A number of food tests reveal contamination is a significant problem, and while authorities insist levels are unlikely to do any harm, they’re talking about contaminants found in any one given food — not the levels you might be exposed to by eating them all in combination, every day of the year for a lifetime.
Most recently, tests conducted by Emory University researchers and The Organic Center reveal a significant portion of conventional nonorganic cow’s milk sold in grocery stores around the U.S. contains pesticides, growth hormones and antibiotics, including some that are not legally permitted in dairy production. Organic milk, on the other hand, was not found to contain these contaminants.
One-third of conventional milk contains risky contaminants
Fat for Fuel: A Revolu... Best Price: $1.83 Buy New $8.01 (as of 02:25 EST - Details) The study1,2 was published online June 26, 2019, in the Public Health Nutrition journal. Half-gallon jugs of conventional milk and organic milk were randomly purchased at retail stores in nine U.S. regions — 35 conventional milk samples from 18 brands and 34 organic milk samples from 10 brands.3
The 69 samples were tested for the presence of pesticides, antibiotics, bovine growth hormones (bGH) and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) using liquid or gas chromatography and mass or tandem mass spectrometry. Of the 35 conventional samples tested:4
•60% were found to contain antibiotics, including amoxicillin, oxytetracycline, sulfamethazine, sulfadimethoxine and sulfathiazole
•The banned antibiotic sulfamethazine was found in 37% of samples, and sulfathiazole — also banned in dairy production — was found in 26% of samples.
Sulfanomide antibiotics are not allowed for use in dairy production due to human health concerns, which include acute and potentially life-threatening allergic reactions5 and other side effects,6 including joint and muscle pain, abdominal cramping and low back pain
•One sample (3%) contained the antibiotic amoxicillin, commonly used in human medicine, at a level exceeding the federally permissible limit
•Between 26% and 60% were found to contain pesticides, including chlorpyrifos (59%), atrazine(26%; linked to reproductive harm in animals, birth defects and cancer), diazinon (60%), cypermethrin (49%) and permethrin (46%; a synthetic pyrethroid7 insecticide linked to behavior problems in children)
•59% contained chlorpyrifos, an insecticide known to disrupt brain development and cause brain damage, neurological abnormalities, reduced IQ and aggressiveness in children
None of these pesticides and antibiotics were found in the 34 organic milk samples. According to the authors:8
“Among the conventional samples, residue levels exceeded federal limits for amoxicillin in one sample (3%) and in multiple samples for sulfamethazine (37%) and sulfathiazole (26%). Median bGH and IGF-1 concentrations in conventional milk were 9·8 and 3·5 ng/ml, respectively, twenty and three times that in organic samples …
Current-use antibiotics and pesticides were undetectable in organic but prevalent in conventionally produced milk samples, with multiple samples exceeding federal limits. Higher bGH and IGF-1 levels in conventional milk suggest the presence of synthetic growth hormone.”
Opt for organic milk to avoid contaminants
In its press release, Jessica Shade, director of science programs for The Organic Center, said:9
“This study is especially exciting because the researchers developed methods that are more sensitive than past analyses, including testing methods that have been used by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); also, the study measured levels of chemicals that were previously unreported.
These new methods give us a true picture of the presence or absence of residues in milk. The methodology was proven and solid, and put systems in place to control for results that would inaccurately indicate the presence or absence of the residues [false positives and false negatives].
The statistical significance was so clear and decisive that it gives us confidence that what we found in the study would also be the results of a larger sampling.
Milk is a great source of protein and important vitamins and minerals, and we want our children and our families to drink milk. But not all milk is created equal, as this study demonstrates.”
Source: The Organic Center June 26, 2019
Organic milk contains more omega-3 fats and CLA
A 2016 report10 by the European Parliament, “Human Health Implications of Organic Food and Organic Agriculture,” which reviewed the nutritional content of organics (among many other things) — including organic milk — concluded that the clearest benefits of organics on human health were found to be related to lowered pesticide, antibiotic and cadmium exposure.
According to the authors of this EU report, “As a consequence of reduced pesticide exposure, organic food consequently contributes to the avoidance of health effects and associated costs to society.” However, it has significant nutritional benefits over conventional as well.
For starters, it has a healthier ratio of omega-3 and omega-6. As noted in a 2013 study,11 organic milk contains 25% less omega-6 fats and 62% more omega-3 fats than conventional milk. Compared to organic milk, conventional milk had “a 2.5-fold higher omega-6/omega-3 ratio … (5.77 vs. 2.28),” and as noted by the authors:12
“Over the last century, intakes of omega-6 (ω-6) fatty acids in Western diets have dramatically increased, while omega-3 (ω-3) intakes have fallen. Resulting ω-6/ω-3 intake ratios have risen to nutritionally undesirable levels, generally 10 to 15, compared to a possible optimal ratio near 2.3 …
All individual ω-3 fatty acid concentrations were higher in organic milk — α-linolenic acid (by 60%), eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA] (32%), and docosapentaenoic acid (19%) — as was the concentration of conjugated linoleic acid (18%).”
They also investigated three hypothetical diet strategies to try to ascertain the most effective way to reach a more optimal omega-6/omega-3 ratio, concluding that a combination of high organic dairy consumption along with reduced consumption of omega-6-rich foods “together would decrease the omega-6/omega-3 ratio among adult women by ∼80% of the total decrease needed to reach a target ratio of 2.3.”
This study also found organic milk had higher levels of beneficial conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which they note is “widely accepted as beneficial for heart health and prevention of cancer.”13 Overall, CLA levels in organic milk were 18% higher than conventional,14 although there are significant seasonal differences.
The highest CLA levels are achieved in the summer, May through October, when CLA concentrations were 55% higher than in the winter.15 Conventional milk, on the other hand, had much smaller seasonal variations in CLA, rising only 12% in the summer.16
Other research demonstrating superiority of organic milk
Another analysis,17 published in 2016, that looked at the compositional differences of organic and conventional milk,18 also found clear differences between the two. Said to be the largest study of its kind, the researchers analyzed 170 studies on milk.
According to this review, half a liter of organic full fat milk will provide you with an estimated 39 milligrams (mg) or 16% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of very long-chain (VLC) omega-3 (EPA, DPA and DHA), whereas conventional milk will provide only 25 mg or 11% of the RDI of these important fats.19
As noted by the authors, VLC omega-3s have been linked to a number of health benefits, including “improved fetal brain development and function, delayed decline in cognitive function in elderly men and reduced risk of dementia (especially Alzheimer’s disease).”
And, while the differences in vitamins and minerals were smaller than those of omega-3 fats, compared to conventional milk, organic milk was also found to contain 13% higher vitamin E levels (alpha-tocopherol) and 20% higher iron levels.20 As in the 2013 study discussed above, this analysis also found organic milk had “significantly higher CLA” levels.21
Organic raw grass fed milk is less likely to make you sick
Last but not least, organic raw milk from grass fed pastured cows is also far less likely to be contaminated with hazardous bacteria associated with foodborne illness. Organic farming and animal food production in general are both safer in this regard, as discussed in the EU report22“Human Health Implications of Organic Food and Organic Agriculture,” which contains a section on this topic.
While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture insist raw milk will increase your risk of death and disease, foodborne illness statistics offer no support for such claims. In fact, an investigation23 by Dr. Ted Beals reveals you’re 35,000 times more likely to get sick from any other food than raw milk.
Both the FDA24 and USDA25 warn that raw milk can carry disease-causing bacteria, — completely ignoring and overlooking the fact that these bacteria are the result of industrial farming practices that lead to diseased animals. Healthy animals raised on pasture simply will not harbor dangerous amounts of pathogenic bacteria.
The only way their raw milk warning would make sense is if it specified that you should never drink unpasteurized CAFO milk, as that could indeed be disastrous. Organic grass fed milk, on the other hand, rarely ever poses a health risk when consumed raw, provided the producer is following good, sanitary practices — and organic dairy farms are required to follow stricter protocols in this regard.
A 2012 investigation by Mark McAfee, CEO of Organic Pastures Dairy — which included a FOIA request to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for data on deaths claimed to be related to raw milk — revealed:26
- Zero deaths attributed to raw milk consumption in California over a 37-year span
- The two deaths the CDC lists as being related to raw milk were actually due to illegal Mexican bathtub cheese, and not raw milk produced in the U.S.
- The last people to die from milk died from contaminated pasteurized milk
- According to a Cornell study, which used CDC data, 1,100 illnesses were linked to raw milk between 1973 and 2009. Meanwhile, 422,000 illnesses were traced back to pasteurized milk. And, while no one died from raw milk, at least 50 Americans died from pasteurized milk or pasteurized cheese
Raw milk associated with lower infection risk
While being less likely to make you sick, raw organic grass fed milk may also have immune-boosting benefits. According to a 2015 study27 in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, children who drink raw organic grass fed milk have lower rates of viral and respiratory tract infections, including regular colds, than those who drink ultra-pasteurized milk. According to the authors:
“Early life consumption of raw cow’s milk reduced the risk of manifest respiratory infections and fever by about 30% … [T]he public health impact of minimally processed but pathogen-free milk might be enormous, given the high prevalence of respiratory infections in the first year of life and the associated direct and indirect costs.”
Make sure you get what you pay for
KetoFast: Rejuvenate Y... Check Amazon for Pricing. While organic milk is likely a far superior choice over conventional milk, remember that any organic milk sold in conventional grocery stores will still be pasteurized, which will detract some of its benefits, as the pasteurization kills beneficial bacteria and can damage many valuable enzymes. To learn more, see McAfee’s article, “The 15 Things That Milk Pasteurization Kills.”28
What’s worse, regulatory loopholes permit CAFO dairies to produce “organic” milk, even though the cows are not grass fed on pasture. I discuss this in “How Organic is Your Organic Milk?”
For optimal health benefits, opt for organic, grass fed raw milk, ideally certified by the American Grassfed Association (AGA), which ensures the highest quality grass fed products — both meat and dairy.
The AGA website allows you to search for AGA approved producers29 certified according to strict standards that include being raised on a diet of 100% forage; raised on pasture and never confined to a feedlot; never treated with antibiotics or hormones; and born and raised on American family farms.
Other resources that can help you find raw grass fed milk locally include Raw-Milk-Facts.com30 and RealMilk.com.31 They can tell you what the status is for legality in your state, and provide a listing of raw dairy farms in your area.
The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund32 also provides a state-by-state review of raw milk laws.33California residents can also find raw milk retailers using the store locator available at www.OrganicPastures.com.34
Sources and References
- 1, 8 Public Health Nutrition June 26, 2019 [Epub ahead of print]
- 2, 3, 4, 9 The Organic Center June 26, 2019
- 5 Mayo Clinic, Sulfa Allergy
- 6 Mayo Clinic Sulfanomide Side Effects
- 7 National Pesticide Information Center Permethrin
- 10, 22 European Parliament, Human Health Implications of Organic Food and Organic Agriculture (PDF)
- 11, 12 PLOS One December 9, 2013
- 13 PLOS One December 9, 2013, Statistical Analysis section
- 14 PLOS One December 9, 2013, Results section below Table 2
- 15, 16 PLOS One December 9, 2013, Seasonal differences section
- 17, 18 British Journal of Nutrition March 28, 2016; 115(6): 1043-1060
- 19 British Journal of Nutrition March 28, 2016; 115(6): 1043-1060, Potential nutritional impacts of composition differences section
- 20 British Journal of Nutrition March 28, 2016; 115(6): 1043-1060, Antioxidants/Vitamins and Minerals section
- 21 British Journal of Nutrition March 28, 2016; 115(6): 1043-1060, End of “Composition of organic and conventional bovine milk” section
- 23 A Campaign for Real Milk December 17, 2012
- 24 FDA.gov Dangers of Raw Milk
- 25 USDA Consumer Food Safety Practices: Raw Milk Consumption and Food Thermometer Use January 2019 (PDF)
- 26 Realmilk.com July 29, 2012
- 27 Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology January 2015; 135(1): 56-62.e2
- 28 A campaign for Real Milk August 3, 2010, Last updated December 25, 2012
- 29 Americangrassfed.org, Find a Certified AGA Producer
- 30 Raw-Milk-Facts.com
- 31 RealMilk.com
- 32 The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund
- 33 The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, State by State Review of Raw Milk Laws
- 34 OrganicPastures.com Store Locator