Organic Milk vs. Conventional: The Real Difference

by | Aug 16, 2021 | Food

Should milk or cereal be poured first into the bowl? No matter which people choose first, it’s clear that eating cereal is not the same without milk. Milk is a staple breakfast item, pairing well with various foods while providing healthy nutrients. However, not all milk is created equal, affecting our bodies and the environment in distinct ways. Perhaps a more important question that we should all consider is: organic milk or conventional milk?

The differences include significant health impacts, as well as environmental and equity concerns. In terms of nutrition, organic milk is healthier on several fronts. It contains more nutrient-rich minerals, antioxidants, and healthy fatty acids that help prevent and fight diseases. In contrast, conventional milk often tests positive for antibiotics and toxic pesticide residues, while also containing alarmingly high levels of synthetic growth hormones. These substances are dangerous to bodies and can detrimentally impair health through antibiotic-resistant infections, severe allergic reactions, and developmental issues. Additionally, children often experience greater sensitivity to pesticides than adults, which is extremely concerning since milk is provided in almost all school meals, mandated by the USDA in 8 ounce servings twice a day.

If organic milk is much more nutritious, shouldn’t we be feeding it to kids instead of conventional milk?

A student gives a thumbs up while eating an organic lunch with organic milk provided by Conscious Kitchen.

Conscious Kitchen says, absolutely! For Conscious Kitchen, the transition to organic milk in schools is fairly simple: stop procuring conventional milk and start buying organic. The CK school food program has been doing just that since 2013 and continues to expand partnerships with organic dairies and schools.

Organic milk is also better for the environment. Organic and regenerative agricultural practices such as rotational grazing and composting improve soil health without toxins, pesticides or compromised natural resources. Sustainably managed grasslands and pastures make it possible to sequester carbon, which is problematic when over-concentrated in the atmosphere, but beneficial to the soil.

Furthermore, some organic dairies have processes to capture methane produced by cows and turn it into renewable energy to be used as power. Organic milk is also often sourced from local, family-run dairies, meaning less emissions during the transportation process.

While producing organic milk benefits the environment, the same cannot be said for conventional milk. The latter is usually produced at large factories, known as megadairies, that contribute enormous amounts of pollution through unsustainable practices. Megadairies are often located far from consumers, causing more emissions and pollution during transit while increasing the world’s carbon footprint.

Since megadairies tend to house thousands of cows for mass production, the cows produce large amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas over 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, which pollutes the atmosphere. In addition to air pollution, megadairies also pollute nearby water sources, as the manure from cows tends to leak out of storage pits. 

An image of cows grazing on green grass at Straus Family Creamery.

In addition to negative health and environmental impacts, conventional milk production raises equity concerns. When cows are forced into tight, dirty stalls without time to rest or feed, it weakens their immune systems and adds stress. Furthermore, cows at megadairies are pressured to produce large amounts of milk at an unnaturally rapid rate, which results in considerably shortened lifespans.

Contrary to megadairies, organic dairies follow animal welfare regulations that include standards on cows’ ability to move freely, as well as procedures on sanitizing and keeping cows healthy. Cows are also given ample time to access pasture space outside and not pressured to produce milk quickly.

A chart showing how Straus dairy uses sustainable organic farming to help reverse climate change through sustainable practices.

Organic dairy producers are committed to producing healthy and nutritious dairy consciously. As the first 100% certified organic creamery in the United States, Straus Family Creamery aims to provide communities with high-quality milk and dairy products that are beneficial for both body and Earth.

“Our belief in organic farming is deeply rooted in our commitment to land stewardship that preserves the environment for future generations,” Shereen Mahnami, Straus’ Director of Communications, talks about how their core values are reflected in their farming models.

Straus practices regenerative agriculture, not only to promote healthy soil and clean water, but also as a method of carbon capture, which can then be stored in the soil itself.

“We are demonstrating that organic dairy farming can be one of the solutions to address climate change,” says Shereen, speaking to Straus’ numerous efforts to protect the planet, reverse emission trends, support organic family farms, and inspire others to do so too.

A top-down view of Straus Family Creamery's organic whole milk in glass bottles with shiny red lids.

Organic milk producers and dairy farms support people and planet, connecting communities with healthy and sustainably-made milk. By choosing organic, people are given the opportunity to drink something that is healthier that supports the environment and societal equity.

Serving organic milk to children for breakfast and lunch has been a priority for Conscious Kitchen since the start of the program in 2013 at Bayside MLK Academy and Willow Creek Academy. Judi Shils, Founder and Executive Director of Conscious Kitchen, firmly believes in the importance of fresh, local, organic dairy. “If we’re handing 16 ounces of milk a day to kids, it needs to be as good as it gets.”

Conscious Kitchen is working with West Contra Costa Unified School District to provide organic milk in a district with 52 schools and 30,000 students as they start the school year in person once more, building on weekly pandemic food boxes. Conscious Kitchen looks forward to working with the Food Service team to install bulk milk machines at schools, with the intent to “empower kids to take only what they want, reduce waste and heal our animals and soils,” mentions Judi. 

Two students in yellow safety vests, hair nets, and gloves are holding cups of organic milk and smiling at the camera.

From the beginning, Conscious Kitchen has partnered with Straus Family Creamery to buy organic milk, specifically bulk organic milk. Bulk purchasing not only decreases waste, but also decreases costs, which is critical when working with restricted budgets. While buying organic milk is more expensive than conventional, Food Service Directors, like Barbara Jellison of WCCUSD, strongly support organic milk in schools and can dedicate additional funds to its procurement. “Milk is really important for growing bodies. Organic milk doesn’t have hormone and antibiotic residues, which means positive impact for our kids that gives them the nutrition they need,” Barbara shares why she prioritizes organic milk in schools. 

Conscious Kitchen strives to inspire other school districts to make the switch to organic milk and feed kids only the healthiest options. “Every step we take is a step in a direction that we hope can be replicated,” Judi expresses. By showing how to transition to organic milk and demonstrating the health, environmental, and social benefits, Conscious Kitchen seeks to not only motivate change, but also foster a safe and healthy environment for children and for us all. Judi underscores this powerful message, “If we’re all on the same page about being stewards of our future generations, then we have to make different choices.” Choosing organic milk is one change that will nurture a thriving world for our next generation, our communities, and our planet.


  • Jenny Nguyen

    Jenny is a fourth year student at the University of California, San Diego, majoring in Environmental Systems (Earth Sciences) and minoring in Psychology. She is passionate about understanding the impacts of climate change and what solutions can be implemented to address it as well as promoting sustainability within communities and the environment. Her sustainability journey began with her love for nature's beauty, and since then, she has been dedicated to learning about how she can practice sustainable living and help others learn more as well. On her campus, she is an active member of a few sustainability and climate change related organizations, working to raise awareness about these topics and uplift student and community voices. In her free time, Jenny enjoys dancing, exploring new places, and spending quality time with family and friends.