Milk it!

May 29, 2008

Image from Flickr by adamcohen

The University of Newcastle has found that organic cattle who eat high levels of fresh grass produce milk that is better for our health.

The study was a part of a European Commission funded project about minimizing the use of antibiotics in dairy production to improve the quality of milk. Scientists from the University of Newcastle and the Danish Institute for Agricultural Science collaborated together to take conduct the study. They began taking the samples of milk between 2004 and 2005 however the results have only just been published in the Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture.

They found that intensively farmed cattle produce milk with far less omega-3 and conjugated linoleic (also know as CLA9) than organic cattle. The levels of CLA9 in organic milk were found to be significantly higher (around 60%) than milk produced from of intensively farmed cows. These fatty acids are crucial for our health as they help to prevent cancer, coronary heart disease and type II diabetes.

Now the researchers have found this apparent they are now interested in improving the quality of milk so that other foods such as butter and cheese are also ‘healthier’.

They also found that cows produce higher quality milk depending on the season of year it is produced. In the winter cattle are kept indoors for the majority of the season where they are mainly fed on conserved forage rather than fresh feed which make’s the quality of the milk significantly lower.

Therefore the researchers also want to focus their future research on improving the quality of milk produced in the winter. They have already found that quality of milk produced by indoor kept cattle can be dramatically increased when soya beans, rapeseed and linseed are added to their daily diet. Finding that it increased so much so that the health benefits of the milk were incredibly similar to milk of outdoor, grass feed cows.

The scientists also used non-organic cattle in their research. The cows lived outdoors from March to November and had a diet of nearly 100% fresh grass. The researchers found that the milk that they produced had higher levels of CLA9 than organic milk. However organic milk still remained to have higher levels of omega-3.

They believe that the higher omega-3 levels in organic milk is due to the fact that organic cows are able to feed on larger amounts of clover in their fields as they do not use fertilizers. However further work in ongoing to find further proof.

Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Association is pleased with the latest research as the association promotes organic farming and its human health benefits. He adds “Some sceptics have thrown doubts on the benefit of organic milk because scientists had not shown precisely how organic farming makes a positive difference. This latest research demonstrates that it is the cows’ organic diet that makes their milk healthier.

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