President's Desk

Organic vs. Regular Milk

Organic milk production in India is expected to grow faster in view of the hyped problems of adulteration and presence of harmful pesticides, hormones, antibiotic residues and other contaminants in milk and milk products. However, national and international guidelines for organic milk production must be adopted in their entirety

G rowing consciousness of health risks due to possible contamination of farm produce from the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics have greatly contributed to revival of organic farming during recent time. This has triggered demand for organically produced milk products providing new opportunities for farmers, producers, processors, traders and agri-business operators. Agri-climatic conditions and agricultural biodiversity in India are conducive for organic farming. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India launched the National Programme on organic food production under the Foreign Trade and Development Act and published a document on standards for organic production, systems criteria and procedures for accreditation of inspection and certification bodies, besides the national logo and regulations governing its use.

International guidelines on organically produced food products are also developed for consumer protection and information to facilitate trade. The trade guidelines on organic food production were developed by the joint FAO/WHO food standards programme taking into account current regulation in several countries. They clearly define the requirements for organic food production and prevent deception and frauds that could mislead consumers about the quality of the product, labeling and claims.

Organic production systems at farms are based on specific and precise standards of production using socially, ecologically and economically sustainable agroecosystems. The primary goal of organic dairying is to optimize the health and productivity of soil, plants, dairy animals and people. The organic production cycle includes preparation, storage, transport, labeling and marketing and provides acceptable inputs for soil fertility, pest and disease control of fodder crops and safe processing aids including food additives.

“Organic” label or claim denotes that products and ingredients used have been produced in accordance with organic production standards and certified by an accredited certification body or an inspection authority. It may be noted that organic production practices cannot ensure a complete freedom from residues and contaminants because of environmental pollution caused by uncontrollable factors.

Organic milk is produced without antibiotics like Beta lactam, penicillin, ampicilin, amoxicillin, cloxacillin, cephapirin and ceftiofur. Every year the USFDA produces a report with its finding on drug residues in milk and milk products. If a cow is treated with antibiotics, coccidiostatics, medicinal substances and growth promoting hormones then her milk is not labeled as organic. Regular milk may contain antibiotic residue, it may be that this residue is below the tolerance limit.

Growth hormones are injected in cows in order to make them grow faster and produce more milk. Estrogenic growth hormones have the potential to increase milk by 10-15%. Recombined bovine growth hormone is destroyed by pasteurization. Nonetheless growth hormones are prohibited in organic milk production. BST present in milk cannot survive digestion or produce unique peptide fragments that might have biological effect in human body.

Generally milk is considered to be the main source of minerals in human nourishment. Whereas in conventional milk the minerals come from concentrate feeds, in organic milk they derive mainly from soil and from the different pastures and organically grown green fodders.

Milking animals must be maintained using the practices of organic farming and milk must be certified in order to be marketed as organic. Legal definition requires that animals are allowed to graze on pasture, be fed organic certified feeds which should not include byproducts of animal slaughter and that the animals not be treated with drugs (although it is also illegal to withhold drug from a sick animal in order to maintain that animal's organic status) compared to conventional milk production. Organic milk may cost more to produce. Organic milk accounted for about 1% of milk sales in India and nearly 18% in the US during the year 2016.

Organic certification is a mandatory requirement and yearly process for producers of organic foods to ensure unbiased external inspection and control. Audit is a systematic and independent examination to determine whether activities and the results comply with the planned objectives. The certification body verifies that a product sold or labeled as “organic” is produced, processed, handled, marketed and imported according to the stated guidelines. Three elements are linked in the certification process; people, land and product. The process of certification will differ depending on whether one is a primary producer, or involved in manufacturing or retail trade. Certification officers make decisions in relation to grant of certificate and for the continuation of certification. The inspection is an alternate to certification which will essentially include a physical look at the operations, as well as review of all record keeping, The inspector may take soil or tissue sample for chemical/residue analysis.

Organic milk must meet the following requirements:
● Produced without the application of nonpermitted methods (e.g. genetic engineering, ionizing radiation or use of sewage sludge).
● Produced using allowed inputs and substances certified for organic production
● Certified by National Organic programme. No one can claim that the ingredients or products are organic, unless final product is certified including monitoring and enforcement.
● Organic cows cannot be given hormones to stimulate milk production. Any feed or pasture for the cows must be organic i.e. grown without the chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Organic dairying requires the cow to graze and not confined to barns and feed lots. Their comforts and welfare can not be jeopardized.

Consumers pay extra, often double, when the package says “organic”. Convincing customers that a product is “organic” could be a murky proposition as everyone is relying on informal definition and informal measures of trust.

With milk prices declining and feed costs rising, farmers have to make economic adjustments. Producing milk according to organic standard will cost more. Grazing requirement makes milk more costly in India because it requires a certain acres of pasture land which is scarce and because a grazing cow produces less milk than one eating a grain diet optimized for milk production. Milk products from grass fed cows contain elevated levels of conjugated linoleic acid and alpha lipoic acid (omega 3 fatty acids) as added advantages to the consumers.

Organic milk production in India is expected to grow faster in view of the hyped problems of adulteration and presence of harmful pesticides, hormones, antibiotic residues and other contaminants in milk and milk products. However, national and international guidelines for organic milk production must be adopted in their entirety.