by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Dairy

Jan 10 2022

Industry-funded study of the week: methane-reducing supplements for cows

Thanks to Lynn Ripley for this gem.

Who knew that herbal dietary supplements are now marketed for cows, with claims that they improve milk quality and yield and reduce methane emissions at the same time?  Not me, for sure.

The producer of this supplement says feeding a dairy cow one gram a day will produce these benefits. That’s not much for a 1500-2000 pound dairy cow, even feeding the gram a day for at least four weeks (which is what the manufacturer says you have to do).

This, to say the least, is hard to believe.

As evidence, the manufacturer, Agolin Ruminant, cites three studies of its supplement.   Want to take a guess as to who funded all three of them?  Bingo!  Agolin Ruminant.

My first question: what is in Agolin Ruminant that is so powerful that only one gram a day will produce measurable benefits?

This question is not easy to answer.

The manufacturer’s statement of product information says only:

AGOLIN RUMINANT L is a carefully balanced combination of essential oil compounds in their natural / nature-identical form. All active substances are of high purity and are accepted for use under current European animal feed and human food legislation.

In the meta-analysis summarized below, the authors say:

The main active compounds of this product are food grade and chemically-defined plant extracts including coriander (Coriandrum sativum) seed oil (up to 10%), eugenol (up to 7%), geranyl acetate (up to 7%) and geraniol (up to 6%) along with some preservatives such as fumaric acid.

Those account for 30% of what’s in the product.  The other 70%?  A mystery.

This supplement is a feed additive.  Animal feed products do not require the level of ingredient disclosure required for dietary supplements.  The manufacturer says all ingredients are either FDA-approved or Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS).  All are plant extracts (available from cloves or geraniums, for example).   Great.  I’d like to know what they are.

The manufacturer points to an endorsement from the Carbon Trust for the value of this product for reducing methane emissions.

This opinion is based on academic references, published scientific papers and field reports and joins the conclusions of the independent meta analyses from A. Belanche et al.

Oh dear.  The Carbon Trust did not do its homework.  The article by Belanche et al, is anything but independent.

Here are the key studies attesting to the purported benefits of this supplement for cows, starting with Belanche et al.

I.  A Meta-analysis Describing the Effects of the Essential oils Blend Agolin Ruminant on Performance, Rumen Fermentation and Methane Emissions in Dairy Cows. Alejandro Belanche, Charles J. Newbold, Diego P. Morgavi, Alex Bach, Beatrice Zweifel and David R. Yáñez-Ruiz.  Animals 2020, 10, 620; doi:10.3390/ani10040620

Conclusion: This meta-analysis combining 23 experimental and farm studies across 10 different countries indicated that supplementation of lactating dairy cows with the essential oils blend Agolin Ruminant® (at 1g/d per cow) exerted positive effects on milk production whereas it decreased enteric methane emissions in comparison to un-supplemented cows. These effects mostly appeared after an adaptation period of approximately 4 weeks of treatment and consisted in an increase in fat and protein corrected milk suggesting an improved feed utilization.

Funding: This research received no external funding.

Acknowledgments: This study was supported by Agolin SA (Bière, Switzerland).

Conflicts of Interest: Author B.Z. was employed by the company Agolin SA but had no role in the design, execution, interpretation, or writing of the meta-analysis. The remaining authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Comment:  Really?  Even though the authors cite support by Agolin SA?

II.  The Impact of Essential Oil Feed Supplementation on Enteric Gas Emissions and Production Parameters from Dairy Cattle Angelica V. Carrazco, Carlyn B. Peterson, Yongjing Zhao, Yuee Pan , John J. McGlone, Edward J. DePeters and Frank M. Mitloehner.  Sustainability 2020, 12, 10347; doi:10.3390/su122410347

Conclusion: Cows supplemented with Agolin versus the control had less methane intensity (g/period/kg
energy-corrected milk (ECM); p = 0.025).

Funding: This study was funded by Agolin (Agolin SA, Bière, Switzerland) and by Feedworks USA Ltd. (Ohio, USA).

Conflicts of Interest: The sponsor played no role in the execution and interpretation of the data and preparation of the present manuscript. The authors declare no conflict of interest.

III.  Evaluation of Agolin®, an Essential Oil Blend, as a Feed Additive for High Producing Cows.  Peter Williams1, John Clark, Kelly Bean  Open Journal of Animal Sciences, 11, 231-237.

Conclusion: The trial showed that Agolin assisted in improving production parameters of economic importance to dairy producers.

Conflict of Interest: Mr. John Clark and Mr. Peter Williams market Agolin in the United States of America. Both were involved in the design but not the analysis of data or interpretation of results.


These are industry-funded supplement studies designed to sell a supplement of dubious benefit (my interpretation) to dairy producers to convince the public that they are doing all they can to reduce methane emissions.

The supplement doesn’t cost much per dose, but there are lots of dairy cows that have to be given the supplement for at least four weeks.

Without even getting into the details of the measurement difficulties or the overall science, two things are particularly troubling:

  • The lack of transparency about ingredients
  • The lack of a convincing mechanism of action

Call me skeptical.  I don’t see this supplement as a solution to the methane emission problem caused by ruminants.

Jan 5 2022

Ben & Jerry’s top flavors: in order of calories???

Ben & Jerry’s is now owned by Unilever.

Here are its top-ten best-selling flavors:

  1. Half Baked: unbaked cookie dough and baked fudge brownies.
  2. Cherry Garcia: in the top three since its launch in 1987
  3. Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
  4. Chocolate Fudge Brownie: this contains brownies from New York’s Greyston Bakery, which provides jobs and training to low-income people in Yonkers
  5. Tonight Dough: Jimmy Fallon’s second flavor; proceeds to SeriousFun Children’s Network
  6. Strawberry Cheesecake
  7. Phish Food: since 1997
  8. Americone Dream: a partnership with Stephen Colbert, whose staff chooses the nonprofit its proceeds go to
  9. Chunky Monkey: banana ice cream with fudge chunks and walnuts
  10. Brownie Batter Core

Whether or not proceeds go to charity, these are commercial ice creams, and highly caloric, ultra-processed ones at that.

Here, for example, is the ingredient list for a Cherry Garcia.

And here’ the Nutrition Facts label for a pint.
The new serving size is 2/3 cup and you get three of those in the container at 340 calories each.  Eat the whole pint and you’ve done half your daily calories along with 78 grams of added sugars (oops).
Half-Baked has even more!
If ever a situation called for moderation, this one is it.
Dec 13 2021

Industry-funded study of the week: whole-fat dairy

I’m kind of a dairy agnostic.  If you like dairy foods, fine; if not, don’t eat them.

But the arguments about them are fierce, and the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise choosing low-fat alternatives.

So when I saw the title of this study, I wondered whether it had been funded by the dairy industry.  It was not, although some of the investigators have dairy industry ties.

The study: Whole-fat dairy products do not adversely affect adiposity or cardiometabolic risk factors in children in the Milky Way Study: a double-blind randomized controlled pilot study.  Analise Nicholl, Kane E Deering, Kate Evelegh, Philippa Lyons-Wall, David Lawrence, Trevor A Mori, Mario Kratz, Therese A O’Sullivan.  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 114, Issue 6, December 2021, Pages 2025–2042,

Conclusions: Our results suggest that although changing from whole-fat to reduced-fat dairy products does reduce dairy fat intake, it does not result in changes to markers of adiposity or cardiometabolic disease risk in healthy children.

Acknowledgments: …The Principal Investigator, TAOS, was awarded funding in 2011 for a previous study from the Dairy Health and Nutrition Consortium. MK has received honoraria and reimbursements for travel as well as a research grant from several dairy-related organizations, including National Dairy Council/Dairy Management Inc., Dairy Farmers of Canada, the Dutch Dairy Association (Nederlandse Zuivel Organisatie), Dairy Australia, and the French Interbranch Organization (CNIEL). All other authors report no conflicts of interest.

Notes: …No funding body played any role in the Milky Way Study design, implementation, analysis or interpretation of the data, or publication. The Milky Way Study received no funding from any dairy or food industry organization or affiliation toward study research, dairy product purchase or provision, child assessments, project personnel, or publication.

Comment: No funding body needed to be involved in this study to raise questions of conflicted interests; two of the authors report financial ties to dairy companies.  At the very least, these ties give the appearance of conflict of interest.  Are dairy foods good, bad, or indifferent for health?  My guess is that like pretty much everything else in the diet, it depends on everything else you are eating (unless you are lactose or dairy protein intolerant, in which case you know to avoid dairy foods).  The underlying purpose of this study is to encourage sales of full-fat dairy products to children.   Is that a good idea?  You decide.

Reference: For a summary of research on the “funding effect”—the observation that research sponsored by food companies almost invariably produces results favorable to the sponsor’s interests, but that recipients of industry funding typically do not recognize its influence—see my book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

Dec 6 2021

Industry-funded review of the week: dairy foods and inflammation

My thanks go to New Zealand reader Kirsten for sending this one.

The study: Exploring the Links between Diet and Inflammation: Dairy Foods as Case Studies. Julie M Hess, Charles B Stephensen, Mario Kratz, Bradley W Bolling.  Advances in Nutrition, Volume 12, Issue Supplement_1, October 2021, Pages 1S–13S,

Note: This article was intended as a review article based on presentations made by CBS, MK, and BWB at the American Society for Nutrition 2020 LIVE ONLINE Conference 7–10 June 2020.

Background: Systemic chronic inflammation may be a contributing factor to many noncommunicable diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. An emerging body of evidence indicates that consuming certain foods, including dairy foods like milk, cheese, and yogurt, may be linked to a decreased risk for inflammation.

Method: Review of research on dairy foods and inflammation.

Conclusion: While there is currently insufficient evidence to prove an “anti-inflammatory” effect of dairy foods, the substantial body of clinical research discussed in this review indicates that dairy foods do not increase concentrations of biomarkers of chronic systemic inflammation.

Funding: The ASN Nutrition 2020 session that this article is based on was supported by the National Dairy Council. This support included honoraria for MK and BWB. The authors reported no funding received for this study.

Author disclosures: JMH was an employee of the National Dairy Council at the time this article was written. MK has received honoraria and reimbursements of travel costs as well as research funding from dairy-related organizations, including the National Dairy Council, Dairy Management, Inc., Dairy Farmers of Canada, the Dutch Dairy Organization (Nederlandse Zuivel Organisatie), Dairy Australia, and the French Dairy Interbranch Organization (CNIEL). BWB has received research funding for dairy-related projects from University of Wisconsin Dairy Innovation Hub, the National Dairy Council, and USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) HATCH WIS02094. The other author reports no conflicts of interest.

Comment: This is a study by dairy-funded authors with an interesting spin.  The research review found no anti-inflammatory effect of dairy foods but concludes that they have a benefit: they don’t make inflammation worse.  I realize that dairy foods have a bad reputation among some eaters, but I wish the dairy industry didn’t sponsor research so blatantly in its self-interest.  I also wish we could get away from one-food research.  One food cannot possibly make a substantial difference in the diets of reasonably healthy people who eat a variety of foods.  I am all for eating dairy foods if you like them, especially from well-treated animals.  They have a place in healthful diets—or not ,if you don’t like or want to eat them.

Reference: For a summary of research on the “funding effect”—the observation that research sponsored by food companies almost invariably produces results favorable to the sponsor’s interests but that recipients of industry funding typically do not recognize its influence—see my book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

Sep 30 2021

Recent food items of interest

Here is my latest collection of accounts of unusual or unexpected food items.  Ice creams are high on the list.

You are wondering what Clitoria ternatea looks like?  Good enough to eat, I guess.

Sep 6 2021

Industry-funded study of the week: full-fat dairy

The study: Impact of low-fat and full-fat dairy foods on fasting lipid profile and blood pressure: exploratory endpoints of a randomized controlled trial.  Kelsey A Schmidt, et al. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, nqab131,  Published: 13 July 2021

Background: “Dietary guidelines traditionally recommend low-fat dairy because dairy’s high saturated fat content is thought to promote cardiovascular disease (CVD). However, emerging evidence indicates that dairy fat may not negatively impact CVD risk factors when consumed in foods with a complex matrix.”

Method: “Participants were then randomly assigned to 1 of 3 diets, either continuing the limited-dairy diet or switching to a diet containing 3.3 servings/d of either low-fat or full-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese for 12 wk.”

Conclusions: “In men and women with metabolic syndrome, a diet rich in full-fat dairy had no effects on fasting lipid profile or blood pressure compared with diets limited in dairy or rich in low-fat dairy. Therefore, dairy fat, when consumed as part of complex whole foods, does not adversely impact these classic CVD risk factors.”

Funding: “National Dairy Council, Dairy Farmers of Canada, Dutch Dairy Association (Nederlandse Zuivel Organisatie), Dairy Australia, and the French Dairy Interbranch Organization (CNIEL),” and NIH and others.

Conflict of interest: “This study was initiated by the principal investigator (MK). The dairy-related funding organizations suggested changes to details of the study design prior to the conduct of the study, some of which were implemented. Otherwise, the funding organizations had no impact on the design or conduct of the trial or the analysis and interpretation of study data.”

Comment: Let’s give these investigators high marks for disclosing that the dairy funders influenced the design of the study, which, as we know from the data of Lisa Bero and her colleagues, is the place where biases caused by industry funding most typically show up.  Food companies that fund research are looking for benefits; they won’t risk study designs that might yield inconvenient results.

Reference: For a summary of research on the “funding effect”—the observations that research sponsored by food companies almost invariably produces results favorable to the sponsor’s interests and that recipients of industry funding typically did not intend to be influenced and do not recognize the influence—see my book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

Aug 26 2021

Keeping up with plant-based substitutes: not easy

The marketplace for plant-based meat and dairy substitutes is booming, and attracting tons of venture capital.

It also is attracting controversy.

Here are some of the new products and those in the works.

And the latest business news.

Aug 24 2021

How much do cattle contribute to greenhouse gases?  It depends on who’s counting, and what.

A couple of weeks ago I did a post about a beef industry ad promoting the idea that eating beef promotes sustainability.  The ad claimed that beef contribute only 2% of greenhouse gases.  In rebuttal, I cited the widely quoted figure of 14.5%.

Two readers argued for a correction.

The first, Stephen Zwick, describes himself as a “regenetarianist,” a “huge soil nerd,” and independent of industry interests.  He sent lengthy and highly technical notes.  These, in my interpretation, boil down to:

He says:

Enteric methane is a distraction. Poor land management destroying soil sinks and reducing photosynthesis via desertification, deforestation and ocean acidification are also a huge problem. And yes, cattle and palm oil are part of the problem in tropical regions (see The Deforestation Process... )…Cattle is a very conspicuous driver, though it’s not really the primary driver. Human greed is…So, in other words, we need better regional and system data, and we can’t really make universal claims.

The second set of comments comes from Greg Miller, the chief science officer of the National Dairy Council.

While FAO estimates livestock emissions at 14.5% based on LCA [life cycle assessment], the emissions from transportation are only from the tailpipes (not LCA), so comparing apples and bananas – FAO did this, but later retracted because it is an inappropriate comparison, that now keeps getting repeated, thought you should know.

He cites this source on greenhouse gas emissions from the dairy sector:

And he cites this reference:  Recht, L. 2021 An Inclusive Transition to a Sustainable and Resilient Meat Sector, which talks about how to raise cattle sustainably.

How to make sense of this?

The percentage of greenhouse gases due to animal agriculture depends on who is doing the counting, and what factors and assumptions go into the estimations.  Low estimates predictably come from the beef and dairy industries (Stephen Zwick does not, which is why I am quoting him).  The Environmental Protection Agency also produces low estimates: 1.3% of total emissions for dairies.

In contrast, the Humane Society uses 18% (referring to carbon dioxide equivalents), as does Cowspiracy.

A new paper in Sustainability argues that the correct estimate is 16.5%.

It matters whether we are talking about carbon dioxide or methane.

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommends “strong, rapid and sustained reductions in CH4 [methane] emissions” and notes that the growth in atmospheric methane is “largely driven by emissions from the fossil fuels and agriculture (dominated by livestock) sectors.”

I was interested to see yesterday’s Politico, which had a report about the current politics of methane emissions. (behind a paywall).  It notes:

While oil and gas production is the main reason methane emissions have boomed since 2007, agriculture (namely livestock operations) remains a massive source of the potent greenhouse gas, accounting for 40 percent of methane emissions worldwide. ..Senate Democrats plan to include a “methane polluter fee” in their $3.5 trillion budget resolution that would hit energy producers that vent or burn off excess methane and compressors used to pressurize and transport natural gas.

The precise percentage contributed by animal agriculture?  I’m not sure it matters.  Everyone agrees that cattle produce more greenhouse gases than produced by any other food (as a result of burps, deforestation, feed production, manure, etc).

Raising cattle more sustainably and regeneratively is a really good idea.

That’s where policy needs to be directed.