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Organic and Conventional Farms

Organic and Conventional Farms FAQs


U.S. dairy farmers are committed to assuring that their animals are well cared for and that proper attention is given to the use of natural resources, no matter if the farm is organic or conventional. There are strict guidelines from government agencies for all dairy farms, including sanitation, use of veterinary products, and environmental management. Organic dairy foods must additionally meet the requirements of USDA’s National Organic Program. This includes using only organic fertilizers and pesticides, and not using rbST. Dairy foods can be labeled “USDA Organic” only if all of the additional criteria are met.

Research can find no difference between organic and regular milk in quality, safety or nutrition. Both contain nine essential nutrients. For example, a 2008 study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association analyzed the composition of milk labeled organic, “rbST-free” and regular milk, and found that the label claims were not related to any meaningful differences in milk composition. Organic milk is one choice among many in the dairy case.

The definition of organic milk refers to farm management practices, not to the milk itself. Stringent government standards ensure that both organic milk and regular milk are wholesome, safe and nutritious. The same rigorous testing is done for all milk.

The taste of milk, regardless of whether it is organically or conventionally produced, can differ slightly from carton to carton and season to season. Factors that may impact taste include location of the farm, breed of the cow, variations in cows’ feed from farm to farm, and even the time of year. Milk that is ultra-high temperature pasteurized for longer freshness may have a slightly different taste. People should do their own “taste test” to see what type of milk they prefer.

Probably not. Most milk, including organic and regular milk, is delivered to stores within a few days of milking. However, some organic milk has an extended shelf life if it has undergone ultra-high temperature pasteurization.

There are large and small farms that produce both conventional and organic types of milk. Organic farming has more to do with farm management practices than the size of the farm itself. Of the 45,000 dairy farms in America today, the majority are smaller farms with less than 200 cows. The vast majority of US farms – big and small – are family owned and operated.

What dairy cows eat as well as their breed and stage of lactation can affect the composition of the milk, however these small differences do not impact human health. Cows on organic farms spend the grazing season (at least 120 days per year) on green pasture, and they usually benefit from supplemental feed to fulfill protein requirements. In non-grazing season, cows on organic farms eat the same type of feed that’s given to cows on other dairy farms, except the ingredients must be certified organic. USDA has a separate standard for dairy foods that are labeled “grass-fed”. Grass-fed dairy cows must get a majority of their nutrients from grazing on pasture throughout their lives, while the pasture diet of dairy cows on certified-organic farms may be supplemented with up to 70% grain.

The statistical differences are so small, they do not impact human health.