iron, but lower iodine and selenium concentrations in organic milk: a systematic literature review and meta- and redundancy analysis. British journal of Nutrition, 115, 1043-1060.
Ellis, K. A., et al (2006). Comparing the fatty acid composition of organic and conventional milk. Journal of dairy science, 89(6), 1938-1950.
Bloksma, J., et al (2008). Comparison of organic and conventional raw milk quality in the Netherlands. Biological Agriculture & Horticulture, 26(1), 69-83.
Simopoulous A P. (2008) The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacother. 56 (8):365-79
Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change, Rodale Institute, Available at: https://rodaleinstitute.org/assets/WhitePaper.pdf
David Pimentel et al. (2005) Environmental, Energetic, and Economic Comparisons of Organic and Conventional Farming Systems, 55(7), 573–582
Seufert, V et al. (2012) Comparing the yields of organic and conventional agriculture, Nature 485, 229–23
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