What Is the Difference Between Regular Milk and Organic Milk?

Organic milk has been gaining popularity among some consumers. Wondering what the difference is between regular and organic milk? Find out more below.

Does regular milk contain growth hormones? 

The use of growth hormones is not permitted in Canada. All milk sold, whether organic or not, is free of artificial growth hormones.

Does regular milk contain antibiotics? 

Antibiotic use with dairy cows is strictly regulated for both conventional and organic dairy cows. When a conventional or organic dairy cow is unwell and must be treated with antibiotics, the cow’s milk is removed from the milk supply for a regulated period of time (withdrawal period or wait time). The wait time is based on how long it takes the antibiotic residue to leave the animal’s body and differs from product to product.

This ensures no antibiotic residues enter the food system.

As an extra layer of quality assurance, each truckload of milk is tested for antibiotics, and if any is detected, the milk is discarded and farmers are heavily penalized. These regulations apply to both regular and organic milk.

So, how is organic milk different?

Organic dairy cows are fed  organic feed, have stricter guidelines pertaining to outdoor grazing access, and the milk they produce while taking antibiotics is kept out of the milk supply for a longer period time (beyond the regulated wait time).

Does organic milk contain more nutrients? 

There is no statistically significant evidence to support that organic dairy milk is more nutritious than regular milk. 1, 2

Why is organic milk more expensive than conventional milk?

The cost associated with organic dairy farming is higher than conventional. This reflects in the price of milk at the grocery store.

Is organic milk production more environment-friendly?

Both conventional and organic dairy farmers have environmentally friendly practices. Organic dairy producers feed their animals with crops grown without the use of synthetic pesticides. Meanwhile, conventional milk production results in overall lower greenhouse gas emissions as cow productivity increases.3

In Canada, dairy producers have already exceeded the Kyoto target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6%. Between 1990 and 2003, greenhouse gas emissions from dairy cows had dropped by 12% and they continue to be reduced by 1% per year through the use of efficient production methods.

Are cows on organic farms treated better?

Dairy farms in BC must adhere to the Code of Practice for the care and handling of dairy cattle, whether they are organic or conventional farms. The Code of Practice was established by the National Farm Animal Care Council, with representation from animal welfare groups, enforcement, government and farmers, working together to advance farm animal welfare. So cows on all dairy farms are treated humanely.

Bottom Line

Extensive quality checks ensure Canadian consumers can always purchase high quality, safe and nutritious milk. Organic or not, Canadian milk is free of artificial hormones and antibiotics. Choosing to buy organic milk is a personal choice.

Additional Resources:

  1. Średnicka-Tober D et al. Higher PUFA and n-3 PUFA, conjugated linoleic acid, α-tocopherol and iron, but lower iodine and selenium concentrations in organic milk: a systematic literature review and meta- and redundancy analyses. Br J Nutr 2016;115:1043-1060.
  2. Schwendel, B.H. et al. Invited review: Organic and conventionally produced milk—An evaluation of influence factors on milk composition. J. Dairy Sci. 2015;98:721–746.
  3. Dairy Farmers of Canada. FAQ on Dairy Farming and the Environment. Accessed May 30, 2016.
About BC Dairy

BC Dairy is a not-for-profit organization representing BC’s dairy farmers.