Have you ever noticed that milk prices range from $2-$8/gallon? That's a big discrepancy and, while I am willing to spend more for high-quality dairy products, I want to know what I am paying for.
I recently put on my "detective's hat" and now have this list of basic definitions:
rBST-Free or rBGH-Free – Recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), also known as recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), is a synthetic version of the Bovine somatotropin (BST) hormone found in cattle. The Monsanto-developed hormone was approved in 1995 for use in the USA. It is used by many commercial dairies to increase milk production.
Though rBST has been banned in several countries (including Canada, Australia, Japan, and the European Union), the FDA and the World Health Organization have determined it to be safe to consume.
That said, it is important to point out that the use of rBST has been linked to health problems for cows - including mastitis and reproductive disorders.
NOTE: The top 3 grocery retailers in our nation - Wal-Mart, Kroger, and Costco - have pledged not to sell rBST milk in their stores.
Hormone-Free - Cows naturally produce hormones, so cow milk is never entirely hormone free. However, this label indicates that no synthetic hormones (such as rBST) are added.
Antibiotic-Free - It is illegal for any milk that has antibiotics to be sold in the U.S.
Organic – Organic milk is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture as milk from cows that have been exclusively fed organic feed, have not been treated with synthetic hormones (including rBST), and are not given certain medications to treat sickness.
* “USDA Organic” is the only independently administered certification.
Pasteurized - Pasteurization is the process of heating the milk to a specific temperature for a definite length of time and then cooling it immediately - in order to slow spoilage and eliminate harmful bacteria. Pasteurization can prevent diseases like tuberculosis, scarlet fever, and diphtheria.
Ultra Pasteurized - This is milk that has been processed at higher temperatures, for longer, to extend shelf life.
Raw - Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized. France, Germany, and England allow the sale of it - while Canada, Scotland, and New Zealand prohibit it. Here in the United States, 28 states allow the sale of raw milk, while 22 states prohibit it.
The concern is that improperly handled raw milk can lead to illness and hospitalization. Proponents, however, argue that the properties in raw milk can positively influence the immune system.
The Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) both warn that raw milk is dangerous - especially for children, the elderly, and pregnant women.
Whole - This is milk in which no fat has been removed. Contains about 3.5% fat.
Skim - This is milk in which all of the cream has been removed. 2% is considered "reduced fat" milk and 1% is considered "low-fat" milk. Both reduced fat and skim milk have vitamin A and D added to replace the naturally occurring vitamins that are reduced when the fat is removed. Most skim milks also add skim milk powder to add body and whiteness.
Based on my research, we have been buying whole pasteurized milk that is rBST-free - and local, when possible (it’s always a good thing to stimulate the local economy and reduce environmental impact).
I am undecided on the “organic” label. Although it does indeed seem the most "trustworthy," it also costs A LOT more than non-organic milk.
Do you drink cow's milk? If so, what “kind” of milk do you buy? Which labels are most important to you and why?