In a world of tradeoffs, it’s rare that we come across a true win/win. And it’s even rarer that a win/win should be widespread, abundant and so common it’s largely unnoticed. Perhaps we’ve become so acclimatised to ‘big’ and ‘fast’ that we have forgotten what was intimately known a century ago: grass is good. It’s good for our parks, our landscapes, our farms and our economy. And now, because of new research by Newcastle University, we know that it affects the nutritional content of organic food.
This new study, published February 16 in the British Journal of Nutrition, set out to find if there were any definitive health benefits of organic dairy and meat in comparison to non-organic alternatives. What the researchers found was that organic milk and meat contain around 50% higher levels of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and slightly lower concentrations of saturated fats than conventional products. Organic also contains 40% more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which has been linked to a range of health benefits including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and obesity. There is also now evidence that organic milk and dairy contains slightly higher concentrations of iron, Vitamin E and some carotenoids.
Why these differences? The old adage “you are what you eat” applies to animals, too. What they are fed and how they are treated affects the quality of the food. Organic cows eat grass and clover, and lots of it. Clover is a great organic substitute to nitrogen-based fertilizers, and because of this many farmers grow diverse clover mixes in their fields. This research shows that this clover is directly responsible for higher levels of omega-3 in organic milk and meat.
Organic farmers don’t have the monopoly on grass, of course, but we do specialise in it; most of our livelihoods depend on it. It’s the requirement in our standards that at least 60% of an animal’s diet must come from forage, which we now know has the potential to improve our own health, too. So as you pour a glass of delicious organic milk, raise it in celebration of the magnificent grasslands of Britain, and the health and happiness that flow from them.
Helen Browning is Chief Executive of the Soil Association. She also runs a tenanted 1,350 acre organic livestock and arable farm in Wiltshire, which supplies organic meat to supermarkets.
Post originally appeared on SoilAssociation.org, image by Elliott Neep.
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