I’m guest-posting today! Alice at Science of Mom has recently featured two articles about conventional versus organic milk; the first claimed that milk from rBST-treated cows was the same as (or even preferable to) milk from non-rBST-treated cows, while the second claimed that conventional milk was just as good as organic. As a chemist with a special interest in environmental and social issues, I have a different take. Here are the major points/conclusions:
- Small, idyllic-sounding conventional family dairy farms (like the one described in in this recent guest post on Science of Mom) sound lovely. If everyone raised dairy cattle like she does, there’d be little reason to consider organic milk. However, farms like this one are the exception in the U.S. dairy industry, and are rare exceptions at that. The vast majority of U.S. dairy cows are housed in animal feeding operations (AFOs), and specifically in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). By EPA definition, then, both AFOs and CAFOs are crowded, and CAFOs are major sources of environmental pollution.
- Milk from dairy cows, regardless of how they’re raised, is free from antibiotics. However, antibiotic overuse — meaning use of antibiotics in a prophylactic sense and as necessary for treatment of diseases spread through unnecessary husbandry practices — is promoting the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Because conventional operations including CAFOs promote the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (thorough antibiotic overuse) that then proliferate in the environment, it’s not necessary to have contact with or consume a conventionally-raised animal or product to be negatively impacted by these practices.
- CAFOs produce tremendous amounts of concentrated environmental waste. There’s far too much of it for the land to absorb, so it runs off into the surface water (lakes and rivers) and leeches into the groundwater (aquifers that feed municipal supplies and wells). Excess nitrogen in the water is associated with acid rain, fish-kills, blue-baby syndrome (methemoglobinemia), and global warming.
- Conventional farming practices result in dairy cattle consuming large amounts of chicken feces and chicken feed, which contains cattle meat. This cannibalization of cattle by cattle increases risk of spreading BSE (mad cow disease) in the U.S.
- Conventional farms that use rBST increase the likelihood that their cows will suffer mastitis (an animal welfare issue.
- Conventional dairy cattle have less access to pasture, which results in a different (and less healthy) fatty acid profile in the milk. Organic milk is higher in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, while conventional milk is higher in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid.
- In the end, organic milk is healthier for everyone: your family, the cows producing the milk, humanity as a whole, and the planet.
Read the full article at Science of Mom.