Organic Milk and Omega-3: Understanding the Labels

  • Article
  • 2 min read June 5, 2018

When we compare conventional milk to milk labelled organic or grass-fed, it’s important to know that there are more similarities than differences.

All cow’s milk — from lactose free to low-fat, organic or whole — contains nine essential nutrients like calcium, protein and vitamin D. But organic and grass-fed milk have slightly higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids compared to conventional milk due to the different diets of the cows themselves.

However, while there may be an increase in omega-3 fatty acids when a cow is pasture-fed (or grass-fed) versus the more conventional total mixed ration feed, the amount of increase is still not enough by itself to produce a meaningful nutritional benefit.

Improving omega-3 fatty acids in the diet may support brain, eye and heart health, but more research is needed. Milk — unless fortified with omega-3 fatty acids — is not considered a major source nor does it make a significant contribution toward recommended levels compared to foods like salmon or canola oil.

How do you know what a cow eats? 

Organic dairy farms must meet the requirements of the USDA's National Organic Program. Dairy foods are labeled “USDA Organic” only if all the criteria are met. Cows on these organic farms are required to graze on pasture no less than 120 days each year and average at least 30 percent of their feed (measured in dry matter without moisture) from pasture grazing. Dairy farms not certified organic may also use pasture grazing as seasons allow.

While you may see
“grass-fed” on labels of milk or other dairy foods, there is no federal standard definition of grass-fed dairy foods, but independently the American Grassfed Association approved grass-fed standards. Any “grass-fed” claims made on food labels must be truthful and not misleading.

Regardless of farm-management style, fat-free and low-fat milk and dairy foods when eaten as part of a healthy eating pattern are associated with bone, cardiovascular and overall health. So no matter which type people drink, they can feel good knowing it is safe, wholesome and nutritious.