Study Finds Surprising Differences Between Organic and Conventional Milk and Meats


By Heather Callaghan

This is one of the first times researchers have thoroughly compared the nutrient profile of organic milk and meats – versus products from conventionally raised animals. What is often referred to as “conventional” food actually comes from animals raised inside dark CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), given growth hormones, antibiotics and raised on a strict GMO grain diet – not exactly as Mother Nature intended.

Organic milk and meat, however, comes from animals that are typically allowed more space, sometimes outdoors, non-GMO grain diet and sometimes grass-fed – which is a cow’s native diet. Arguably, they are allowed more nutrition and sanitation.

The UK study is the largest of its kind and the findings may surprise you. Very few studies have made this type of food comparison – it has the potential to put some arguments to rest.

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An international team led by Newcastle University found that organic milk indeed does have 50% more omega-3 fatty acid content than conventional milk.

That may not surprise you, but an analysis turned up other nutritional findings:

  • Both organic milk and meat contain around 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than conventionally produced products
  • Organic meat had slightly lower concentrations of two saturated fats (myristic and palmitic acid) that researchers believe are linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Organic milk contains 40% more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
  • Organic milk contains slightly higher concentrations of iron, Vitamin E and some carotenoids
  • Surprisingly, conventional milk contained 74% more of the essential mineral iodine and slightly more selenium (?)

To make the data comparisons, the team reviewed 196 papers on milk and 67 papers on meat and found clear differences between organic and conventional milk and meat, especially in terms of fatty acid composition, and the concentrations of certain essential minerals and antioxidants.

Chris Seal, Professor of Food and Human Nutrition at the university said:

Omega-3s are linked to reductions in cardiovascular disease, improved neurological development and function, and better immune function.

Western European diets are recognized as being too low in these fatty acids and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommends we should double our intake.

But getting enough in our diet is difficult. Our study suggests that switching to organic would go some way towards improving intakes of these important nutrients.

The team were pleased with the more desirable fat profiles in the organic goods as they point out, the western diets are much too low in omega-3 fatty acids. Organic milk provides the necessary fat profile but keeps the same calories and fat grams as conventional – for those who are frightened to deviate from the calorie counting. For instance, organic provides an estimated 16% (39 mg) of the recommended, daily intake of very long-chain omega-3, while conventional milk provides 11% (25 mg). They also observed higher levels of fat soluble vitamins such as vitamin E and carotenoids, plus 40% more CLA in organic milk.

These findings were closely linked to outdoor grazing standards of organic dairy practices. This nutrient profile could explain lower rates of eczema among babies raised on organic – based on two previous systematic literature reviews.

In the UK, iodine is added to both conventional and organic animal feed, yet 74% more iodine in conventional milk. Iodine levels are variable so there has been some debate in the UK about whether to reduce the amount of iodine in feed. Based on results from the study, half a liter of milk would provide 53% of and 88% of the daily recommended intake from organic and conventional milk respectively.

A previous study, involving experts from the UK, US, France, Italy, Switzerland, Norway and Poland – investigating the composition of organic and conventionally grown crops was also published in the British Journal of Nutrition. It showed that organic crops and crop-based foods are up to 60% higher in a number of key antioxidants than conventionally grown crops and contained less of the toxic metal cadmium.

All things considered, study leader Professor Carlo Leifert concluded:

We have shown without doubt there are composition differences between organic and conventional food. Taken together, the three studies on crops, meat and milk suggest that a switch to organic fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products would provide significantly higher amounts of dietary antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.

We need substantially more, well designed studies and surveys before we can accurately estimate composition differences in meat from different farm animals and for many nutritionally important compounds (vitamins, minerals, toxic metal and pesticide residues), as there is currently too little data to make comparisons.

However, the fact that there are now several mother and child cohort studies linking organic food consumption to positive health impacts shows why it is important to further investigate the impact of the way we produce our food on human health.

Indeed, with few such comparison studies, organic food continues to get relegated by competing corporate propagandists as a waste – and consumers are left to wonder if they are in fact just wasting their money on nothing.

With hope, there will be more studies like this to show the amazing nutrient value of organic produce – otherwise known as traditional food. People can be assured that they are receiving plenty of value when they buy organic.

This article (Study Finds Surprising Differences Between Organic and Conventional Milk and Meats) can be republished under a Creative Commons license, with attribution toHeather Callaghan and Natural

Heather Callaghan is an independent researcher, natural health blogger and food freedom activist. She is the editor and co-founder of Like at Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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