What is Organic Milk?

eOrganic author:

Jim Pierce, Oregon Tilth

Consumer demand for organic milk has increased in recent years, resulting in rapid growth in retail sales of organic milk (Dimitri and Venezia, 2007). Retail sales of organic milk in the U.S. have been growing since the mid-1990s, with sales of organic milk and cream edging over $1 billion in 2005, up 25 percent from 2004.

So, why the increased purchases of organic milk? Consumers point to many factors for choosing organic milk and other organic products; among them is a concern about where their food comes from and how it is produced. As a consumer of organic milk, you should have confidence that the product has gone through rigorous certification to bring you healthy and safe food.

In order for agricultural products (including domestic and imported livestock products) to be sold in the United States as organic, they must comply with the National Organic Program (NOP) final rule (United States Department of Agriculture [USDA], 2000). The USDA regulates the production and labeling of organic livestock and livestock products under the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and the National Organic Program (NOP). Read the eOrganic National Organic Program Summary to learn more.

It is important to understand that organic farming is a system of production and a set of goal-based regulations that allow farmers to manage their own particular situations individually, while maintaining organic integrity. If you are curious about these organic certification rules, we have outlined below some key standards all organic dairy farmers must follow.

  • Organic crops, including hay and pasture, are grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides
  • Feed supplements like vitamins and minerals are carefully screened and approved for use
  • Genetically modified organisms (GMO's) are strictly forbidden
  • Land used to grow organic crops must be free of all prohibited materials for at least three years prior to the first organic harvest
  • Calves must be raised on organic milk
  • All dairy animals over six months of age must have access to pasture during the growing season
  • Only approved health care products can be used on organic dairy farms; antibiotics are not allowed
  • Organic animals may not be fed ANY slaughter by-products, urea, or manure
  • The welfare of animals must be considered: procedures such as tail docking are prohibited, unless necessary for the health of the animal, and other practices such as dehorning must be done so as to minimize the stress to the animal
  • An organic farmer must keep sufficient records to verify his or her compliance with the National organic standards
  • Each farm is inspected and audited every year, and any farm can have an unannounced inspection at any time

To learn more about organic milk and its production, please take a look at the eOrganic organic dairy production web pages. In particular, you may be interested in taking a look at the Organic Dairy Producer Profiles to learn more about who produces organic milk and why.

References and Citations


Published January 21, 2009

This is an eOrganic article and was reviewed for compliance with National Organic Program regulations by members of the eOrganic community. Always check with your organic certification agency before adopting new practices or using new materials. For more information, refer to eOrganic's articles on organic certification.