Organic’s looming credibility gap

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In the August issue, we ran a letter-to-the-editor from an organic dairy producer who claimed organic milk has higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids than conventionally produced milk. Part of his contention was based on a study performed at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. But, since that time, new light has been shed on the study. On Sept. 19, the Food Standards Agency in the United Kingdom wrote:

“….whilst this study shows that organically produced milk can contain higher levels of types of fats called short-chain omega-3 fatty acids than conventionally produced milk, the evidence suggests that these fatty acids appear to be of limited health benefit compared to the longer-chain omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish.”

The conversion rate of these short-chain fatty acids to the longer-chain fatty acids appears to be very limited.

“Therefore, organic milk consumed in volumes consistent with a healthy diet would not provide sufficient amounts of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids to provide significant health benefits over and above those associated with conventional milk,” the FSA concluded.

The whole issue of “what’s organic” is confusing enough to those of us in the dairy business, but especially so for consumers. It prompted a Business Week cover story in mid-October, pointing out the various myths that surround organic food products.  

The Business Week article described the incongruity between what consumers perceive to be “organic” farms — small, family-run operations in pastoral settings — with the reality of large, industrial-scale farms that supply much of the product. Some are concerned that the founding principles of the organic movement will be sacrificed now that big agribusiness has moved in to reap ever-increasing profits.

We hope the gift that has fallen into marketers’ laps isn’t squandered. The last thing the dairy industry (or any segment within the industry) needs is to be caught in a credibility gap with consumers.


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