Is Organic Milk Bad For Cows?

Garrick Ravi and I went on a dairy farm tour with my moms’ group recently. It was very interesting. We got to see the cows, and the pregnant cows, and the baby cows. We pet a bunch of baby cows too.

organic milk dairy cow

The tour guide was telling us about the farm and mentioned something that surprised me. I mean, it makes sense but I never thought of it before.

In order to be classified as “organic” milk, the cows cannot be given antibiotics. Which is usually a good thing. We struggle with cows being pumped full of medicine they don’t need. But what about when they do need it? This tour guide claimed that when the cows are sick, they can’t be given medicine. Those organic farms would lose their “organic” classification if they treated the sick cows. So they let them die instead.

She said that the higher cost for organic milk is because of the cost of replacing cows that die. Now, this tour guide certainly has a bias. Their farm is not considered organic. (Though they certainly seem to treat their cows very well). They do take care of their cows and give them antibiotics if they are sick and need them.

This information is changing my perception of organic milk. I am so used to thinking of organic as always better. But there are consequences that I haven’t thought through and it distresses me to think that organic might not be better for the poor cows.

IMG_1791

So I did some reading and it sounds like what she told us is true, although it sounds like it is possible for there to be exceptions for illness.

Six Shockingly Brutal Realities of Organic Dairy Farms

The Big Business of Dairy Farming: Big Trouble for Cows

Antibiotics and Organic Animal Care

The Organic and ‘Free-Range’ Myths

I’m glad that we went on the tour. Not only did I learn this important information, but I had the chance to see how the cows are treated at a place that sells milk. In other words, I can get my milk from a place where I have seen that the cows are happy and well treated. I’m glad that I have that opportunity.

They also provide milk in glass bottles, helping me in my quest for as little waste as possible and helping the environment. It’s not as perfect as getting milk from one’s own cow in the back yard but it might be the next best thing for those of us who can’t be farmers for whatever reason!

I definitely recommend finding out about tours of your local farms. It is reassuring to know where your food comes from and it’s good for kids to make that connection between their food and the people and animals who provide it.

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Brian Hanechak

Amit Agarwal

(views expressed here are mine alone and do not reflect opinions of my supporters. Links within the text may be affiliate links, meaning that if you purchase something I get a small commission for recommending it. I only recommend things I truly believe in)

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Ch Billy

    Very interesting article, Ambaa!!! I see that when the primary focus is the health of human beings who consume it and not the fair and ethical treatment of the cows, it does not matter if the farm is organic or inorganic. Let me tell you about “Goshalas” (shelters for cows) in India and “Ahimsa cow farms” in foreign countries (run by expat Hindus or foreign Hindus mostly from ISKCON). In these farms, the cows are given natural food (grazing), allowed to naturally breed (no artificial insemination or forced breeding) and are treated with utmost care and love. When the cows are sick or diseased, the people in these farms do not hesitate to call the nearest Vet and treat the cows with appropriate medicine. In other words, they are treated at par with humans. The main difference here is the philosophy behind these farms that we do not have the right to take the milk of a cow whom we do not treat ethically as it is another conscious being just like us humans. This is from Hindu philosophy.

    I had visited one such Goshala in Mangalore, India when a friend of my father’s wanted to adopt a rear Indian breed cow to raise her in his farm. I am not making up these terms: “adoption” and “raise”. When I went to the farm, I was surprised when I was corrected by the caretaker of the farm when I said “We want to buy a cow…”. He asked me to use the phrase “We want to adopt a cow…” and also mean it. They even have inspection teams who come and check every now and then the living condition we keep the cow in after adopting her. I thought this was fascinating. The breed is of the cow my uncle adopted is called “swarna kapila” which means golden reddish brown in Sanskrit describing the cow’s interesting skin hue. The caretaker of the farm was an American educated engineer who gave up his successful career in US to come to India to take care of his father’s business and to run this farm. Being inquisitive enough, I asked him if it is really ethical to take the milk of a cow, no matter how we treat her, because it is actually meant for the calf. I asked him this question because it is an oft-repeated argument of vegans who reject milk and other dairy products. He said that an average cow produces almost 4 to 5 times the milk necessary for healthy upbringing of its calf. Also, it is an ancient Indian practice that every morning, the calf is first let to have milk from the cow. Only after the calf is satisfied that people take milk from the cow. Also, he said that it was a well known thing in India that if we do not remove the rest of the milk from udders, it gives the cow excruciating pain after a while. He said that this points out to the fact that it is an arrangement made by God that we take care of the cows very well and in return, out of gratitude, the cow produces excess milk for us to consume. I thought this reply was fascinating and reassuring.

    However, in reality, I live in the US. I buy organic milk as it is the closest I can get to Ahimsa milk. My parents live in a metropolitan city in India where they buy from a cow-herder nevertheless but they cannot guarantee the ethical treatment of the cows at par with the Goshala in Mangalore. However, I do plan to live in a place one day where I either will have an opportunity to raise a cow myself or be near an ethical cow farm where I can buy the milk.

  • http://www.indianamericanmom.com Roshni Aamom

    Wow! The more you learn….
    You have a lovely site! I’m looking forward to reading more of your articles! Visiting you from the South Asian bloggers group!

  • Charles Winter

    Not treating sick cows certainly sounds inhumane, but how else do you keep the farmer from pumping the cows full of antibiotics, needed or not?

    • Ch Billy

      Let me tell you about “Goshalas” (shelters for cows found near Vishnu temples or otherwise) in India and “Ahimsa cow farms” in foreign countries (run by expat Hindus or foreign Hindus from ISKCON). In these farms, the cows are given natural food (grazing), allowed to naturally breed (no artificial insemination or forced breeding) and are treated with utmost care and love. When the cows are sick or diseased, the people in these farms do not hesitate to call the nearest Vet and treat the cows with appropriate medicine. In other words, they are treated at par with humans. The main difference here is the overarching philosophy behind these farms that we do not have the right to take the milk of a cow whom we do not treat ethically as it is just another conscious being like us humans. This is from Hindu philosophy.

      Not treating the cows even if they are sick is one extreme and pumping the cows full of antibiotics is another extreme. How about taking good care of the cow so that she won’t fall sick and giving an antibiotic only when necessary? Again, the difference is how we see the cow. Is she someone whom we exploit for our benefit or is she someone who deserves care and respect like any other conscious being? That is why I do not trust any cow farm other than a Hindu “Goshala”.

  • Noelle S.

    From what I have read and heard, the best ways would be:- Not to feed cows with grain – very bad for them, then they do get sick (mastitis/inflammation etc); (Dr Jarvis found that cider vinegar with their meals helps against mastitis); not to factory-farm them – terrible for freedom-loving animals; not to cause the terrible distress to mother and calf of stealing the baby just after birth; not to shut male calves away in order to produce veal – or to be killed; not to ignore cows crying tears as they are waiting for slaughter; not to avoid looking into their eyes to realise what gentle, peace-loving, lovable creatures they are. In other words (you’ll have guessed by now!), I would say don’t farm them; don’t slaughter them; don’t eat them!! We certainly don’t need meat – and there are so many dire results on the planet – soil, water use and degradation,, effluent, emissions and climate change – removal of trees for pasture; animal and human health, etc. etc.!

  • Ivlia Blackburn

    Maybe the definition of organic farms differs between countries because I know a number of organic farmers, and have known even more over the last 30 years or so. If their animals are ill they unhesitatingly call the vet, because the whole idea is that the animal is treated as well as a human. Antibiotics can be used and they will not lose their organic classification as a result. However, for as long as the antibiotics are being used and until they clear the animals system the milk/eggs/whatever cannot be passed into the human chain. It MUST be destroyed or (usually) consumed by the owners. If this is truly what you were told then there was either some misunderstanding or the tour guide was delusional with a serious problem about organic farming.

  • Sandeep

    It’s such very new news ever, Keep sharing with new and viral news.
    I would state don’t cultivate them don’t butcher them, don’t eat them!! We unquestionably needn’t bother with meat – and there are such a variety of critical outcomes on the planet – soil, water utilize and corruption,, gushing, discharges and environmental change – expulsion of trees for field; creature and human wellbeing, and so forth and so on.!
    Because is so sweet animal. Here is a list of Most Expensive Dog
    http://www.worldstrendingtopmost.com/2017-2018-2019-2020/animals/top-10-most-beautiful-famous-expensive-dog-breeds-world-beautiful/

  • RisaSonRisa

    I easily found this online, for US Organic farmers, at least: https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/Dairy%20-%20Guidelines.pdf

    For those who don’t want to click the link, here is the relevant excerpt:
    When preventative measures are insufficient to prevent sickness, producers may consult with their certifier for allowed medications.
    Prohibited
     Withholding treatment from animals to maintain organic status.
     Administering any animal drug in the absence of illness.
     Use of hormones for the promotion of growth of livestock.
     Selling, labeling, or representing as organic any animal or animal product that has been treated with
    antibiotics, a synthetic substance not on the National List, or any prohibited non-synthetic substance.
     Tail docking.
    Use of Antibiotics
    In an emergency, a producer must use antibiotics if necessary to save the life of the animal or to prevent
    suffering. Use of antibiotics should be based on the recommendation of a vet. Withholding treatment of antibiotics from animals to maintain their organic status is prohibited. If a producer uses antibiotics, they must
    do the following:
     Record the event in their health records.
     Notify their certifier of the situation.
     Segregate the animal to prevent contamination of organic products. For example, a dairy cow must be
    marked to prevent the milk from going in the bulk tank. In addition, the milk may not be fed to calves.
     Sell the animal to a non-organic market.
     Document the sale of the animal.

    So, to me it sounds like the farm you visited had some fear-mongering going on :) They don’t have to let the animal die.

    • Ch Billy

      All of this is reassuring except “Sell the animal to a non-organic market”. Once the animal is in the non-organic market, she will suffer the same horrible fate that most cows face in an average farm.

      • RisaSonRisa

        Well, sure, but if we’re purchasing dairy or other cow products, we’re supporting that fate, regardless of the classification of the farm.

        • Ch Billy

          By “fate”, I meant that in non-organic farms, the cows are forcibly bred and mercilessly slaughtered after their gestation period. Most times, when the cows are lined for slaughtering, they display a lot of emotion including incessant crying or sometimes fighting back but that melts no human hearts.

          To reiterate, the main point here is the overarching philosophy behind these farms. The farms are there to raise the cattle for their milk and meat to be consumed by humans. Nobody thinks that we do not have the right to take the milk of a cow whom we do not treat ethically as it is just another conscious being like us humans. I recommend you read about Ahimsa Cow Farms run by ISKCON people in the west and Goshalas maintained in Hindu temples in India to see the difference in treatment of cows and how that difference depends on the Hindu philosophy.

          In the interest of full disclosure, I live in the west and drink organic milk and I agree with you that in the west, once we have milk and other dairy products, we are supporting a horrible fate for the cows regardless of the classification used for the farms. I stand guilty.

  • Kaavya Gogoriya

    We got to see the cows, and the pregnant cows, and the baby cows. We pet a bunch of baby cows too.
    http://www.traveltourspackages.com/