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Dairy Farmers Of Canada: International Dairy Federation’s symposium: The role of dairy in sustainable diets

Published on 30 April 2018

Earlier this year, Dairy Farmers of Canada participated in the International Dairy Federation’s symposium on the role of dairy in sustainable diets in Seville, Spain.

International Dairy Federation logoThe symposium brought together experts in nutrition, public perception, socioeconomics, environment and policy to holistically consider the benefits of dairy in human nutrition, its social and economic importance at a global level and its relationship to the natural environment.

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The experts provided evidence showing how dairy meets the four conditions of a sustainable diet as defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations:

  • Nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy
  • Culturally acceptable
  • Protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems
  • Accessible, economically fair and affordable

On its own, dairy is sometimes vilified for its greenhouse gas emissions, largely as a result of the methane emissions from cows and their manure. However, in the context of a whole diet, it provides nutrients in a way that can allow for a healthy, nutritious, economically viable and low environmentally impacting diet.

When viewed on the basis of its protein, for example, the footprint of milk is actually lower than many of its plant-derived alternatives.

Similarly, when viewed at a balanced diet level, the greenhouse gas contributions of a moderate consumption of dairy products is roughly the same as those from fruit and vegetables.

The symposium highlighted the need for broad-based metrics and a holistic understanding of both sustainability and nutrition.

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Simple metrics can easily portray the dairy industry in a negative light, such as metrics showing it takes 1,000 litres of water to produce 1 litre of milk; while the number is accurate in some ways, it is also misleading – the vast majority of this 1,000 litres falls as rainwater onto crops and never leaves the water cycle.

However, applying complex and recognized metrics is more challenging but will yield a more balanced and positive perspective of the dairy industry.

Governments are increasingly considering the sustainability of food sources as they update and revise health guides, promoting plant-based foods over animal-based products; this could be interpreted by their citizens as plants being better for their health.

However, the symposium highlighted the strong health profile of dairy products, potentially associated with decreased risk of stroke and type II diabetes, and the difficulty in achieving healthy eating for the population in the absence of dairy products, where dairy products provide a wide range of nutrients in a convenient format.

The International Dairy Federation will continue discussions in this area with action teams following the science and considering how best to communicate the health benefits and environmental performance of dairy.  end mark

Founded in 1934, Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) is the national organization which defends the interests of Canadian dairy farmers and strives to create favourable conditions for the Canadian dairy industry. Working in accordance with supply management principles, DFC promotes safe, high quality, sustainable and nutritious Canadian dairy products made from 100% Canadian milk through various marketing, nutrition, policy and lobbying initiatives. Driven by a strong sense of community and pride, DFC and Canadian dairy farmers actively support a number of local and national activities. Visit dairyfarmers.ca for more information.

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