VEGA News Item

Fat Hope for Declining Dairy Industry - 02/01/2008
New Year’s Day opened with what the Times Consumer Editor hails as hope for milk producers as the EU relaxes rules; and, elliptically, “experts say change will help tackle obesity”. This must be enough to ruin the veggies’ first cup of tea in 2008.
New Year’s Day opened with what the Times Consumer Editor hails as hope for milk producers as the EU relaxes rules; and, elliptically, “experts say change will help tackle obesity”. This must be enough to ruin the veggies’ first cup of tea in 2008.

Changes by milk companies in the marketing of milk are being allowed as “health chiefs attempt to get people to reduce their intake of fat”. Until now European Commission regulations meant that milk could be marketed only within tightly defined ranges as whole or full-fat, semi-skimmed, or skimmed. Strict rules governed the fat content of each. As farmers can achieve only limited performance by tricks of breeding, calving, feeding, and housing cows – even by genetic manipulations with artificial insemination in yielding a “natural” product routinely connived at by organic and Soil Association “producers” (i.e. the farmers, not the cows) – yields of skimmed milks entail lowering of fat contents by mechanical separation and resort to means of disposing of the butter fat; the milk industry is therefore especially keen to value add this by-product to co-product status and even to lift it beyond the range of value adding and “premiumization”. By crafty “lactating” otherwise veggie products, such as biscuits, cakes, and ice-creams, in the styles of Waitrose and Marks and Spencer – “buttering everything up” as VEGA would have it – the butter fat can be returned into “luxury” and “finest” items in the food chain. In the 1980s the Finnish South Karelia project coped with a similar problem by dumping the excess fat into the CAP’s intervention scheme of support; in the end the butter mountain was disposed of to the Russians and Poles, to the detriment of their health, but not after conversion into candles had been mooted.

From yesterday, after lobbying by Britain, dairy products containing 1% fat – above the level of skimmed milk, but below semi-skimmed – can also be marketed as “milk”; so can products with 2% fat, which is above semi-skimmed, but still well below full fat (i.e. 3.5% or over). “Health chiefs are convinced that the extra choice to products that have lower fat than their usual intake will help obesity”, states the Times. We hope that the VEGA alert to customers to the wiles of the dairy/beef/veal industry and to read labels percipiently, especially for branded milks and dairy-free alternative products, many of which carry much more relevant nutritional information than animal-derived milks will be useful. Cheeses are another fatty product of concern to the health experts and “food-police” of the Food Standards Agency. The dairy-frees can count fortification with vitamin D as a significant advantage, especially over winter milk from ruminants (which unlike dairy-milk in N America) is not so aptly “enhanced”. For nutritionists the fate of the skimmed-off fat determines dietary values of milk in various forms in its content of fat-soluble vitamins.

Semi-skimmed milk, which contains 1.5% to 1.8% fat, accounts for 63.9% of the market. Whole or full-fat milk, “which is important for children’s development”, accounts for 24.7% of all milk sales; it contains 3.5% fat. Skimmed milk, which contains less than 0.5% fat, accounts for 11.3% of sales. Between 1995 and 2005 average consumption of milk per person per week fell from 4 pints to 3 pints. In the USA and UK “1% milk” and The One have sold well, although they could not be labelled as milk. In the UK the decline has been reflected in the numbers of cows on farms and of farmers quitting or diversifying, and in the food industry’s ploys to pass off the fat in the food chain. Experts believe that consumers can easily adapt to the taste if fat content is adjusted “only mildly”. Food manufacturers are also expected to increase use of low fat milks and cheeses in sauces, ready meals, and dairy-based puddings.

The Times offers useful comparisons of what’s in a 200ml glass of cow’s milk. Full fat (3.5% fat), with 8g (0.28oz) of fat, of which 5.2g (0.18oz) is saturated, yields 136kcals; for 2% milk the figures are 4g (0.14oz) of total fat, of which 2.7g (0.10oz) is saturated, and 101 kcals; for semi-skimmed the figures are 1.5% to 1.8%, 3.5g (0.12oz), 2.3g (0.08oz) saturated; and for skimmed milk 0.6g (0.02oz), 0.2g (0.01oz), and 70 kcals. Consumers and especially veggies and other animal welfarists are advised to look at the choice and information on the dairy-free alternatives in chillers and on the shelves for the sake of their health and the reduced toll they are inflicting on the welfare of the cow and her calf.  

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