Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry

, Volume 388, Issue 1, pp 297–305 | Cite as

Differentiation of organically and conventionally produced milk by stable isotope and fatty acid analysis

  • Joachim MolkentinEmail author
  • Anette Giesemann
Original Paper


Increasing sales of organic milk mean intensified tests for authenticity are required. In addition to comprehensive documentation, analytical methods to identify organic milk, and thus to differentiate it from conventional milk, are needed for consumer protection. Because the composition of milk is fundamentally dependent on the feeding of the cows, thirty-five samples from both production systems in Germany, including farm and retail milk, were collected within 12 months, to reflect seasonal variation, and appropriate properties were analysed. Fatty acid analysis enabled organic and conventional milk to be completely distinguished, because of the higher α-linolenic acid (C18:3ω3) and eicosapentaenoic acid (C20:5ω3) content of the former. Organic milk fat contained at least 0.56% C18:3ω3 whereas the maximum in conventional milk was 0.53%. Because of the parallel seasonal course of the C18:3ω3 content of organic and conventional retail samples, however, time-resolved comparison at the five sampling dates resulted in a clearer difference of 0.34 ± 0.06% on average. Analysis of stable carbon isotopes (δ13C) also enabled complete distinction of both types of milk; this can be explained by the different amounts of maize in the feed. For conventional milk fat δ13C values were −26.6‰ or higher whereas for organic milk fat values were always lower, with a maximum of −28.0‰. The time-resolved average difference was 4.5 ± 1.0‰. A strong negative correlation (r = −0.92) was found between C18:3ω3 and δ13C. Analysis of a larger number of samples is required to check the preliminary variation ranges obtained in this pilot study and, probably, to adjust the limits. Stable isotopes of nitrogen (δ15N) or sulfur (δ34S) did not enable assignment of the origin of the milk; in cases of ambiguity, however, some trends observed might be useful in combination with other properties.


Correlation (r = −0.92) between δ13C value and C18:3ω3 content of milk fat from different production systems


Stable isotopes Fatty acids Differentiation Identification Organic milk production Conventional milk production 



The authors thank Birte Fischer, Bärbel Krumbeck, and Martina Heuer for assistance with the analytical work, and Kurt Einhoff, Ernst Johannsen, and Klaus Pabst for help providing and preparing the milk samples.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Dairy Chemistry and TechnologyFederal Research Centre for Nutrition and FoodKielGermany
  2. 2.Institute of AgroecologyFederal Agricultural Research CentreBraunschweigGermany

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