Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Milk Matters

Last Friday we had a meeting with the head of my boys’ school. No, it’s not what you think; the Slayton silliness isn’t that out of hand. All is well in 1st and 3rd grades; we were meeting about nutrition. There are 4 of us, 3 RD’s and an MD, all moms’s at this UWS nameless-for-now private school. Earlier this year, we met with the head of the lower school and outlined some suggestions to improve the food situation. The meeting went well and we left encouraged.  Certain changes were implemented and Friday’s meeting was to follow up on a few matters.  First on our list was organic milk.  As soon as we asked we were told, rather bluntly “there isn’t going to be organic milk.” It turns out the head of the entire school feels organic milk is ultra pasteurized and that therefore conventional milk that is “free of synthetic hormones” is just as good.  My head was spinning. Here we are in NYC, I would guess that less that 5% of the parent body uses conventional milk at home.  I silently reminded myself I had 2 children at this school and needed to keep my passion under wraps. We agreed I would “gather all pertinent information” and circle back.

So what is ultra pasteurization and is it bad?
Ultra pasteurization (or UHT pasteurization) means that milk is heated at a higher temperature that pasteurized milk (280 degrees for 2 seconds versus 167 degrees for 15 seconds). The drawback of this process is that ultra-pasteurization kills nonpathogenic bacteria in addition to pathogenic. Many discussions of ultra-pasteurized milk also mention the burnt or cooked taste but I am not enough of a milk drinker to verify this. There is some concern that ultra-pasteurization destroys vitamins. UHT extends the shelf life of milk and is attractive to retailers for this reason. Dean Sparks of NY Milk states, “This is all about THEM and nothing about YOU and your family.” With “them” in this example being retailers. While ultra pasteurization may not be dangerous, it doesn’t appear necessary or desirable.

Some fantastic companies who offer non-UHT milk are:
Organic Valley – offers both UHT and not UHT
Evans Farmhouse Creamery
*We eliminated certain producers based on Cornucopia’s dairy farm ratings.

 Is “no synthetic hormones” conventional milk “just as good”?
Cows naturally produce hormones so no milk is technically hormone free. As for contains no “synthetic hormones” in my opinion I am not OK with this. Alexandra Zissu, Foodtrainers’ favorite green expert and author confirmed my suspicions saying, “There isn't a government organization or third party agency verifying the hormone and antibiotic claims.”  The USDA organic standards are government regulated. Plus, hormones added or otherwise aren’t the only issue here.

Why does it make sense to buy organic milk?
Organic milk has fewer pesticide residues as no pesticides or non-organic fertilizers are used for the cows’ feed. No BGH is used to increase milk production and no genetically modified ingredients are fed to the cows.  Under the organic standards if a cow receives antibiotics it will be a year before they are used for milk as a washout period. And finally, the cows used for organic milk live in better conditions and have access to grazing and grass. Organic milk has higher levels of vitamins, antioxidants and omega 3’s.

 Advice from Dean Sparks: “If the date on the top of the seal is more than 3 weeks out, you’ve got UHT milk. Also, it will say “ultra pasteurized” right on the carton. You want none of that…put it back and find some good, wholesome, local fresh organic milk to drink. Doing so almost ensures you are supporting small family farms that are doing things right.”

To summarize:
  • Choose non-UHT milk whenever you can.
  • Conventional “no synthetic hormones added” is questionable at best and without a doubt inferior to organic.
  • I was pro-organic before this post but even more so after delving further into dairy.
What type or brand of milk do you buy? Did you know about ultra pasteurization before? How do I tell the school they don’t “pass” the dairy test?


  1. Your HoS's reaction is not good. Some thoughts:
    Get more parents on-board and make sure they are vocal. Often school leaders will see three parents sitting in front of them and think that only the three of you have this concern. Get more parents from a broad range of grades on your side and make sure they contact your division heads and the HoS.

    Find out what other NYC independent schools are doing WRT milk. No HoS wants to be last in innovation, particularly when comparing themselves to competitor schools. Can you show that they are the only UWS school serving ultra-pasteurized milk? What are the other schools serving?(My vague recollection is that Calhoun School has a stellar food program, but I could be mistaken.)

    Finally, talk to your Admissions person at school to gauge if nutrition in school foods is something that applicants' parents ask about. If so, point out that having great, healthy meals, including organic milk, is a value-added and reflects values at home. If not, suggest that your school "could" be the leader in this respect and that the school could highlight this in admissions.

    In the current economic and school climate, HoS's are concerned about filling their classes, even in hyper-competitive New York. Push your school on this one.

    We have to start small in TX. I just wish we wouldn't serve chocolate and strawberry milk and dessert every single day. I can't imagine that we would ever go organic in any way.

  2. So interesting -- we buy organic and frequently buy at the farmers market across the street but I have not really focused on the UHT issue. I will definitely pay more attention on Saturday! Thanks for the info.

  3. Our fresh, local organic milk is now available from Fresh Direct. They also carry our eggs and cheese. If you really want to directly support small family sustainable farms, please consider nymilk, nyeggs and nycheese. Coming soon: nyogurt and nyice cream~!!

  4. Hi Lauren,
    I'm currently studying to become a holistic nutritionist and recently learned that dairy milk is quite congesting/toxic to our bodies (organic or not) if consumed on a regular basis. So I thought I would switch to Light Vanilla Soy and Almond Milk every few weeks as substitutes. What are your thoughts on those options? I read that Soy Milk contains phsytoestrogens, which can be harmful if overdone. Thanks! -Lauren

  5. Lauren,

    I wonder why your head of school associates ultra-pasteurization with organic milk. Ultra-pasteurization is a process that is even more common in conventional milk.

    As you say, conventional dairy farms use synthetic pesticides, herbicides, nitrogen-based fertilizers antibiotics and hormones — all of which wash into waterways. Organic milk is better for us, for the environment and for the poor cow.

    I wonder, what’s the “flavored milk” situation in your boys’ school? Any vending machines?

  6. MILK MAYHEM!! Love all the research and time spent putting this blog up. I am very grateful to learn more about the UHT factor in organic milk and love that you listed best brands. I am guessing that the UHT organic is better than conventional - please confirm. Do I even ask your stand on raw milk....there are some big proponents of REAL raw milk that tout the health benefits....thanks again for all this!

  7. This is an interesting article as I have recently discovered that I am lactose intolerant and written a post on my blog on the same But I have never really considered the UHT issue. This is insightful food for thought. I have now switched to rice milk as I prefer itbut this is interesting for those who continue to drink cow's milk.

  8. she has a good point that UHT milk contains less nutrients than lower temp past. milk. but as you point out there are some sources of organic milk that is not UHT. if cost is not an issue (it would be in my district), a win win should be possible. organic to keep hormones, antibiotic and GMO feed out of milk, and non UHT to allay the director's concern. sounds like a win win to me. your director actually just made a case for providing even more nutrient rich milk to students.

  9. Ok I am poor I like organic but lets face it I need to use what I have and rmight now it is what WIC gives me. I am trying to learn what are the better brands of non organic milk to buy so that when I make my own Cheese I am not wasting my money. Please help

  10. Soy can be very detrimental think carefully I was raised on soy and now have many health problems because of it. It now used in everything from your tea to your ketchup and it can be very hard on your system I even have friends that had soy cause massive problems especially in there boys. It can mess with glands and thyroid. Be very careful