Soil Association press comment: Iodine levels in organic milk

22 May 2013

Emma Hockridge, head of policy at the Soil Association commented: “There are scientifically proven health and sustainability benefits of organic milk which are valuable as part of a balanced and healthy diet. Studies show that organic whole and semi-skimmed milk has more beneficial omega-3 fatty acid, Vitamin E and beta-carotene than non-organic milk and studies by Glasgow and Liverpool Universities found that UK organic milk has 68% higher levels of the essential fatty acid than non-organic milk.

Pregnant women should not stop drinking organic milk in response to a study published in the Lancet today highlighting iodine deficiencies in pregnant women and citing lower levels of iodine in organic milk.

The Soil Association is aware of potentially lower levels of iodine in organic milk and we are working with farmers and scientists to find ways of addressing this issue whilst keeping all the other benefits consumers rightly expect.

There are variations of levels of iodine in milk which are unrelated to whether or not it is organic. According to The Dairy Council there are seasonal variations - winter milk, may contain slightly higher levels of iodine than summer milk. It also seems that levels of iodine range sharply depending on whether it is high or low fat milk (British Journal of Nutrition)”

The fact that organic cows have a natural grass based diet, and do not routinely receive supplements may explain why iodine levels are potentially lower in organic milk. Organic milk is the most researched organic food with significant findings in favour of its nutritional value. Organic milk and dairy products contain more beneficial nutrients than non-organic because organic cows eat more grass.


Further studies on organic milk health benefits

Six studies have now found that organic milk has more fat-soluble nutrients - omega-3 fatty acid, Vitamin E and beta-carotene - than non-organic milk, as well as a healthier omega 3:6 ratio (skimmed milk does not have these nutrients). [2]. Research by Glasgow and Liverpool Universities found that UK (whole) organic milk has on average 68% higher levels of the essential fatty acid omega-3 and a healthier omega-3:6 profile than non-organic milk. Most recently research from the University of Newcastle has shown that organic milk is higher in beneficial nutrients and fatty acids throughout the year.

Organic dairy products have also been found to have positive effects on human health. Dutch government funded research found mothers who eat organic dairy products and drink organic milk have more beneficial nutrients in their breast milk.

This peer reviewed study shows that if infants up to two years old and their mothers eat organic dairy foods, then the infants suffer a 36% lower incidence of eczema (a type of allergic reaction common among Western children) [3]. The mechanism is unknown but could be due to the higher CLA level in organic milk and in the breast milk of mothers consuming organic milk (as shown by another study [4]).


[2] University of Liverpool (Ellis et al., 2006); Nielsen et al., 2004 and Nielsen and Lund-Nielsen, 2005; Bergamo et al., 2003; Robertson and Fanning, 2004; Dewhurst et al., 2003.
[3] Kummeling et al, 2007. Consumption of organic foods and risk of atopic disease during the first 2 years of life in the Netherlands, Louis Bolk Institute Department of Health Care and Nutrition, Driebergen, the Netherlands. British Journal of Nutrition (2007).
[4] Rist et al, 2007. ‘Influence of organic diet on the amount of conjugated linoleic acids in breast milk of lactating women in the Netherlands’. British Journal of Nutrition (2007), 97, 735–743

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