Organic dairy products can come at a premium and when you’re spending a little extra money, it’s always good to know whether it was worth it, which can be hard to evaluate when there are so many conflicting claims about the benefits of organic. After the jump, we’ll try to untangle what organic is and what it isn’t, what it means for your health, for the environment, and for the cows so you can make an informed decision about what’s best for your family.
What is organic dairy?
To be labeled organic, dairy products have to come from livestock that have been raised according to USDA organic standards. Among other rules, the USDA states that organic milk must come from cows that have been pastured for the entire grazing season (not less than three months), that have not been given synthetic hormones, that have access to the outdoors year-round, that have been fed only organic feed, and that have not been given antibiotics.
What does this mean for your family’s health?
There are a lot of conflicting claims. While some claim that the hormones and antibiotics in conventional milk are bad for you, the general consensus is that they either don’t have an effect or that effect is negligible. However, organic milk can be more nutritious than its conventional counterpart with 68% more omega-3 fatty acids, because of the cows’ better diet and the breeds of cows that are typically used on organic farms.
What does organic mean for the environment?
There’s little question that the pesticides and fertilizer used to raise feed for conventional cows are bad for the environment. Moreover, pasturing the cows for at least part of the year means that less land is given over to cultivating food for cows, which is one of the big causes of deforestation. This is an important consideration when weighing the expense of organic dairy. Conventional dairy imposes a lot of environmental costs that aren’t paid by the consumer. When you buy organic, you pay something closer to the truer cost of your food which may make you reconsider how much you use.
Is organic better for cows?
Living life outside, with less illness, and a more natural diet are clear reasons that organic cows might have a higher quality of life. Cows that are allowed to graze, and have access to the outdoors are going to have a higher quality of life than those living in a factory farm situation. And since organic cows aren’t given hormones or antibiotics, their diets are healthier, and the cows are in much better physical condition.
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