There are many types of milk -- different fat levels, lactose-free, flavored and plain, rBST-free, organic and conventionally-produced. This variety allows consumers to choose the milk product that best matches their nutritional needs and personal preferences. All milk and dairy foods have an irreplaceable package of nutrients that cannot be found in any other single food or beverage. Cup for cup, organic and regular milk contain the same nine essential nutrients--such as calcium, vitamin D and potassium--that make dairy products an essential part of a healthy diet.
Organic labeling is not a measure of the quality or safety of a product. As with all organic foods, it’s the process that makes milk organic, not the final product. A recent study found small differences in fatty acid profiles between organic and regular whole milk.1 However, milk is not considered a good source of fatty acids to begin with, so any differences between organic and conventionally-produced milk are not likely to impact our health. Other studies have found no nutritional differences between milk labeled "organic" or "rBST-free" and conventionally-produced milk.2
So what is the process for making organic milk? According to USDA, milk and dairy foods can be labeled "organic" if the milk is from cows that have been exclusively fed organic feed with no mammalian or poultry by-products, have access to pasture throughout the grazing season, are not treated with synthetic hormones and are not given antibiotics.3 Due to the pasture feeding requirement, organic milk can have more omega-3 fatty acids, however this will vary depending on the season and other factors.
Both organic and conventional dairy farmers are committed to producing high-quality milk and maintaining proper animal care and environmental practices on their farms.
Milk is among the most highly regulated and safest foods available. Both conventionally-produced and organic milk are routinely tested for antibiotics and pesticides and must comply with very stringent safety standards, ensuring that both organic milk and conventional milk are pure, safe and nutritious. For more information read, Organic Milk FAQ from National Dairy Council.
Both organic and conventionally-produced milk are excellent choices. There simply is no nutritionally superior alternative.
Benbrook CM et al. Organic Production Enhances Milk Nutritional Quality by Shifting Fatty Acid Composition: A United States–Wide, 18-Month Study. PLoS ONE 8(12): e82429, 2013.
United States Department of Agriculture. Organic Production and Handling Standards 2006. Retrieved 14 July 2008. ams.usda.gov
United States Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Marketing Service. ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5082660&acct=noprulemaking