Higher PUFA and n-3 PUFA, conjugated linoleic acid, α-tocopherol and iron, but lower iodine and selenium concentrations in organic milk: a systematic literature review and meta- and redundancy analyses

Br J Nutr. 2016 Mar 28;115(6):1043-60. doi: 10.1017/S0007114516000349. Epub 2016 Feb 16.


Demand for organic milk is partially driven by consumer perceptions that it is more nutritious. However, there is still considerable uncertainty over whether the use of organic production standards affects milk quality. Here we report results of meta-analyses based on 170 published studies comparing the nutrient content of organic and conventional bovine milk. There were no significant differences in total SFA and MUFA concentrations between organic and conventional milk. However, concentrations of total PUFA and n-3 PUFA were significantly higher in organic milk, by an estimated 7 (95 % CI -1, 15) % and 56 (95 % CI 38, 74) %, respectively. Concentrations of α-linolenic acid (ALA), very long-chain n-3 fatty acids (EPA+DPA+DHA) and conjugated linoleic acid were also significantly higher in organic milk, by an 69 (95 % CI 53, 84) %, 57 (95 % CI 27, 87) % and 41 (95 % CI 14, 68) %, respectively. As there were no significant differences in total n-6 PUFA and linoleic acid (LA) concentrations, the n-6:n-3 and LA:ALA ratios were lower in organic milk, by an estimated 71 (95 % CI -122, -20) % and 93 (95 % CI -116, -70) %. It is concluded that organic bovine milk has a more desirable fatty acid composition than conventional milk. Meta-analyses also showed that organic milk has significantly higher α-tocopherol and Fe, but lower I and Se concentrations. Redundancy analysis of data from a large cross-European milk quality survey indicates that the higher grazing/conserved forage intakes in organic systems were the main reason for milk composition differences.

Keywords: n-3 PUFA; AA arachidonic acid; ALA α-linolenic acid; Antioxidants; BS basket studies; CLA conjugated linoleic acid; Conjugated linoleic acid; Dairy products; EFSA European Food Safety Authority; EX controlled experiments; FA fatty acid; LA linoleic acid; MPD mean percentage difference; Milk; Organic products; RDA redundancy analysis; SMD standardised mean difference; UM unweighted meta-analysis; VA vaccenic acid; VLC very long chain; Vitamins; WM weighted meta-analysis.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Dairying
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated / analysis*
  • Evidence-Based Practice
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / analysis*
  • Food, Organic / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Iodine / analysis
  • Iron, Dietary / analysis*
  • Linoleic Acids, Conjugated / analysis*
  • Livestock
  • Milk / chemistry*
  • Nutritive Value
  • Selenium / analysis
  • alpha-Tocopherol / analysis*


  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Iron, Dietary
  • Linoleic Acids, Conjugated
  • Iodine
  • alpha-Tocopherol
  • Selenium