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From designer milk to ’green’ cows: predictions for milk and dairy products in the next 50 years


Old MacDonald will be surprised when he sees what’s headed for his dairy farm: specially bred cows that naturally produce low-fat milk, designer milk that boosts the immune system, and "green" cows -- engineered to produce less methane to help stem global warming. All are among the changes predicted for the future of the milk and dairy industry over the next 50 years.

These and other developments are described in a special report commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a peer-reviewed publication of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society. The report is written by Lawrence K. Creamer, of the Fonterra Research Centre in New Zealand, and his associates. It will be published in the Dec. 4 print issue of the journal.

Among the predictions:

Designer milk -- Organic milks are already available at supermarkets, but a new breed of designer milks are on the drawing board that will boost immunity, improve lactose utilization and relieve diarrhea. Advances in biotechnology have made it all possible: Got designer milk?

Naturally low-fat milk -- Recent advances in biotechnology have identified a gene for milkfat synthesis that may one day allow scientists to selectively breed cows that naturally produce low-fat milk. This and other developments are moving closer to reality as researchers identify genetic markers in cows for diseases or desirable traits that will enable scientists to improve the efficiency of milk production and select for milk with specific traits. Although the development of genetically modified cows and milk products shows promise, consumer resistance to such products will remain a barrier well into the future, the researchers predict.

Green cows -- Researchers are trying to develop green cows. No, not green-colored cows, but environmentally cleaner cows. Cattle, via belching, produce a significant amount of methane as a result of digestion. Methane (from cows and other sources) is a major contributor to the greenhouse effect in the atmosphere, second only to carbon dioxide, which many scientists think contributes to global warming. Researchers believe that they can alter cattle digestion, either by removing the microorganisms that produce methane from their stomachs or by creating microorganisms that can produce metabolic products other than methane. The end result: green cows.

Milk alternatives -- Competition from nondairy materials will increase, driven by consumer demand. Already, supermarkets have been flooded with alternative soy products, from soybean milk to soy-based ice cream. These products offer options for those that are allergic to milk or concerned about dairy safety. In the pipeline: useful milk proteins produced not from cows, but from recombinant organisms, such as yeasts. Still, experts predict that milk will continue to be a viable nutrition source in the future.

Renewed emphasis on food safety -- Underlying the new developments in dairy farming will be an increased emphasis on food safety. Diseases such as mad cow and foot and mouth disease are being fought with government regulatory programs and rigorous farm management, as well as advances in biotechnology.

Beverly Hassell | EurekAlert!
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