Organic milk in a pitcher on a table representing what is organic milk

What Makes Milk Organic?

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What is organic milk? – that is the question! If you’ve ever considered buying organic milk but aren’t sure if the extra few dollars are worth it, then this post is for you! We take a deep dive into regular vs. organic milk and if it is really worth it.

There’s no doubt milk is a beloved drink for both adults and kids. After all, eating a bowl of cereal without milk just wouldn’t be the same. It’s the #1 most purchased item in grocery stores across the U.S., and we’re sure that at one point or another, you’ve come across many other types of milk besides “regular” milk — such as organic milk and, of course, the plant-based variety.

Organic milk has made its way into the milk section of almost every grocery store and into the headlines of countless wellness blogs, but despite that, not many people know what makes milk organic. So, if you’re thinking about making the switch from regular milk to its organic counterpart but want to learn more about it, you’re in the right place! Here’s everything you need to know about what makes milk organic.

What Is Organic Milk?

As Julie Andrews would say, “let’s start at the very beginning”: what is organic milk? The term “organic” refers to food that has been produced entirely without animal cruelty, non-pasture-based diets, chemical fertilizers, toxic pesticides, antibiotics, preservatives, or hormones. So, in a nutshell, organic milk is a type of milk that is produced naturally, thus ensuring the well-being of farmers, workers, land, cows, and drinkers.

What Is Regular Milk?

Regular milk, on the other hand, could be produced the same way as its organic counterpart, but the catch is that it doesn’t have to be. Farmers don’t have to worry about the traceability of their supply chain, and while they do have measures in place to ensure the welfare of consumers, the overall process is not as closely regulated. E.g., many farms can get away with antibiotics, pesticides, growth hormones, etc. — but more on that later.

However, it should be noted that conventional milk is safe to consume. Antibiotic and growth hormone residues may pose some health risks for certain individuals, but the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and the USDA’s (U.S. Department of Agriculture) Food Safety and Inspection Service work together to set limits on such residues so that they don’t pose a health risk to most people.

So, What Makes Organic Milk Organic?

Long story short, what makes organic milk organic is a total lack of antibiotic and hormone residues — since the use of both is prohibited — and the ethical treatment of cows. But just to get the facts straight, let’s break down the USDA requirements for organic milk.

Pro-Tip: Before you bring home a gallon of organic milk, make sure you check the organic certifications on the packaging — we’re talking about the USDA green and white certified organic symbol or the CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers) green, yellow, and white certified organic seal. Hundreds of brands are guilty of greenwashing the “organic” label — claiming something is organic when it is not —, so be on guard!

Absence of Growth Hormones and Antibiotics Residue

Out of all the requirements established by the USDA to qualify milk as truly organic, the two most important are that the milk must come from cows that aren’t treated with antibiotics or altered with hormones for growth or reproduction. Why? Because antibiotic residues found in regular milk can cause allergic reactions and other health problems in humans, and hormone residues also found in regular milk can contribute to cancer or encourage premature puberty. Plus, hormone use in cows can lead them to develop mastitis, an infection that increases the need for antibiotics. Yikes!

Happier Cows

When it comes to animal welfare, organic milk is a knocowt. Its production has high animal welfare standards since the USDA states that organic milk must come from cows with good living conditions that receive at least 30% of their diet from pasture. Plus, all of their feed must be 100% organic — no toxic pesticides. This is because a cow with good living conditions and high-quality organic feed produces better-quality milk. If you’re wondering what “good living conditions” mean, it means big barns with plenty of space for cows to roam around, something not seen on most non-organic farms.

Also, by taking pesticides out of the equation, there is no risk of finding toxic residues in the milk. In short, organic milk = happier cows!

What is organic milk cows What Makes Milk Organic? Drinks

Organic Milk Vs. Regular Milk: What Is the Difference Between the Two?

Organic milk differs from regular milk in four distinct ways: antibiotic use, hormone use, and animal welfare. But in addition to these key differences, are there any others? Yup, and you may already know them — higher nutritional value, and longer shelf life.

Higher Nutritional Value

We absolutely love this trait of organic milk, as it results from the good organic feed given to the cows. You see, by feeding cows more grass than grain, the fatty acid profile and protein levels of their milk increase. This fact not only means you’re literally drinking up extra nutrition but also makes it a bit superior to its regular counterpart… Just saying!

Longer Shelf Life

For some people, it doesn’t matter if the milk they purchase lasts a long time in the fridge since they guzzle a whole carton in less than 3 days, but for us, details milk the difference. Not everyone consumes that much milk that fast, so being able to have a carton stored for more than 1 month and not having to throw it away is definitely a nice bonus of the organic aspect of this milk. 

So, why does organic milk last so much longer than regular milk? Well, because most of them go through a pasteurization process called UHT in which milk is heated to 280 °F for two seconds, thus killing any bacteria in it. Most regular milk is treated with a process called HTST, which doesn’t sterilize it completely and makes it prone to shorter shelf life.

Are There Any Disadvantages of Organic Milk?

Now that you know what it mean for milk to be organic and how milktastic it is, what are the cons of organic milk? We’d like to say there aren’t any, but the truth is there’s one disadvantage that can’t be ignored, and another that, depending on your taste buds, can become an advantage. Let’s start with the first one — the price.


We know we’re not the only ones who have been caught looking at the price tag of a gallon of organic milk for a noticeable amount of time while thinking, “that’s almost twice as much as regular milk!”, so it’s only fair to answer in this post the million-dollar question: why is organic milk more expensive?

Essentially, the high price of organic milk is because its production is not as massive as that of regular milk — less supply for almost the same demand —, and the cost of production is higher for organic farms. Just to give you an idea, cows can only consume expensive organic feed, and if they get sick, they must be removed from the herd as they cannot be given antibiotics. These are just a few of the factors why the cost difference between organic milk vs. regular milk doesn’t fly under the radar.

Different Taste

The first time we tasted organic milk, we understood why there are organic milk haters. It does taste different — but for us, not in a bad way. Remember the UHT process? This may be one of the biggest factors impacting the taste of organic milk, besides, of course, organic cows’ diets. This can be a con for many people, but if you’re into rich, slightly sweeter flavors, it will be a big pro for you.

What is organic milk vs regular What Makes Milk Organic? Drinks


Does Organic Milk Mean the Cows Are Grass-Fed?

All USDA-certified organic milk comes from cows that are grass-fed to some extent but not necessarily from cows that are only grass-fed. Likewise, grass-fed cows don’t necessarily have to be raised organically. However, grass-fed only organic milk does exist.

Is Organic Milk Better for The Environment?

Nowadays, almost everyone is aware of the environmental impact of conventional agriculture, so an environmentally conscious person is more likely to support sustainable agricultural practices. Does organic milk production fall into those practices? Fortunately, yes.

Some studies claim that organic farming results in higher soil quality and lower nutrient losses, and although there is conflicting information on whether the carbon footprint of organic farms is higher or lower than regular farms, the consensus is that organic milk production is better for the environment.

Is Organic Milk Lactose-Free?

Organic milk is not lactose-free by itself, but it can be lactose-free if lactase, an enzyme that helps break down lactose, is added. In fact, all dairy milk — regular or organic — that are lactose-free contains that enzyme, which is added during production.

Is There Pus in Organic Milk?

If you’ve researched milk before, you’ve probably come across a so-called “fact” floating around that claims that “a glass of milk contains 135 million pus cells”. In reality, what may be present in milk — both organic and regular — are white cells, not pus per se, and these are monitored by a somatic cell count (SCC). If a farm finds an elevated white blood cell present in the milk they produce, chances are the cows are indeed fighting an infection, and that translates into either 1. being paid less per batch of milk, or 2. their milk not being purchased at all. So no, there is no pus in the organic milk you buy at your local grocery store.

What Makes Milk Organic? – Final Thoughts

To summarize, what makes organic milk organic is the lack of hormones and antibiotics and the fact that it comes from cows with a better diet and overall better living conditions, which results in longer shelf life and superior nutritional values — two important characteristics of this type of milk. If you’re walking around your nearest grocery store looking for the healthiest food for you and your family, chances are you want to be informed about the products you’re putting into your basket, so we hope this post has cleared up all your doubts about organic milk 🙂

What about you, do you prefer organic or regular milk? To each his own, but we’d love to hear your personal opinion in the comments box!

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