Understanding Organics: Dairy & Dairy Substitutes

What you need to know
Understanding Organics: Dairy & Dairy Substitutes: Main Image
To produce organic dairy products, standard hygiene and dairy safety procedures are followed, including pasteurization.

Which dairy products are organic?

Milk from all dairy animals, including cows, goats, and sheep, may be certified organic. Certified organic products cover nearly the full dairy spectrum, including milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, cottage cheese, sour cream, ice cream, and more. Dairy products that are certified organic cannot be blended or otherwise come into contact with nonorganic milk. Look for the words “Certified Organic” on the label to be sure you are getting truly organic products.

What makes dairy products organic?

To produce organic dairy products, standard hygiene and dairy safety procedures are followed, including pasteurization. Organic certification requires the animals receive humane treatment, clean water and bedding, and access to the outdoors for pasture, exercise, and fresh air. To qualify for organic certification, a dairy farmer must feed 100% certified organic feed produced on land untreated with synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides for at least three seasons prior to harvesting the crop. The farm on which the herd is pastured must be certified organic as well. In addition, organic dairy products must be free of drugs, including growth hormones and antibiotics.

What is rBGH?

Most dairy products come from cows treated with the synthetic hormone rBGH (also known as recombinant bovine somatotropin, or rBST). The World Health Organization, the US Food and Drug Administration, and numerous medical associations have concluded that milk and meat from rBGH-treated cows is safe for human consumption. However, many people remain wary of the hormone. Governments in Canada, Europe, and elsewhere have blocked the sale of rBGH. Many physicians, scientists, and natural-food advocates remain convinced that milk from cows injected with the drug is less healthy than milk from untreated cows, and that its consumption might lead to health problems, including early-onset puberty and several forms of cancer.

What choices do consumers have?

If you prefer to avoid hormones, antibiotics, and other such additives, here are some simple steps you can take:

  • Go organic. Besides being hormone-free and antibiotic-free, milk, yogurt, butter, and cheese displaying “USDA Organic” or “Certified Organic” labels come from herds that eat grass or organic feed that is free of pesticides and genetically modified organisms.
  • Go dairy-free. Store shelves are now stocked with nondairy options such as rice, almond, and soy milks; yogurts; cheeses; and more.
  • Select rBGH-free products. Many grocery stores now carry milk with no added hormones.

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