Greetings from sunny 20 degree Minnesota – a great January day!
It’s recently occurred to me that for a dairy blogger, I actually haven’t talked much about milk. Oops! I blog a lot about how we care for and raise our cows because that’s truthfully what I’m most familiar with.
But I also know a thing or two about milk, and I see that there are endless choices, questions, and even misunderstandings about it. So I’m going to delve into this world of labeling lingo and see if I can shed any light.
First, many choices exist in the milk case. You can get everything from a gallon of white, 2% milk to strawberry and cappuccino-flavored milks in individual serving sizes. My personal favorite might just be chocolate milk after a long run 🙂 Anyhow, you also see milk labeled with everything from “organic” to “antibiotic free” to “milk from cows not treated with rBST/rBGH.”
I think it’s great that we as consumers today have so many choices about what we wish to buy. Everyone in the agricultural community works hard to produce safe and nutritious food, including milk, and provide lots of good choices. With so many options though, it’s helpful to be educated about them. What do all these different words used to label milk really mean?
Here’s a few milk facts for you:
Hormones – news flash: all milk contains small amounts of hormones. Whether the milk is labeled organic, natural, local or just plain skim, all milk naturally contains small amounts of the protein hormone bST (bovine somatotropin). Your body digests it just like any other protein.
I did a bit of internet research, and everybody from world-renowned universities to organic groups to dairy promotion groups agree that milk contains hormones. It’s fine and natural for it to do so!
When milk states that it’s from cows not treated with rBST, or rBGH, it just means that the cow has not been given more of the hormone than she naturally makes. The little “r” in front stands for recombinant, meaning it’s a synthetic version of the natural hormone. When milk is labeled in this way, you may also notice that it states that no significant difference has been shown between milk from treated and non-treated cows.
I’m pretty sure this originates from a truth in labeling or advertising law because you can’t tell by looking at, tasting, or even testing milk whether it contains synthetic bST. This is because the natural and synthetic version of the hormone is the same. If you want more info, I found a pretty thorough website that talks more in-depth about the facts of bST.
Antibiotics – All milk sold from farms is antibiotic free. I hate is when a company specifically labels their milk as antibiotic free because it’s rather misleading when all milk is antibiotic free, don’t you think?
Now it is true that some milk is from cows that have never been treated with antibiotics, while most traditionally produced milk is from cows that may have been given antibiotics at some point if they were needed. We want to give our cows the best care, and if they are under the weather we want to get them well. You may give your child or yourself antibiotics if they’re needed, and it is no different for a cow.
If a cow is being treated with needed antibiotics to deal with a sickness or infection, the use is carefully monitored and the milk from that cow is routed to a separate bucket. It does not go into the bulk tank or make it into the food supply. We continue to keep that cow’s milk separate until all antibiotic residue has left her system, and only then can her milk be put back with the rest of herd’s milk and sold.
As an added precaution, every single load of milk that ever leaves our farm (or any farm) is tested for antibiotic residue. If any is found, the entire load of milk will be discarded. You can be very confident that all of the milk you buy is safe and absolutely antibiotic free.
Organic – Organic milk basically refers to how milk is produced, not what’s in the milk. As I’ve just talked about, all milk contains hormones and no milk contains antibiotics. The same is true for organic. Specific production practices are required for milk to be labeled organic, including the fact that all feed the cows get must be certified organic.
I think the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) says it best because they oversee the rules and certification of organic products. Check out their website here for more info.
Hope I haven’t overloaded you with too many facts! Hopefully next time you’re buying milk you’ll feel fully empowered to make the best choice for you and your family. (I tend to think all milk is always a great choice 😀 )
And just remember, milk (if it’s cow’s milk) comes to you from ladies just like these.
(Yes, I did feel the need to use a summer picture because I’m getting sick of snow! This was taken late August/early September.) It’s been a crazy week, but hopefully I’ll be back with some running tales tomorrow.
What other questions do you have about milk? Did I confuse you or did I manage to talk about something you found helpful?