Facing Organic Perceptions: All Milk Is Safe And Wholesome
by Jean Ragalie
Why are some consumers willing to pay so much more for organic milk? While organic milk purchases still represent less than 2 percent of total fluid milk purchases, recent data from Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI) data suggests retail sales of organic milk grew 27 percent last year. This impressive growth is occurring despite the fact that the retail price of organic milk is roughly twice that of conventional milk.
Recent consumer research conducted by the National Dairy Council appears to indicate that perception is driving this growth. Organic milk drinkers view the product as more pure, more natural and healthier, particularly for children. They cite concerns over added hormones, on-farm use of antibiotics and pesticides, and perceived additives to conventional milk. Some organic consumers also claim that organic milk has a creamier and lighter mouth feel and that it tastes “cleaner,” “fresher” and “more natural.” Some express concerns over how conventional animals are raised, and express a preference for “sustainable agriculture” feeding and animal care practices.
Given this mindset among a growing number of consumers, a basic question the entire dairy industry must answer for the public is whether organic milk is healthier, more nutritious or safer than conventional milk.
The answer is no — both organically and conventionally produced milk naturally contain protein, calcium and other important nutrients. Organic or conventional, all milk is nutritious, safe and wholesome.
This position is supported not only by the National Dairy Council, but also by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the American Dietetic Association (ADA), which represents about 70,000 dietitians across the country.
Look at the Nutrition Facts label and you will see that each serving of milk offers the same amount of nine essential nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D and potassium.
In regards to animal welfare, it’s important to remember that dairy farmers take great care with their animals, and if one becomes ill, they will treat her with the utmost concern and care until the animal recovers.
Regarding safety, all milk must comply with very stringent safety standards. Any raw milk that tests positive for antibiotics is discarded, never reaching the consumer.
What, then, is the difference between organic milk and conventional milk? As with all organic foods, it’s the process, not the final product, that makes milk “organic” or “conventional.”
According to USDA standards, milk and dairy products can be labeled “organic” if the milk comes from cows that have been exclusively fed organic feed, are kept in pens with adequate space, are allowed periodic access to the outdoors and direct sunlight, are not treated with synthetic hormones and are not given certain medications to treat illness. Organic feed is harvested from fields that have adhered to the USDA’s organic regulations for pesticides and fertilizers for at least three years. Food marketers who use the term “organic” must ensure that all of the above criteria are met, and must follow federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) labeling guidelines.
Dairy industry marketers often receive questions from consumers about organic milk and conventional milk. National Dairy Council, National Milk Producers Federation and International Dairy Foods Association, upon consultation with government agencies and independent scientists, worked together to develop answers to some of the most common questions. The information is posted at www.nationaldairycouncil.org.
Jean Ragalie, R.D., is executive vice president of public, nutrition and corporate affairs for the National Dairy Council.