Is Organic Really Organic?

Plenty of consumers are already “voting with their forks” in favor of a new sustainable food system by buying organic and local whole foods in record numbers. And this newly honed interest in how food is produced will serve us well as the organics market becomes larger and more complicated.

The good news: As giant food companies jockey for their share of the organics market, more and more farmers are abandoning chemically intensive farming methods and treating their livestock with greater compassion. Sizable farm cooperatives like Organic Valley and Niman Ranch provide a stable market for small organic producers, helping more of them stay in business.

On the flip side, as multinational food companies get into the organics game, some bend the rules, following technicalities instead of traditions. In 2005, when Wal-Mart and other big retailers began carrying organic milk, for instance, demand increased beyond the means of small-scale farms to meet it. So, some larger milk producers ramped up production by taking their cows off pasture and grain feeding them instead.

Three years later, as much as 30 percent of organic milk now comes from grain-fed cows in confined conditions, according to the Organic Consumers Association. Technically, it’s still organic, because labeling standards require that animals be raised hormone- and antibiotic-free but not be grass-fed. Still, the traditional practice — pasturing cows on grass — is one of the main reasons why organic milk is better for you than conventional milk. A green-grass diet increases the amount of vitamin A, omega-3s and beta-carotene in a cow’s milk, and pasturing provides a low-stress environment that keeps milk and meat free from stress hormones like cortisol.

Such industry contradictions are troubling — and confusing — but alone they’re no reason to give up on big organic producers. They just demonstrate why it’s necessary to do background research on your favorite organic labels to see who’s walking their talk. (You can start with the directory for pastured milk and meat products at Don’t bypass the uncertified stands at your local farmers’ market either, as many small sustainable producers forgo the labeling system because of its expense.

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit to learn more and to sign up for the Experience Life newsletter.

By Courtney Helgoe, Experience Life

Love This? Never Miss Another Story.


Justin Walter
Past Member 5 years ago

This is good information for everyone to have. I live in FL and the organic fruits and vegetables are in abundance. However, when I do buy them at the store, the difference is obvious.
Vitamin C

Karen Button
KB K.6 years ago

In response to Rachael D's comment: I encourage you to look into the history of organic farming because the humane treatment of animals is most definitely an ethic of the organic farming movement.

It was during the mid-90s that the federal government redefined Organic Standards and agri-business lobbied hard for the inclusion of things like sludge from water treatment plants, among other things, which lowered the organic standard.

Organic used to be much more than simply chemical-free.

Rachael D.
Past Member 6 years ago

The "grain-fed cows in confined conditions" above still prodcuce organic milk. Organic is a label relating to chemicals, not housing conditions and welfare. This is something that many people do not know. I know many people that buy organic eggs don't realise that the chickens are often cage raised. I don't think this is misuse of the label at all. It meets the discription of organic. If you want free-range or pasture-fed as well, then do your research and find the brand for you.

Personally I don't buy organic produce because of the chemicals that are allowed to be used. As Trent says, copper based substances are used in organic farming. So are many sulfate based products. These can be as bad or worse for animals and the environment than other agricultural chemicals.

Trent F.
Trent Farrell6 years ago

ahhhhhh the ugly Mc-word we really need another McDonalds type in our food world.And you should educate yourself about how that beef is processed and handled at the might not be pleasantly surprised.i know because i took the time to find out where my animals went when i took them to market.

Sharon Soboil
Sharon Soboil6 years ago

There is an all organic burger restaurant in West Hollywood O!burger that serves all organic, grass fed beef and free range turkey. I hope it spreads and becomes the new McDonalds... SO MUCH BETTER!!!

Trent F.
Trent Farrell6 years ago

luda....we know nobaody is perfect and its not about living forever.its about quality of life ,not quantity.the facts are that we are being decieved by the mega producers of our food.they are tricking you into believing that you are getting something that you are not.we put more emphasis on getting a the right car to drive than we do our food and for that matter our enviroment.all you have to do is educate yourself and helpyour neibour too.and yes companys have to "make a living"selling their products.but should it it be at the expense of our health?if any of your family ever comes down with cancer you'll start thinking differently.i know because it happened to me.

Luda Franklin
Luda Franklin6 years ago

reading all the coments on this article, how milk is bed and organic juices not really pure and good as they call it. People we don't live in the perfect world, so yes i believe there are no perfect foods out there. We are all simply try to do our best on picking foods. But the reality is, we can't be perfect, and people who cell proucts they need to survive and as a human beings we won't live for ever, that's why i don't get super perfect about my nutrition but of course try to get affordable best i can.

Alex R.
Alex R.6 years ago

Even if pasteurized milk is organic, it ain't worth drinking ~

Trent F.
Trent Farrell6 years ago

there is a very good documentary called "King Corn".this will really open your eyes to presnt day farming on a big scale.

Trent F.
Trent Farrell6 years ago

i dont drinkmilk any more.there are much better things to drink than cows milk.cows milk is for calves not humans.and whats with the added vitamins A and D.the milk i grew up on was non pasturized and non your "past member"says the processing leaves a bad taste in my mouth.doing with out is a viable alternative