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Organic Milk paper scams credulous press

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Charles Benbrook’s paper (with 4 others: Gillian Butler, Maged Latif, Carlo Leifert and Donald Davis) “Organic Production Enhances Milk Nutritional Quality by Shifting Fatty Acid Composition: A United-States Wide, 18-Month Study” appeared in PLOS One yesterday and had the popular press (NBC, NPR) salivating with the news that this paper showed that organic milk is “better for you” than conventionally raised milk.

Come on! Did they even read the paper? You don’t have to get beyond the second page to see that the authors are comparing grass fed beef to conventionally (probably corn) fed beef. Is there really any reason to believe the milk wouldn’t differ with the feed? [Face palm! Head desk!]

There are two big clues here that they are being played for suckers here. First, the paper is by agricultural economist Charles Benbrook, a well-known organic food advocate, also known for his anti-GMO (and anti-science) positions. He is also on the board of the Washington DC-based lobbying group, The Organic Center as is co-author Leifert. And Latif is associated with Organic Valley. Keith Kloor criticized Benbrook’s recent positions in Discover Magazine, again dealing with credulous press reports, as did Bodnar.

And, as the New York Times reported, the study was financed by Organic Valley. Hmmm.

But even if you don’t know you are being taken for a ride here, the concluding sentences admit the game is up:

We conclude that increasing reliance on pasture and forage-based feeds on dairy farms has considerable potential to improve the FA (fatty acid) profile of milk and dairy products. Although both conventional and organic dairies can benefit from grazing and forage-based feeds, it is far more common—and indeed mandatory on certified organic farms in the U.S.—for pasture and forage-based feeds to account for a significant share of a cow’s daily DMI (daily minimum intake).

Did the authors consider comparing grass-fed cattle raised conventionally? Of course not. And in fact they are hardly likely to admit that “organic” is primarily a boutique food label for foods with higher prices, but which have been shown to be of equivalent nutrition and similar (minimal) pesticide levels to conventionally raised crops. Organic farms make up only 0.5% of US crop land and since they are far less efficient, are unlikely to ever to become a major part of farm production.

And, incidentally, organic milk is almost always UHT pasteurized, giving it an unpleasant cooked taste compared to conventionally pasteurized milk.

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