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Organic Milk vs Regular: is There Any Difference?

Jan 21, 2015 05:31 PM EST

If you were to walk into a grocery store and ask anyone in the dairy section which is more nutritious, organic or regular milk, they would likely tell you that organic is the safest bet. After all, that's why we pay more for organic products, right? Well now an independent team of researchers has found that we might actually be comparing apples to apples, where the differences between organic and conventional milks are far from Earth-shattering.

That's at least according to an overarching study recently published in the Journal of Dairy Science, which details how researchers reviewed nearly 200 scientific publications on milk composition.

"When comparing organic and conventional milk composition (especially milk fatty acids), previous studies have generally compared organic dairying with milk produced from grass-fed cows to conventional dairying with milk produced from concentrate-fed cows," lead investigator Don Otter, a AgResearch member from the Grasslands Research Centre in New Zealand, said in a statement.

AgResearch is the largest of the New Zealand ministry's Crown Research Institutes.

"The differences in milk composition [we] observed are actually due to the different diets of the cows rather than organic versus conventional farming systems," Otter explained.

The harsh reality is then, he added, that there is nothing inherently unique about "organic" and conventional milks, both boasting about the same level of nutritional value and immediate impact on consumer health. (Scroll to read on...)

The study also details how Otter and his colleagues were careful in their consideration of "organic" and "conventional" products, as the definitions can vary from country to country.

"However, in most parts of the world, conventional dairying is associated with high levels of grain feeding, the use of cow breeds which produce high milk volumes, and the application of large amounts of fertilizer ('high input' farming), while organic dairying is tied to pasture and forage feeding, lower amounts of fertilizer application, and the use of mixed or minority breeds ('low input')," the researcher said.

Still, there is one thing that organic consumers might be aiming for when purchasing organic milks: avoiding GMOs. Last year, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that the demand for organic products saw a 12 percent hike between 2012 and 2013.

And while experts claim that most people don't even understand what GMOs actually are, USDA investigators expressed their suspicion that fear of these products were pushing more consumers towards more expensive organic foods.

It is a common argument that GMO feed can harm livestock, making their meat and milk likewise dangerous to human consumers. And while this claim remains hotly disputed, it will no doubt keep some consumers reaching for the milk cartons with "organic" stamped across their front.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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