Difference between Organic and Regular (Non-Organic) Milk

By: | Updated: Feb-20, 2018

People are making a lot of fuss about the importance of eating healthier food. And who can blame them? For instance, some might choose to switch from regular to organic food to try this out. But do you know what the actual difference is between organic and regular (non-organic) milk?

Summary Table

Organic MilkRegular (Non-Organic) Milk
Comes from cows that have never been given antibioticsComes from cows that may have received antibiotic treatment
Comes from cows that have never been given hormones

Comes from cows that may have been given growth and reproductive hormones

Comes from cows that have been allowed to graze for at least three monthsComes from cows that have only been given feed
Comes from cows whose feed contained no chemicals of any kindThe feed of regular milk cows is not strictly regulated
Comes with a certification of the living conditions and food received by the cowComes with no certification
Comes from cows with access to pasturesIs produced in farms where cows have a limited space
Has a longer shelf lifeHas a shorter shelf life
Costs more to produceIs cheaper to produce
Costs almost double than regular milkIs less expensive than organic milk

Definitions

milk

Organic milk is milk that has received the organic certification from an accredited institution. The term refers to the type of production and not necessarily the quality of the product. In order to be considered organic, the milk has to come from cows that are grass-fed at least three months in a year, provided access to pastures, and have not been treated with hormones or antibiotics.

Regular (non-organic) milk comes from cows kept in milking barns and which are not necessarily allowed on pastures. These cows only eat grain and they are treated with antibiotics when they get sick. Once the cow is treated, it can return to the herd and its milk is used.

Organic Milk vs Regular (Non-Organic Milk)

But is there such a clear difference between organic milk and regular (non-organic) milk, apart from the term and its regulated production? Can you use milk’s label (organic or regular) to make sure, beyond a doubt, that the milk you are drinking is the healthiest?

Cow antibiotic treatment

Organic milk only comes from cows who have not been treated with antibiotics. If a cow at an organic dairy farm needs such treatment, the farmer is compelled to remove the cow from milk production. Under no circumstance should he withhold treatment from a sick animal only to keep up production.

On the other hand, regular dairy cows are treated with antibiotics and returned to the milk-producing process immediately after the infection has been cured and after enough time has passed for the antibiotics to pass through the system.

Most cases of infection requiring antibiotics are related to mastitis, a condition of the udders. Some organic farmers have noticed that there is a higher incidence of mastitis with certain races of cows and simple genetic profiling can help keep an entire herd antibiotic-free for years.

Hormone treatment

No hormone treatment is permitted on organic farms. On the other hand, regular milk producers are known to introduce synthetic bovine growth hormones, along with some of the regular hormones produced by the cow in its reproductive period. With organic farms, reproduction is seen as a natural process and it is treated accordingly, without any need for hormonal supplements of any kind.

Cow diet

Organic milk cows are allowed to graze for at least 3 months out of the year, depending on the climate. According to the USDA, a minimum of 30% of a cow’s feed must come from pastures for it to be able to give organic milk. The rest of the time, organic milk cows must be given feed without any pesticides, hormones or additives of any kind.

On the other hand, regular milk cows are fed grain and there are no strict regulations about it.

Certification

For milk to be considered organic, a special certification must be given. The awarding of this certificate depends on the conditions provided to the cow and how well the “no antibiotics, hormones and chemicals” requirement is respected by the farmer.

Regular milk is milk without an organic certification, coming from cows that may have received antibiotic treatment and that have only been given grain.

Shelf life

In order to make their investment worth it, organic milk farmers sterilize their product at around 280 degrees F. This way, one box or bottle of organic milk can keep as long as two months.

Regular milk pasteurization, on the other hand, is done at 165 degrees F or even lower. This makes for a shorter shelf life.

If your household does not go through a carton of milk that quickly, then the organic option is best since it keeps longer.

Cost of production vs cost in the marketplace

As expected, organic milk is more expensive to produce. It takes time to provide every cow with enough individual space, to have a pasture for them to graze on and to keep all process natural without any intervention.

As a regular milk farmer invests less in individual spaces and provides only grain, the cost of the milk produced is also lower. In some cases, organic milk is twice as expensive as regular milk.

Consumer expectations

Consumers expect organic milk to be healthier, although more expensive. On the other hand, they also expect regular milk to contain traces of antibiotics and hormones. In reality, neither of them contains traces of other substances, as regulations regarding what is put on the market are very strict.

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