Organic milk ‘more nutritional’ than conventional

ORGANIC supermarket milk is more nutritional than its conventional equivalent, according to new research from Newcastle University.

Organic supermarket milk showed higher levels of nutritionally beneficial fatty acids compared with ‘ordinary’ milk regardless of the time of year or weather conditions, the researchers said.

Gillian Butler, who led the study, said: “By choosing organic milk you can cut saturated fats by 30-50 percent and still get the same intake of beneficial fatty acids, as the omega-3 levels are higher but omega-6 is not, which helps to improve the crucial ratio between the two.”

The researchers found that wetter, cooler summers can have a ‘detrimental effect’ on the nutritional quality of milk. Milk collected during a particularly poor UK summer and the following winter had significantly higher saturated fat content and far less beneficial fatty acids than in a more ‘normal’ year, the study found.

The researchers, part of Newcastle University’s Nafferton Ecological Farming Group and its Human Nutrition Centre, also found that switching to organic milk could help overcome these problems. 

The study, published in this month’s Journal of Dairy Science, follows on from previous research which looked at the difference between organic and conventional milk at its source – on the farms.

“Surprisingly, the differences between organic and conventional milk were even more marked. Whereas on the farms the benefits of organic milk were proven in the summer but not the winter, in the supermarkets it is significantly better quality year round,” Mrs Butler said.

There was also greater consistency between organic suppliers, where the conventional milk brands were of variable quality, the study found.

Mrs Butler puts the differences between organic and conventional down to a lower reliance on grazing and ‘fertiliser suppressing clover’ on conventional farms.

“The results suggest greater uniformity of feeding practice on farms supplying organic milk since there were no brands which differed consistently in fat composition,” she said.

Organic dairying standards prescribe a reliance on forage, especially grazing, and, in the absence of nitrogen fertiliser, tend to encourage swards of red and white clover, which have been shown to alter the fatty acid intake and composition of milk, she added.

 “We’re always being told to cut down on the saturated fat we consume and switching to organic milk and dairy products provides a natural way to increase our intake of nutritionally desirable fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants without increasing our intake of less desirable fatty acids,” said Mrs Butler.

She said the results also suggest farmers may have to rethink their current dairy practicesif we continue to have wetter, cooler summers.

“If these weather patterns continue, both forage and dairy management will have to adapt to maintain current milk quality,” said Mrs Butler. “The higher levels of beneficial fats in organic milk would more than compensate for the depression brought about by relatively poor weather conditions in the wet year.”

Soil Association head of policy Emma Hockridge said the research emphasises the ‘huge importance’ of allowing cattle to graze outdoors and was ‘another warning flag against the proposed 3,770 cow, mega dairy at Nocton in Lincolnshire’.

“This ground-breaking research shows the clear link between healthy soil, healthy animals and healthy people,” she said.

Readers' comments (7)

  • What a load of bollocks

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  • Sorry but this research reinforces other studies that say grazing forage alters the fatty acid composition of milk. That does not mean the farmer has to be "organic". nor does it mean the cows have to graze outdoors. Once again the soil association is adding 2 and 2 and getting 5.

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  • Sadly this article seems to ignore an important health relevant finding from this University of Newcastle research report. A quotefrom the origibnal work on fatty acid (FA) content in relation to coronary heart disease (CHD); "concentrations of myristic acid (C14:0), a FA thought to carry the highest CHD risk (Hu et al., 2001), were significantly higher in organic compared with conventional milk"

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  • I've been drinking moderate amounts of organic full-cream milk from Ayrshire cows over this winter and I have not suffered colds and flu as compared to previous years.
    With this fact in mind, would I be right in thinking that organic milk from Ayrshire cows has made a positive contribution to my current good health. Can I deduct that organic milk from Ayrshire cows has protected me from coughs and sneezes? I did not drink organic milk from Ayshires prior to this year, but I did suffer colds and flu.
    The facts don't lie - drink organic milk from Ayrshire cows - you know it makes sense!
    Tastes great too!
    NB - to the first commentator 'Anonymous' - I'm guessing you have a view on my comments - cheers anyway - like I say, tastes great!

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  • any farmer could have told them for nothing that grass that has a lower dry matter content is less nutritious, and also the benefits of sunshine in making higher quality winter feed

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  • Was it the researchers at Newcastle Uni or the FG reporter who doesn't understand the difference between "nutritional" and "nutritious". The headline is meaningless. Is the research similarly flawed?

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