Researchers found milk collected during a particularly poor UK summer and the following winter had significantly higher saturated fat content and far less beneficial fatty acids than in a more 'normal' year.
But they also discovered that switching to organic milk could help overcome these problems. Organic supermarket milk showed higher levels of nutritionally beneficial fatty acids compared with 'ordinary' milk regardless of the time of year or weather conditions.
The study, which is published in this month's Journal of Dairy Science (January 2011), leads on from previous research undertaken nearly three years ago which looked at the difference between organic and conventional milk at its source – on the farms.
"We wanted to check if what we found on farms also applies to milk available in the shops," said Gillian Butler, who led the study. "Surprisingly, the differences between organic and conventional milk were even more marked. Whereas on the farms the benefits of organic milk were proven in the summer but not the winter, in the supermarkets it is significantly better quality year round."
There was also greater consistency between organic suppliers, where the conventional milk brands were of variable quality.
"We were surprised to see obvious differences between the conventional brands, with the more expensive ones not necessarily better," said Mrs Butler. "Some brands - which promote their suppliers as wholesome and grazing on fresh pastures - actually sold milk that appeared to be from very intensive farms."
Organic dairying standards prescribe a reliance on forage, especially grazing, and, in the absence of nitrogen fertiliser, tend to encourage swards of red and white clover, which have been shown to alter the fatty acid intake and composition of milk.
While protein, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and some mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids in milk are considered beneficial, saturated fatty acids are believed to have a negative effect on human health.
"We're always being told to cut down on the saturated fat we consume and switching to organic milk and dairy products provides a natural way to increase our intake of nutritionally desirable fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants without increasing our intake of less desirable fatty acids," said Mrs Butler.
"By choosing organic milk you can cut saturated fats by 30-50 percent and still get the same intake of beneficial fatty acids, as the omega-3 levels are higher but omega-6 is not, which helps to improve the crucial ratio between the two."
While undertaking their research into the differences between organic and conventional milk, the researchers discovered the surprising link between milk quality and our changing climate. Their results suggest that if we continue to have wetter, cooler summers then farmers may have to rethink their current dairy practices.
There was a considerable difference between the milk bought in the first sampling period (July 2006 and January 2007) and corresponding times a year later. The second set of samples, following a particularly wet summer in 2007, was higher in saturated fat and lower in beneficial fatty acids.
"We didn't expect to find differences between the sampling periods," said Mrs Butler. "But this is likely to be down to the impact of the weather on availability and quality of forage."
In North East England, for example, the summer of 2007 was particularly wet, with approximately 30 per cent higher recorded rainfall and 12 per cent lower temperatures compared with 2006.
"These conditions may affect the cows' behaviour, reducing grazing intake and milk output," said Mrs Butler. "Farmers also often increase supplementation with concentrated feeds or conserved forage to maintain milk yields in these conditions."
During the region's main silage making period (late May until the end of July) rainfall in 2007 was three times higher than the previous year, which also made for poorer quality silage and therefore the need for greater supplementation to compensate in winter diets.
"If these weather patterns continue, both forage and dairy management will have to adapt to maintain current milk quality," said Mrs Butler. "The higher levels of beneficial fats in organic milk would more than compensate for the depression brought about by relatively poor weather conditions in the wet year."
The researchers, who are part of the University's Nafferton Ecological Farming Group and its Human Nutrition Centre, looked at the quality of milk in supermarkets across North East England at varying times of year over a two-year period.
They concluded that organic brands of milk available in supermarkets are higher in beneficial fatty acids such as CLA and omega-3 fatty acids in summer (as in their previous research) and winter (where previous research showed that the difference in the winter was not as noticeable).
Emma Hockridge, head of policy at the Soil Association, said: "This groundbreaking research proves for the first time that people buying organic milk will be benefitting from the higher levels of beneficial fatty acids in organic milk through the whole year."
Sarah Cossom | EurekAlert!
Win-win strategies for climate and food security
02.10.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
The personality factor: How to foster the sharing of research data
06.09.2017 | ZBW – Leibniz-Informationszentrum Wirtschaft
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
20.10.2017 | Information Technology
20.10.2017 | Materials Sciences
20.10.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research