Healthier milk

27 January 2012

Dr Michael Lee.
Dr Michael Lee.

A natural feed supplement aimed at producing healthy premium milk all year round is under development in Wales with support from the Welsh Government.

Scientists at the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) say it could provide a financial boost for dairy farmers and feed manufacturers.

Cows grazing on fresh pasture in the summer produce milk with high levels of beneficial unsaturated fatty acids – but the levels fall dramatically in winter when they are fed on conserved feed.

Growing retail and consumer pressure is demanding healthier dairy products and one high street retailer has already announced payment incentives to farmers who achieve certain fat levels in their milk.

This is currently achieved by the artificial addition of expensive oils to cattle feed or supplemented into milk but scientists at IBERS have identified natural volatile components of pasture shown to influence fat metabolism in the laboratory which could be added to winter feed.

They have developed the technology to manufacture compounds produced by grazed grass and have proven their efficacy in the laboratory. The next step is to test these in dairy cows to determine if the potential can be replicated in the animal to produce higher levels of unsaturated fatty acids in milk.

These unsaturated fats have been shown to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers in humans.
Dr Michael Lee who is leading the project said: “ The technology we have developed is novel, meets an industry need and promises economic benefits to feed manufacturers, dairy farmers and retailers.”

The project has benefited from £126,270 funding from the Welsh Government’s A4B programme which will enable IBERS to validate the technology it has developed through field trials.

IBERS are working with three industrial partners - including one of the UK’s leading UK supermarkets and an animal feed manufacturer.

Alun Davies, Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and European Programmes said: “This is an excellent example of how industrial collaboration between higher education and industry could turn research into commercially viable products that boost production and improve the quality of the produce for the consumer.

“The agriculture industry is one that benefits greatly from scientific research so I am pleased that the European funded A4B project is encouraging this type of collaboration. Projects like this have real potential to bring benefits to the Welsh food sector and I am delighted support from the Welsh Government has helped drive this forward.”

There is a large potential market for the product in the UK, while the EU and USA produce and consume 30% of the world liquid milk supply. Premium liquid milk is predicted to account for 25% of milk sold by retailers by 2020.

There are additional advantages for using premium milk in other dairy products such as butter and cheese will also be investigated.

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Contacts

Dr Michael Lee
IBERS
mcl@aber.ac.uk
01970 823 078