By Alyssa Greenstein, RD, LD/N

As a registered dietitian, I am often asked if organic milk is better. There are several factors to consider when answering this question and the information may surprise you.

Is one option healthier?

From a health perspective, there are no nutritional differences between organic and regular milk. Both contain the same unique package of nutrients that make dairy products an important part of a healthy diet.  An eight-ounce serving of regular milk offers the same nine essential nutrients – including calcium, vitamin D and potassium – as a glass of organic milk.

The taste of milk, regardless of whether it is organic or conventionally-produced, can differ slightly because of the bottle or season. Organic milk is usually ultra-pasteurized (pasteurized at a higher temperature), so it usually has a slightly different taste than regular milk. Other factors that may impact taste include farm location, cow breed, variations in cows’ feed from farm to farm and time of year. People should do their own “taste test” to see which kinds of milk they prefer.

What is the difference between organic and conventional milk?

Organic has more to do with farm management practices than anything else. Therefore, statements on organic milk refer to farming practices, not to the milk itself.

These farm management practices mostly deal with the use of pesticides, fertilizers and antibiotics.  However, organic labeling standards do not require cows on organic farms to be grass-fed and few U.S. cows, in fact, are grass-fed.

All milk, whether it is regular or organic, is tested for antibiotics to ensure it meets the government’s quality and safety standards. You can be sure that both organic and regular milk are free from antibiotics.

It’s important to note that dairy cows are not routinely treated with antibiotics. If a cow develops an illness, both organic and conventional dairy farmers would treat the cow with the same antibiotics. The cow would be taken from the milking herd, treated and not put back into the herd until her milk tested free of antibiotics.

On an organic dairy farm, that cow would permanently exit the herd. On both organic and conventional dairy farms, every tanker load of milk is strictly tested for antibiotics. Any tanker that tests positive – and this is extremely rare – is disposed of immediately, never reaching the public.

If I buy organic milk, am I doing more to help support small family farms?

Not necessarily. There are large and small farms in both the regular and organic categories. Organic farming has more to do with the farm management practices mentioned above than the size of the farm itself. Of the 65,000 dairy farms in America today, the majority are smaller farms with less than 200 cows and 99 percent of U.S. farms are family-owned and operated.  So, whether you buy organic or regular milk, you can feel good about supporting family farming.

The bottom line

The type of milk you choose is a matter of personal preference.  Strict government standards ensure that all milk is pure, safe and wholesome. No matter what kind of milk you choose, you can feel good knowing that you are giving your family the most nutritious beverage available.

Alyssa Greenstein is a registered and licensed dietitian and Nutrition Affairs Senior Manager for the Dairy Council of Florida, a non-profit organization that works with schools, health professionals and others to build a positive health and wellness environment for dairy as a nutrient-rich food.