Lately, there seems to be a great deal of buzz about organic food. Is it the best way to go? When asking this question, several factors come into play, including price, quality, the presence of pesticides and if organic food is more likely to carry harmful bacteria.
Based on research available (albeit limited) as to nutritional differences between organic and nonorganic food as well as the presence of contaminants and pathogens, I will try to clarify. In this column and my next one, I will address nutrition and contaminants for each of these food categories: milk, eggs, produce and meat.
Neither organic nor conventional milk contains antibiotics. Organic and conventional truckloads are tested for the presence of antibiotics. If present, the milk is pulled from the supply.
Feeding regime, breed and season influence the presence and quality of fatty acids and vitamins, such as A, D3 and E. Organic milk is found to have higher levels (very slight) of omega-3 fats, which indicates higher dietary grass intake. Organic and conventional milk could have pesticide content (particularly DDE and DDT) that remains in the soil and fat of mammals. These will gradually decline over the years.
Hormones in milk can be found in conventionally raised cows. They can be injected with a growth hormone (BGH, rBGH or rBST) to increase milk production. Rarely does the hormone survive pasteurization or digestion, but the resultant compound (IGF-I) can. Humans and organically and conventionally raised cows all produce IGF-I. Eating animal protein and soy protein also can increase IGF-I. As with many factors, the issue is not the IGF-I, but how individual bodies respond to it. Initially, research indicated that IGF-I was linked to specific cancers. In 2009, the Food and Drug Administration reported that IGF-I levels in milk are safe.
Overall, organic milk can have higher levels of omega-3, though marginally. Pesticides and hormones can be found in organic and conventional milks and antibiotics are not allowed in either. Dangerous pathogens (bacteria) such as listeria, campylobacter, salmonella, E. coli, shigella and norovirus are killed by low-temperature pasteurization.
The federal government has stipulated that raw milk is not to be sold for human consumption because of numerous, significant health concerns particularly in children, infants and immune-compromised people. The Centers for Disease Control provides a detailed fact sheet explaining health concerns about raw milk (www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/rawmilk/raw-milk-questions-and-answers.html) as well as nonpasteurized dairy products as part of emerging infectious disease concerns.
As with milk, the level of omega-3 fatty acids is directly related to hens’ diet. Increased pasture time for hens or supplementation to either conventional or organic eggs affects omega-3 fatty acids. There is no difference as to contamination risk (Stanford School of Medicine, 2012) between conventional and organic. Here, the labels tell (or not) a great deal. Organic food has specific USDA stipulations. However, free-range labels require that producers must demonstrate that poultry has had access to the outdoors – quite nebulous.
In my next column, I will address nutritional differences in organic and conventional meat and produce.
email@example.com or 382-6461. Wendy Rice is family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office.