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Keep dairy in the diet

Progressive Dairyman Editor Karen Lee Published on 31 May 2018

On June 1 – World Milk Day – attention is drawn to arguably the world’s most perfect food. Over the last few years, I’ve seen my social media feeds filled with posts about the holiday. Most of these come from dairy groups and dairy producers.

Perhaps this added attention has helped enhance the call for more milk that has rung throughout the country these last few years.

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At the same time, however, domestic dairy product consumption is facing great peril. There are efforts underway that could steer the general public away from drinking milk and eating dairy products.

The first effort is the revision of Canada’s Food Guide, which is to be released this year. Early drafts placed a strong emphasis on plant-based proteins and significantly downplayed the role of dairy products in a healthy diet.

The second effort underway is front-of-package labeling to place information on saturated fat, sugar and sodium content on the front of each food package in a quick, easily identifiable format.

The consultation period to voice an opinion on this topic has recently ended, and the results will be shared later this year.

While some foods will be exempt from this mandatory labeling, the draft proposal indicated many dairy foods will have unfavourable numbers displayed on the front of the package despite the many healthy proteins, vitamins and minerals these products contain.

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Now I don’t really believe every person strictly abides by Canada’s Food Guide when selecting what they eat or drink, or that an avid cheese fan would be swayed by a front-of-package label, but what about those middle-of-the-road consumers who tend to waver back and forth in their food purchasing decisions?

Even if not acknowledged en masse, what if these efforts changed domestic dairy consumption by 10 percent, 5 percent or even only 1 or 2 percent? What would that mean for the industry or your farm?

My fear is that while the dairy industry has been busy defending the right to farm and how milk is made from an animal care perspective, we’ve lost track of why it is made.

Too many consumers no longer view dairy products as an important part of their diet. They easily reach for alternative beverages based on caloric decisions, not realizing how they are missing out on the nine essential nutrients real milk contains.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to hear from Zhu Li Ke, CEO and general manager of China Zhejiang YiMing Food Company Ltd., who is developing a generation of people interested in consuming dairy products in China.

A traditional Chinese breakfast consisted of porridge, fried dough sticks and pickles. Several years ago, Li Ke and his father introduced a healthier breakfast, coined “Four Ones,” with one egg, one milk, one bread and one apple.

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With a generation of people raised on milk and eggs for breakfast, Li Ke now has a strong customer base for the 1,200 milk bars he operates in southeast China and Shanghai.

These storefronts that offer breakfast foods and dairy products from China and around the world can be found in neighbourhoods, college campuses and metropolitan city centers.

As I listened to this, I couldn’t help but think of how Chinese consumers may not be the only ones in need of a dairy revolution.

Milk, butter, cheese and yogurt are no longer known as staple diet foods and, with the proposed efforts, that might slip further away.

This World Milk Day, let’s not just promote how milk is produced in a healthy, sustainable way but also that milk is a healthy and sustainable food product.  end mark

Karen Lee
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