You may have noticed that this one ingredient is making a serious dent in your grocery budget lately. Here’s why.
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Why Does Organic Milk Cost So Much

You’re strolling the aisles of your local market. You arrive at the cool, glowing refrigerator cases of the dairy section, poised to make a quick decision about what you’ll pour into your next glass of homemade boba or rich batch of pots de crème. The shelves all look the same. The neatly stacked cartons all look the same. But a closer inspection of the price tags underneath them makes the wheels of your shopping cart come to a stiff halt.

With today’s inflation affecting food prices around the globe, you might be second-guessing and over-thinking every purchase you make. But when the difference between the price of a gallon of organic versus non-organic milk grows to a staggeringly wide gulf—as in a more-than-twice-as-expensive gulf—you might start wondering what the heck’s going on. How is the cost of conventional milk so cheap by comparison? And what, exactly, are you getting for the extra cost of organic?

Handling dairy cattle - Nedap Livestock Management

What does “organic” really mean, anyways?

Let’s start by defining what “organic” milk is versus non-organic milk, which we’ll call “conventional.” The term organic is regulated by the USDA, and companies who apply this label to their dairy products must adhere to its Guidelines for Organic Certification of Dairy Livestock. These include ensuring that the cows’ feed and pasture meet organic certification criteria which prohibits certain additives, supplements, and chemicals; ensuring that a minimum of 30% of the cows’ diet comes from pasture; prohibiting the use of growth hormones along with other livestock healthcare guidelines; limiting confinement and enabling natural behaviors along with other livestock living conditions.

Why does it cost more to operate an organic farm?

All that adds up to extra costs. Pasturing cows often requires more infrastructure on a farm, says Kate Mendenhall, Executive Director of the Organic Farmers Association.

“If you’re in a state that gets snowy and muddy, you have to have some type of surface to hold the animals in the winter months,” says Mendenhall by phone. “Then you need some well-packed laneways to bring them in from pasture… to give them outside access but make sure they’re not creating runoff from manure.”

By contrast, in a conventional dairy farm, the land base is smaller, the concentration of cattle in any given area is much higher, so it’s much more efficient. Conventional cows are typically housed year-round indoors, without the same regulations that organic dairy cattle are ensured to prevent overcrowding, confinement, and tethering, which can lead to lameness and other physical and social animal welfare issues.

The density of large conventional dairy farms—as with any Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation or CAFO—can also impact the environment and the welfare of its surrounding communities due to runoff. A smaller dairy farm, while more costly to operate, wouldn’t have as much of a negative environmental footprint; some small farms aim to reduce their impact further through what’s known as regenerative farming. Hence, a great portion of what you’re paying for from organic dairy comes down to the economies of scale.

UK stocks slipped on Monday as investors refrained from making risky bets ahead of key central bank decisions this week, while gains in Unilever limited losses on the FTSE 100 after the consumer goods giant announced a new chief executive officer.

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