Thursday, February 11, 2010

Organic Milk vs. Non-organic Milk?

At my daughter's one-year well check-up, the pediatrician advised me to strop feeding her formula and to switch to whole milk instead. I had not put any thoughts into it until she told me that. You see, in France, you don't switch children from formula to whole milk immediately. You have another in-between milk that is made for children age 1 to 3 years old : le lait de croissance (or growth milk). Pediatricians in France do not condemn giving whole milk to children one-year and older; they just advise to make really sure that children have a balanced diet to guarantee the proper intake of proteins, vitamins and oligo-elements.   Lait de croissance makes it easier on families since it solves that problem. Yet, as usual, you have to accept to pay the price for that : lait de croissance retails at higher price than regular milk (about 2 euros/litre for lait de croissance vs. 1 euro/litre for regular milk and 1.8 euro/litre for organic milk*). Is lait de croissance a brilliant marketing idea or are there scientific explanations. Here is what I found...and how I dealt without lait de Croissance in the US.

Iron and Vitamins A&D:
Natural milk is really poor in iron whereas iron is a vital element for blood cell formation. Drinking lait de croissance helps children develop stronger white cells, helping them build up their immune system.
Lait de croissance is also loaded with vitamins A and D, which, unlike in the US. are not automatically added to regular milk. Some brands start to offer vitamins A&D-enriched milk but it's relatively new.

Fewer milk proteins
Lait de croissance does not have as many proteins as regular milk. Since children metabolism can not be overloaded with proteins, this milk enables them to eat fewer milk-based proteins (in France, it is recommended that children drink about 500ml of milk per day until age 2). It is also low-fat.

Omega 3 and Omega 6 supplements
Lait de croissance is enriched in Omega 3 and Omega 6 which are said to help with brain development in young children (and adults!)

Since I was living in the US, I did not have the option of lait de croissance; I therefore went straight to whole milk. But then, I was debating whether I should buy organic milk or just regular milk? I went with organic for a few reasons:
- To be labeled "organic" in the US, milk has to come from cows that have not been treated with bovine growth hormones (rBGH) or antibiotics. In most European countries, it is prohibited to feed synthetic growth hormones to cows... and I feel that if Europeans and Canadians are banning it (the same way they ban GMO crops), there should be compelling underlying scientific reasons, not just economic reasons.
- Cows milk for their organic milk are also fed a diet free of pesticides and fertilizers (be it grass or grains). It's therefore better for the environment (this is one of my green contributions!!)
- Some organic milk, especially on the East coast, comes from smaller independent farms. I personally think that it's worth spending a few extra dollars and help support small farmers.

If I had been living in the countryside, able to know the farmer supplying my milk, I might have gone for regular milk instead provided that it was rBGH free. I have eyed at "raw milk" at a small farm stand at the Reading Terminal market a few weeks ago. Part of me was thinking that I should do what my grand-mother used to do while in her village in Normandy (see picture) , ie. purchase raw milk and then boil it to kill whatever there was to be killed (and keep the cream to make delicious shortbread cookies).... but I am not sure that my vet-husband would approve (his grand-mother used to do worse than mine by the way: she would drink the milk raw...but then again, she is in her mid-90s and never got sick from drinking that milk!!!)...
I think that, as usual, it's a trust issue. Trusting that a label will buy you quality...Trusting that you feed your children something that is not going to affect their health in the longer term. I might purchase organic milk for the wrong reasons and not be consistent all along (not all dairy products I purchase and serve to my children are organic!)... but at least feeding them organic milk gives me a sense of peace... and I therefore sleep better at night doing it!

What do you do? Do you purchase organic milk for your children? For yourself? Why?

* Since the euro-dollar exchange rate changes a lot, it does not make sense to convert the prices; it just gives you and idea of how more expensive lait de croissance is. I used the online supermarket for a reference but keep in mind that online prices are a little bit more expensive that what we could find in a large supermarket. FYI 1 litre = 33.8 Fl oz..


  1. Hi! My name is Elli and I live in Europe, although I used to live in U.S. for some years. I have an 8 years old son and I had the same thoughts with yours. When he was younger I gave him after formula a kind of milk like lait de croissance, then only organic milk now that he is in school age and can buy his milk there he drinks any kind of milk. My point is that you "protect" them and control the quality of their food and drink till they are able to do so. I still buy organic milk in home because I think is much healthier but I wonder if this is enough.

  2. I have purchased organic milk sporadically but your post is making me reconsider the issue. Great timing considering my younger daughter will be turning one in a couple weeks! Thank you as always, Gaelle, for a very interesting post.

  3. Salut Miss from Ithaca,

    Here we purchase often raw milk from the farmer (deepwater farm in Genoa) and drink it directly without giving it a boil. Philip (the farmer) does an absolutely amazing job and his milk tastes so good. He is a provider to only the top organic milk brands upsate new york. His cows are all grass fed (he pastures his own grass too). By the way our daugther has been on that milk ever since she was 15 months old and no problem (in fact she wont drink almost anything else, when it comes to milk). We drink about two gallons a week and the trip up to the farm is part of every saturdays routine.

    Here is a cool website where you can find farms that sell raw milk everywhere in the country.

    Keeep up the blog, its fun to read!

  4. Thanks D. for the info. I wished I could live in Ithaca, just for that (not the snow): being able to find great locally-grown food...
    I have checked the website and it turns out that the stand that I was eying at for raw milk is listed. I'll double check it next time I go and will try it out! Raw!

  5. It is very hard to buy organic milk here so I have to make do with organic UHT but I would gladly buy fresh organic milk if I could get it! My parents gave us raw cow's milk when we were kids. It never made us ill. If I were in the US I would get organic so as to avoid the growth hormones and antibiotics that they give the cows.

  6. We went to the market this morning and I could not resist purchasing raw milk. Just had a glass tonight and it's really good! Will keep purchasing some when I can! I'll feed it to my children too.

  7. I think that if you can find raw milk it's actually worth buying! here in Singapore no in between milk for over ones either - Eleonore fixed the problem when she weaned on almond milk - however she was not taking enough weight. Because she never ever wanted to drink formula and because she was too busy discovering stuff rather than food we managed to spoon in a little formula into the almond milk... From a nutrition point of view however she does not need cow milk now (neither do we). I buy very little cow milk and when I do it's organic.