Last week, we looked at the subject of organic and conventional produce and I gave you some information to help you determine which you think is best for you and your family. In this week’s Cooking Tip, I want to talk about organic meat and dairy.
First, we need to understand what the word “organic” means in relation to meat and dairy. According to the USDA’s website:
- The USDA organic label on dairy or meat products means that the animals … were raised in living conditions that accommodated their natural behaviors, without being administered hormones or antibiotics, and while grazing on pasture grown on healthy soil. Thereafter, the meat or dairy product is processed without any artificial colors, preservatives, or flavors before being packaged to avoid contact with any prohibited, nonorganic substances.” As part of this, the use of GMOs is prohibited.
- The basic rule is to allow natural substances and prohibit synthetic. For livestock, however, vaccines play an important part in animal health, especially since antibiotic therapy is prohibited.
- Yearly organic inspections are required including, but not limited to, seed sources, soil conditions, crop health, weed and pest management, water systems, inputs, contamination and commingling risks and prevention, and record-keeping.
- Producers must use 100% organic feed, but they may provide allowed vitamin and mineral supplements.
Are there any benefits of eating organic meat/dairy? Medical professionals at the Cleveland Clinic believe there are health benefits linked to choosing organic. However, they temper this by stating that “it’s not certain that eating organic foods will make a difference in one’s health.”
- Reduced exposure to pesticides and insecticides.
- Increased exposure to omega-3 fatty acids as livestock fed through grazing usually have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Lower levels of cadmium in organic grains.
- Increased levels of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other beneficial micronutrients.
- Less exposure to bacteria in meat.
- Less exposure to antibiotics and growth hormones.
According to Healthline, there are pros and cons to organic milk.
- Organic cow’s milk is higher in polyunsaturated fatty acids than conventional milk. However, once again, these differences may only be marginal and not offer more nutritional benefits than conventional milk. Also, some experts say this improved fatty acid content is due to farming practices that allow cows to graze and forage and not the organic farming itself.
- Organic milk has lower levels of drug residues (including antibiotics & growth hormones) than regular milk, although the amounts in regular milk are still considered safe. As for antibiotics, researchers at the University of California, Davis explain that there are never any antibiotics in any type of milk. This is due to policies in place by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and American Veterinary Medicine Association that control drug use. For more detail, see this article.
- Organic milk has a longer shelf life due to the pasteurization processes it undergoes.
- Organic milk is lower in iodine and selenium, two nutrients that are important for thyroid health.
- Organic milk is slightly higher in calories.
- Organic milk has a higher saturated fat content.
- Organic milk is more expensive.
- Both have comparable levels of calcium, potassium, and sodium.
Although the discussion of the environmental impacts of organic versus conventional farming is outside the scope of this Tip, if you are interested, here is a very well-researched article on this subject by researchers at the University of California at Davis. Let me just say it is not as clear cut as organic proponents say it is. As with so many topics, the truth is more nuanced.
I hope this article and the one about produce will help you determine if and when you wish to pay the increased cost associated with organic foods. It is a very personal decision but one that should be made with the data required to make an informed decision.