Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
Jul 17, 2012 11:56 PM

Organic vs. Non-Organic Milk from the same plant

Someone on another thread posted a link to so I looked mine up. We switched to organic milk when my son was born and when I read more about the gunk that can get by in conventional, so we use organic whole for him and organic skim for us, but we're on a very tight budget, so we generally buy conventional half-n-half for the cut corners where you can. *wink*

But it turns out that all 3 come from the same plant! The only difference when I go to the farm's website seems to be that they make sure the organic cows get organic feed. Now, since it's certified organic, they also can't give preventative antibiotics, and from the tricky wording on their FAQ it looks like maybe they do give those to the conventional, but I can't be sure. They just say "all of our tankers and tested for traces of steroids and antibiotics before they leave the plant" - which implies to me they must be giving them if they're testing for residue, though they don't use rSBT.

End question being: do you think there's a vast enough difference between organic and non-organic milk if it's all coming from the same plant, or are we just talking a few "organic certified" bushels of hay difference that doesn't warrant the extra $2-3 a gallon we're spending every shopping trip? If I'm not avoiding the bad stuff, I'll save the money, thank you very much, or at least find a better supplier.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I assume they have separate processing "pipeline" for the different type of milk they do. If not, they clean their tanks and pipes between batches; and even if they do not, the amount of "gunk" (your word) might be really small and within regulation (what regulation?) to be labelled organic when they process organic milk.

    Or they are just bullshitting everyone since there are not strict regulation on what is or not organic (or in what ratio of organic is needed to say the whole product is organic (20%, 50%, 75%, 100% ?).

    Just ask them (your milk producers) directly, not us; Ask them who they get their milk from (their own?) and what is their process for the normal and organic milk.
    also check with who is actually doing the certification, and if it is only a "rubber" stamp or if they actually do testing on the whole process (from the cow feed to the bottling).


    1. The good news is that all milk, whether conventional or organic, must test free from antibiotics. The difference is that the organic guidelines stipulate a full year withdrawal period from any therapeutic antibiotics while conventional dairies need to withdraw for only weeks. Dairies have very very low margins and generally cannot afford to maintain animals for the year of withdrawal, so most organic dairies are forced into a choice when an animal gets sick (say, from pneumonia): they can let the animal be and hope it pulls through, but risk losing the cow, or they can medicate and subsequently shuffle the animal off to a conventional dairy. (For background, I worked for some small Grade-A dairies that were not certified organic for this very reason. With a small dairy there is an emotional connection with the animals and you want to be able to save them if they have an infection). It is therefore common for large-scale dairies to maintain both organic and non-organic herds, and simply shift any animals that no longer qualify for organic status to the non-organic herd. You can find more information about your specific brand of organic milk here:

      Now here is the bad news about antibiotics. The antibiotics testing that is performed on every batch of milk takes only a few minutes. There are antibiotics that cannot be detected in that amount of time! Some antibiotics take over a day to detect, even in high concentrations. The Department of Ag has decided that requiring testing for those types of antibiotics would be too burdensome on the milk producers, so they are not tested for, EVER. Not even when the old, "retired" cows are sent for meat processing and the meat plant detects those antibiotics in the carcasses (meat animals must be tested for this set of antibiotics since there is a longer holding time with meat) -- even at that point, the milk from the implicated dairy is never held for the longer testing. So basically, organic or not (and there ARE unethical organic dairies out there... coughHorizoncough), any commercial milk could contain high levels of antibiotics despite the testing. The only way to be 100% sure is to purchase milk from a farmer you personally trust, and not rely on the USDA's testing protocols. You just have to decide what makes sense for you.

      Personally, I don't see a huge difference between certified and conventional national brands, unless you do some digging about the specific organic dairy. I do like Organic Valley, since many/most of their suppliers are truly small, honest dairies, but if the choice is between Horizon and Challenge butter, I go with Challenge.