April 25, 2007
By Ron Johnson, Dairy Editor
Science is something some consumers refuse to trust, especially when it comes to milk.
Rusty Bishop, director of the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, injected the scientific viewpoint into a discussion titled “Niche Markets – Myths and Reality” during last week’s Wisconsin Cheese Industry Conference at La Crosse.
Bishop spoke after a representative of Whole Foods, a large, retail marketer of organic foods, and before a representative of Organic Valley, a Wisconsin-based co-op that specializes in organic milk and other organic foods. He tackled six of what he termed “organic claims” and followed them with “scientific facts.”
No more nutrients
The first claim is that “Organic milk contains more ‘nutrients.’”
Not so, according to Bishop. “Increased ‘nutrients’ are due to high-quality pasture, regardless of whether it’s organic or conventional, including CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), omega-3 fatty acids, flavenoids, and other antioxidants.”
Claim No. 2: “Organic milk has less exposure to pesticide residue.”
Wrong again, said the dairy research center director.
“Pesticide residue is minimized on organic pasture and grain crops,” Bishop acknowledged. “But USDA data confirms very low, but equal, levels of residue in organic and conventional raw milk.”
The third claim is that “Organic milk has higher levels of antioxidants.”
“Higher levels of antioxidants are only related to significant feed intake from pasture-grazed cows – organic and conventional,” Bishop said.
“Organic milk has lower levels of mycotoxins” is the third claim. Not only is this claim false, but just the opposite is true, according to Bishop.
“Actually, scientific studies in the U.S. and Europe show higher mycotoxin levels in organic milk, due to ineffective organic pesticide treatment of grain crops,” he said.
Claim No. 5 is that “Organic milk leads to less antimicrobial resistance.” This claim is also false, Bishop said.
He explained, “Research in the U.S. and Switzerland conclusively proved no difference in antibiotic resistance of bacteria isolated from organic and conventionally treated cows.”
Organic milk safe
The sixth claim is that “Organic milk is safe.”
This claim, agreed Bishop, is indeed true. But he asserted, “All milk is safe.”
Many don’t believe
But many people either do not know the science-based truth or they simply do not believe it. Bishop noted four aspects of the “consumer environment.”
First, he said, there’s a “growing mistrust of science and technology.” Second is the increasing “rejection of advanced technology.”
This rejection and mistrust are accompanied by people favoring what they think of as “more-natural alternatives.” What’s more, all these points are “most apparent in the realm of food and nutrition,” Bishop observed.
This quest for “more-natural” alternatives has led to opportunities in fluid milk, cheese and other dairy products. Bishop noted six general niche markets that have been developed.
First is the niche market for what Bishop called “reduced” dairy products. For cheese, this category includes reduced-fat, reduced sodium and reduced colorings.
The next niche category is “fortified” cheeses. These can have had several things added to them – probiotics, CLA, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and prebiotics.
Then there are “natural” cheeses. Bishop admitted that he has a tough time defining “natural” cheese, other than as one that is not a processed cheese.
Another niche market is for cheeses made from raw milk. These cheeses are either made without the milk being heated at all, or with it being heated in a way that is not pasteurization.
Of course, cheese made from organically produced milk is another niche market. So is cheese made from the milk of cows that have been grazed.
Besides refuting some of the claims made about organic dairy products, Bishop also took on the claims about raw milk. There are several.
Raw milk, said Bishop, is claimed to contain nutrients and enzymes necessary for calcium absorption. Drinking raw milk supposedly prevents certain allergies, along with arthritis. It’s touted as being more digestible, along with having its whey proteins intact.
What’s more, raw milk proponents say it contains more CLA, calcium and other minerals, and that it is more nutritious than pasteurized milk. They also say drinking raw milk lessens the incidence of tooth decay, boosts disease resistance and increases fertility.
The “scientific facts,” according to Bishop state otherwise.
“The enzymes destroyed by pasteurization are bovine enzymes, which are not used by the human body to metabolize calcium or other nutrients,” he stated. And, there’s “no scientific basis for allergy and arthritis claims.”
Nor are whey proteins destroyed by pasteurization, Bishop continued. What’s more, both raw milk and pasteurized milk contain CLA, calcium and other minerals.
“There is no objective, scientific evidence that milk pasteurization has any adverse effect on human nutrition or health,” Bishop added. “The alluded health benefits of raw milk are either anecdotal or unsupported by scientific fact, while it has been repeatedly demonstrated that the consumption of raw-milk products represents a substantial risk of infectious diseases.”
What about the supposed better, or different flavors in raw-milk cheeses? “Most desired cheese flavors derived from raw-milk microflora can be obtained by using appropriate starter adjuncts,” Bishop said.
While organic milk and raw milk are no better than so-called “conventional” milk, there is one category that does, indeed, have added benefits. That’s the milk from grazed cows.
The dairy research center director said cheese made from the milk of pastured cows contains more CLA, more omega-3 fatty acids and more antioxidants. But, he emphasized, “Grazing is the key – not organic versus conventional.”
Bishop went on to compare other aspects of the milk from grazed cows, organic milk and that produced conventionally.
First he looked at the rolling herd averages of all three categories. Conventional herds produce, by far, the most milk, with a rolling herd average of 24,676 pounds, said Bishop. That compares to 16,823 pounds for organically managed herds, and 16,755 for grazed herds.
Cows in organic and grazed herds do better when it comes to fat and protein. Grazed herds average 4.3 percent fat and 3.22 percent protein, while organically managed herds average 3.87 percent fat and 3.1 percent protein. For conventionally managed herds the numbers are 3.83 percent fat and 3.06 percent protein.
But organic and grazed herds tend to have higher somatic cell counts (SCCs), a measure of milk quality. For grazed herds the average SCC is 262,000, and for organic herds it’s 276,000. Conventionally managed herds, by contrast, had a 236,000 SCC average.
The “bottom line,” according to Bishop, is that, yes, there are some “beneficial” differences among certain categories of niche dairy products. He listed the “reduced” dairy products in this category, along with those that are fortified and those made from milk from grazed cows.
On the other hand, there are three categories that do not have beneficial differences. These, said Bishop, exist because consumers make “marketing choices.” In this category are cheeses and other dairy products touted as “natural,” those made from raw milk, and those made from organic milk.
Bishop took a jab at the “organic” market when he showed a slide of a cartoon. In it, a shelf labeled “organic foods” had fallen on a shopper. Two police officers were at the scene. One said to the other, “I’m putting down that he died of natural causes