The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has today received a letter from 14 top scientists, asking the organisation to recognise the mounting body of evidence that organic milk naturally contains higher levels of Omega 3 fatty acids than non-organic milk. The letter, sparked by the publication of ground breaking new research and sent to Dame Deidre Hutton, Chair of the FSA, calls on the agency to revise its position and recognise for the first time that there is a nutritional difference between organic and non-organic milk. The letter has been issued as the UK gets set to celebrate the Soil Association’s Organic Food Festival and Fortnight, which starts this next weekend (2nd September).

The Journal of Dairy Science recently published the most comprehensive research on the issue to date1 – a three year study which shows a direct link between the whole organic farming system and the higher levels of Omega 3 fatty acids in organic milk. Dr. Kathryn Ellis, the lead researcher on the paper, has written the letter to Dame Hutton, with the backing of her co-authors and a number of other internationally respected scientists.

Ellis’ study, sponsored by the Organic Milk Suppliers Cooperative (OMSCo) and conducted independently by the Universities of Liverpool and Glasgow, is the first to consider a cross section of UK farms over a 12-month production cycle. According to the research a pint of organic milk contains on average 68.2% more total Omega 3 fatty acids than non-organic milk and has a ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids, which is believed to be beneficial to human health.

Peter Melchett, Policy Director at the Soil Association, comments, “Official information currently available to the public does not acknowledge any nutritional difference between organic and non-organic milk. We fully support Dr. Ellis’ letter to the FSA. We hope that the weight of scientific evidence and support from the leading scientists in this field will encourage the agency to recognise that consumers have a right to know that there is a significant difference between the two types of milk.”

The naturally higher levels of Omega 3 fatty acids in organic milk have previously been linked to the organic cows’ diet, which is high in clover. However, although the latest research acknowledges that this factor is partly responsible, it also concludes that the higher levels of nutrients in organic milk are a result of the entire organic system.

Dr. Ellis’ paper reports that, “Despite accounting for management and feeding variables, an ‘organic’ and ‘conventional’ effect was seen for some fatty acid groups. This is important at retail level as ‘organic’ and ‘conventional’ labeling is one of the only differences that consumers can currently determine.”

Nicholas Saphir, OMSCo Chairman, says “Over the last few years there has been mounting research confirming the higher levels of Omega 3 fatty acids in organic milk. This latest study clearly shows that the higher levels of these essential fatty acids are a result of the whole organic farming system. We believe that the consumer should have access to this information through the FSA.”

Registered Dietician, Sian Porter, adds “Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an essential fatty acid which cannot be produced in the body and must be taken in the diet. This study shows that organic milk has a higher content of total Omega 3 fatty acids, principally ALA, which has been linked to maintaining heart health and can be converted by the body into the other essential Omega 3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). A glass (200ml) of organic whole milk could provide approximately 20% of the UK’s recommended minimum intake of essential ALA, a match box sized piece of organic cheese provides 25% and an organic yogurt 46% so you can meet your ‘3 a day’ and ALA requirement almost all at the same time.“

Organic milk is produced to the highest possible standards. It comes from cows that graze on pastures which are not sprayed with synthetic chemical pesticides, are not allowed to be fed GM cattle feed and which are only treated with antibiotics when they are actually ill.