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Organic Milk in Quebec: Is There a Difference?

When it comes to making the decision of whether or not to go organic, for most of us it comes down to selecting which organic food products are worth the extra cost. There’s the “the dirty dozen” guideline with respect to produce, but what about dairy products? Especially given the large quantities consumed by our children, notably milk.

When we consider organic milk, there are a number of factors that come into play. The most significant of which that is currently discussed in the media is that of the growth hormone given to cows to enhance their milk output. Second is the use of antibiotics. Third, is the type of feed and how that consequently affects the quality of milk. Fourth is the management and operations of the farm and its cows.

In Canada the use of artificial growth hormones is strictly prohibited and milk is the most regulated and tested food product. The use of the Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) is illegal, and there is strict testing on all milk output to ensure compliance with this regulation.

Whereas in the United States farmers can add antibiotics to the feed, this is strictly prohibited in Canada. Nonetheless, conventional Canadian farmers do routinely treat Bovine Mastitis and other infections with antibiotics. However, the milk from a cow that has been given antibiotics must be thrown away for a minimum of 2 days subsequent to the end of treatment. The milk is tested at the farm and again at the processor to ensure that no antibiotics remain in the milk. Conversely, on an organic farm, once the cow is given antibiotics, the milk is never again used. Furthermore, on organic farms, homeopathic practices are used and there is a strong focus on disease prevention. In either case, there are strict measures in place to guarantee that the milk is free of antibiotics.

In Quebec, cow feed is usually grown on the farm itself. Cow feed for both conventional and organic farms must abide by government regulated standards, however conventional farmers are permitted to add a GMO ingredient such as corn to the feed. Not only do organic farmers avoid GMO ingredients, but they also promote the use of pesticide free crops for their feed. Nonetheless, an organic farm does not necessarily mean that it is pesticide free given that there is pesticide drift from other farms and residual pesticides in the soil from previous use.

Farm management and operations are far more simple than in the United States given that the average size of a herd on a Quebec farm is 52 whereas in the US it is 700 cows.

Finally, from a nutrient perspective, both organic and regular milk are the same. That being said, some studies have shown that organic milk is higher in Omega 3 fatty acids. However some may argue that milk isn’t significant source of Omega 3 in any case.

Finally, we may want to consider the importance of supporting the organic farmers despite the correlated higher price. Of course choosing to go organic to any extent is a personal choice. Should you choose this route, look for the products that are certified organic to ensure that rigid guidelines and criteria are followed throughout production.

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