Iowa State’s New Organic Milk Testing Method


cowFor milk to be considered organic, it is required that the cows producing the milk have outdoor access, and must spend at least 120 days a year outside with fresh grass to eat. However, recently there is reason to believe that this is not always happening, and that farms are finding a way to cheat this system while maintaining their label as an organic product.

The Washington Post’s Peter Whoriskey published an exposé, accusing Colorado’s Aurora Dairy company of serious fraud, claiming that the organic company does not let their cows graze outside – at all. The average organic dairy farm has around 100 cows, while larger Aurora Dairy has approximately 15,000 cows. Whoriskey reported that every time visited the property, the fields were empty, which was confirmed by satellite images. Aurora Dairy denied the allegations, stating that the cows “happened” to not be out the day of each “drive-by”. To prove his point, Whoriskey tested the milk; organic milk produces more good fats in the final product, and when Whoriskey tested Aurora’s milk, he found that it was chemically closer to conventional milk.

This is only one example of an organic-labeled dairy that may be cheating the system and charging the more expensive organic price for non-organic milk. While there are methods of discovering the liars among the honest dairy farms, most methods are incredibly time-consuming and costly.

However, an Iowa State study may have found a new and immediate way to test for the real deal amid the organic milks. The Iowa State scientists used Fluorescence Spectroscopy—a method that can be thought of as a kind of molecular fingerprinting, one that involves beaming light at the product and measuring for luminescent signals in response. With this method, the results re visible immediately, saving the time and money it would take to send samples to a lab for testing. Not all foods are able to be tested this easily with this method, but organic cow’s milk should have lingering traces of chlorophyll that have been metabolized by the cow.

“Spectroscopy is easy,” says Jacob Petrich, an ISU biochemist who co-authored the study. “There’s really no sample preparation involved. You just need to shine light on the sample, and there are signatures in the milk that you can see. There’s very little preparation to be done, and you get the answer almost immediately.”

The research team tested their methods using Radiance Dairy, a pasture-based dairy farm where the cows’ diet is comprised of 85 percent pasture grasses, as a control sample. The control samples showed a chlorophyll concentration of about 0.13 to 0.11 micromolar. Store-bought organic milks ranged from 0.09 to 0.07 micromolar, and conventional milks came up in numbers as low as 0.04 to a mere 0.01 micromolar.

Anthony Joseph Lucchese
3/27/2018 10:38:56 AM

Good test to see if you really bought organic milk with the spectroscopy test. I can not afford the high priced organic milk at 5.00 to 6.00 . I found and was excited about the Aldi's organic milk at about 3.00. After reading the article I was thinking is this product the real thing!!!!!! Anthony Joseph Lucchese

2/26/2018 1:20:31 PM

Not surprisingly, the USDA did not do an unannounced inspection. ( and is less that forthcoming about the inspection. Aside from that, the Iowa State test would be easy to falsify in the field by adding chlorophyll to the sample or another interfering substance. This was/is a problem seen with workplace fluorescence-based drug of abuse testing.

2/26/2018 7:23:58 AM

The USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), the nation’s authority for properly certified organic food production, today officially closed a May 2, 2017 complaint against Aurora Organic Dairy’s (AOD) High Plains Dairy in Gill, CO, finding the company in full compliance with the access to pasture and grazing regulations required in organic dairy production.

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