Give a mouse a cookie and he’ll ask for a glass of milk— for good reason, too! Besides pairing well with so many of our favorite foods, milk provides a hefty dose of nine essential nutrients including vitamins A, D, and B12Milk and growth in children: effects of whey and casein. Mølgaard, C., Larnkjær, A., Arnberg, K., et al. Department of Human Nutrition, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark. Netsle Nutrition Workshop Series Pediatric Program. 2011;67:67-78.. But milk’s getting political these days, as lawmakers, health professionals, and consumers alike engage in one of the biggest Milk Debates to date: organic vs. regular.

Something to Moo About — What It Is

Check out any organic milk carton and the following claims are sure to appear: no artificial growth hormones, no pesticides, and no antibiotics. That means farmers refrain from giving cows production-boosting hormones and antibiotics. An organic designation also requires that farmers give their cows only organically grown feed.

The most common hormones used on dairy cows increase milk production, but when humans consume non-organic milk, they’re also getting a dose of those compounds greater than what cows naturally produce. While researchers are still trying to pin down their exact potential side effects, studies have linked such hormones to an increased risk of various cancers and, potentially, abnormal physical development in adolescents (and definitely not the awesome kind)Dairy products and breast cancer: the IGF–I, estrogen, and bGH hypothesis. Outwater, J.L., Nicholson, A., Barnard, N. Princeton University, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Washington DC. Medical Hypotheses.1997 Jun;48(6):453-61.Growth hormone (GH) receptors in prostate cancer: gene expression in human tissues and cell lines and characterization, GH signaling and androgen receptor regulation in LNCaP cells. Weiss-Messer, E., Merom, O., Adi, A., et al. Department of Pharmacology, Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Technion, Haifa, Israel. Molecular Cell Endocronology. 2004 May 31;220(1-2):109-23.Differential growth patterns among healthy infants fed protein hydrolysate or cow-milk formulas. Mannella, J.A., Ventura, A.K., Beauchamp, G.K. Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia, PA. Pediatrics 2011 Jan;127(1):110-8.. Another study found organic milk tends to contain higher levels of beneficial fatty acids than the non-organic variety, suggesting a nutrient advantage over conventional milkFat composition of organic and conventional retail milk in northeast England. Butler, G., Stergiadia, S., Seal, C. et al. Nafferton Ecological Farming Group, School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Newcastle University, Stocksfield, Northumberland, UK. Journal of Dietary Science. 2011 Jan; 94(1): 24-36..

On the Butcher’s Block — The Answer/Debate

Despite organic milk’s potential upsides, the National Dairy Council (comprised of advocates for dairy farmers, to be clear) argues there’s no effective difference between organic and regular milk in terms of quality, nutrition, and safety. New FDA regulations require all milk be tested for antibiotics, and any batch that tests positive is taken out of the U.S. food supply.

Nutritionally, both regular and organic milk are fortified to contain FDA-approved levels of vitamins A and D (which are lost during the skimming process). Any added vitamins and minerals will always be listed on the carton. If organic still seems like the way to go, just be sure to also check for the USDA “organic” seal, as some brands have been known to milk the organic craze without selling the right product.