If you’re trying to buy what’s best for your family (and your budget!), milk labels can be a confusing cluster that leaves you scratching your head in the dairy aisle.
Here are 6 ways to avoid tricky marketing schemes and make informed decisions when it comes to the milk you buy:
1. “Where Is My Milk From” tells you where your milk was produced.
You can find this code toward the top of the milk carton. It may start with two numbers, followed by a dash, and end with 1-5 numbers after the dash, or it may just be four numbers grouped together.
Enter the code at WhereIsMyMilkFrom.com to find out which dairy it shipped from. Local dairies often mean fresher milk.
Plus, if generic milk and name brand milk have the same code, they come from the same place.
2. “Natural” doesn’t mean organic or hormone-free.
This label is very vague. Milk or creamer labeled as “natural” or claiming to be “real” doesn’t have to be organic, and it doesn’t account for how the animal was raised or fed.
It basically means there’s no added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances. Which can say a lot for a coffee creamer, but it doesn’t tell us much when it comes to milk. Take this label with a grain of salt.
3. “Antibiotic-free” milk doesn’t really mean…anything.
Eww, antibiotics in your milk? Of course you should pay extra to keep that out, right? Wrong!
According to the National Dairy Council, if milk tests positive for antibiotics or drug residues, it’s automatically thrown out.
So, this label is just a sneaky marketing scheme to make you think you’re getting something more healthy. Make sure you aren’t fooled into paying extra for this label.
4. Don’t pay more for milk “from cows not treated with rBST/rBGH.”
Here’s why: Many dairies treat their cows with an extra growth hormone called rBST/rBGH to increase milk supply.
But honestly? Tests for the safety of these added hormones have been “inconclusive.”
In fact, if you read closely, you’ll see the verbiage that explains that the difference between non-rBST and rBST-treated cows is insignificant.
To me, this label is trying to attract shoppers who care about what’s in the milk, but it’s still misleading since rBST/rBGH is only one of the hormones that many dairies use on their cattle. It’s also a hormone that the animals naturally produce on their own!
The good news is milk with this label is often as affordable as regular milk. So if you feel better about buying this milk, I won’t judge you!
5. Cows may be “grass fed” but that doesn’t include what else they ate that day.
This label basically means that the cows’ diet was grain-free and that the herd had access to a pasture.
But it doesn’t account for any of the other things cows might be fed, including milk, hay, plants, and mineral supplements, along with additional hormones. (Also in the winter when cows can’t graze on grass, they’re fed organic grains.)
6. The only milk that’s certified “organic” is milk with the USDA Organic label.
There’s a lot of controversy surrounding the USDA Organic label. I’m not here to take a side in the organic food wars, just to explain what the label means.
The USDA Organic label means certain conditions and processes must be met in order for the milk to carry the label.
Most of these regulations have to do with how the food cows are fed is grown (non-GMO, pesticide and chemical-free, not fertilized with sewage sludge, etc.)
Also, cows are not treated with antibiotics or hormones.
The USDA Organic label is more spendy, but if it matters a lot to you, be aware that this is the only label the USDA acknowledges as “organic.”