A new study by Newcastle University proves that organic farmers who let their cows graze as nature intended are producing better quality milk.
The Nafferton Ecological Farming Group study found that grazing cows on organic farms in the UK produce milk which contains significantly higher beneficial fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamins than their conventional â€˜high inputâ€™ counterparts.
During the summer months, one of the beneficial fats in particular â€“ conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA9 â€“ was found to be 60% higher.
The results of this study into UK dairy production are published online in the Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture.
â€˜We have known for some time that what cows are fed has a big influence on milk quality,â€™ explained Gillian Butler, livestock project manager for the Nafferton Ecological Farming Group at Newcastle University, who led the study. â€˜What is different about this research is it clearly shows that on organic farms, letting cows graze naturally, using forage-based diet, is the most important reason for the differences in the composition between organic and conventional milk.
â€˜Weâ€™ve shown that significant seasonal differences exist, with nutritionally desirable fatty acids and antioxidants being highest during the summer, when the cows are eating fresh grass and clover.
Gordon Tweddle, of Acorn Dairy in County Durham, is a local supplier of organic milk. â€˜We have believed for some time that organic milk is better for us and our customers tell us it tastes better,â€™ he said. â€˜It is satisfying to have the scientific explanation as to why it is also nutritionally better.â€™
This current research confirms previous studies in the UK, which reported higher concentrations of omega 3 fatty acids in milk from organic production systems than conventional ones.
CLA, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E and carotenoids have all been linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. CLA is hugely popular in the US, where it is marketed as a nutritional supplement. However, synthetic supplements often contain compounds with a different chemical composition (isomer balance) than those occurring naturally in milk, resulting in an equal dose of both â€˜goodâ€™ (i.e. CLA9, omega-3 fatty acid, vitamin E and carotenoids) and â€˜less desirableâ€™ fatty acids (i.e. omega-6 fatty acids and CLA10).
â€˜Switching to organic milk provides an alternative, natural way to increase our intake of nutritionally desirable fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants without increasing our intake of less desirable fatty acids and synthetic forms of vitamin E,â€™ said Mrs Butler. â€˜In organic milk, the omega-3 levels increase but the omega-6 does not, which helps to improve the crucial ratio between the two.â€™
The study involved 25 farms across the UK in two contrasting areas of the UK â€“ South Wales and the North East. The scientists looked at three different farming systems: conventional high input, organically certified, and non-organic sustainable (low-input).
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