by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Dairy

Apr 8 2021

Plant-based: an attempt to keep up

Information pours out about plant-based meat and dairy substitutes.  Here are some recent items, pro and con:

Mar 3 2021

And now, Buttergate? 

I thought I already knew all the issues raised by palm fats, which I’ve written about previously, but also because I did a blurb for Jocelyn Zuckerman’s forthcoming Planet Palm: How Palm Oil Ended Up in Everything—and Endangered the World (New Press).  Nope.  Wrong.

Welcome to “Buttergate,” the latest palm fat scandal.

I thought I knew all the issues raised by palm fats, which I’ve written about previously, but also because I did a blurb for Jocelyn C. Zuckerman.  Planet Palm: How Palm Oil Ended Up in Everything—and Endangered the World (New Press) which is not yet out but coming soon.  How wrong I was.

Welcome to “Buttergate,” the latest palm fat scandal.

This begins with Canadians asking why, all of a sudden, is butter not getting soft at room temperature.

The answer: farmers are feeding cows palm oil, which is high in saturated (hard) fat

Why would they do this?  Because it increases production of milk fat.  And because it makes milk fat more highly saturated, butter gets harder.

The Canadian dairy industry is being asked to stop this practice because it breaches the dairy industry’s “ moral compact with Canadians.

Do dairy foods need to be harder at room temperature?  No.

Do dairy foods need to be higher in saturated fat?  No.

Is this yet another reason to be wary of palm fat?  Could be.

Are American farmers feeding palm oil to cows?  The U.S. dairy industry is strangely quiet on this question.  US journals report research on its use as cow feed.  And Dairy Farmers of Canada says American dairy farmers do this too.

I did a little investigating.  Here’s what Jamie Jonker, Vice President, Sustainability & Scientific Affairs, National Milk Producers Federation, says about the practices of the U.S. dairy industry:

  • Feeding byproducts from other parts of food production to dairy cattle, which recycles ingredients that may otherwise be thrown away, has been a staple of the U.S. dairy industry for decades. Palm oil byproducts fed to dairy cattle in small amounts has been among them.
  • The average daily consumption of palm oil per lactating cow in the U.S. is about 0.2 pounds (unpublished data). A lactating cow eats more than 50 pounds of feed (on a dry matter basis) so this is less than 0.4% of total diet.
  • There is not a legal limit feeding palm oil byproducts in the U.S., but from a practical standpoint there are dietary limits. Too high fat level in the diet will reduce overall feed consumed which will reduce overall nutrients to the cow decreasing productivity.
  • Diet does impact milk composition and dietary fat source can change milk fatty acid profile. There has not been a recent change in use of palm oil byproducts that would cause a discernible difference in butter ‘hardness’ at room temperature.
  • The palmitic acid portion of the weight of total fatty acids in butter is roughly 30 percent. That’s a decades-old industry standard that’s remained consistent throughout the pandemic. Palmitic acid is not just from the palm but can also be produced in other plants and organisms at low levels. For example, the amount in human breast milk averages 20 to 25%.

So for U.S. milk users, there doesn’t seem to be anything new here.  The butter I’ve been buying still softens at room temperature, but the ambient temperature has to be really hot to melt it.  Cow’s milk is a source of saturated fat.  Butter is concentrated cow’s milk fat.  Saturated fatty acids are solid at room temperature and that’s why butter is too.

Nov 23 2020

Industry-funded study of the week: dairy foods and child growth

Growth and Development of Preschool Children (12–60 Months): A Review of the Effect of Dairy Intake.   David C. Clark, Christopher J. Cifelli, Matthew A Pikosky.  Nutrients 202012(11), 3556;

The study:  A narrative review of studies of dairy intake and child growth, cognitive development, and weight gain.
Results: there is a positive association between dairy intake and linear growth. The impact of milk or dairy products on cognitive development is less clear due to a lack of evidence and is a gap in the literature that should be addressed. Regarding the impact on body weight, the majority of evidence suggests there is either no association or an inverse association between milk intake by preschool children on overweight and obesity later in life.
Funding: “The work involved for this manuscript was funded by National Dairy Council (provided to D.C.C.).”
Conflicts of interest: “C.J.C. and M.A.P. are employees of National Dairy Council.”
Comment: The Dairy Council has a vested interest in demonstrating that dairy foods promote linear growth and cognitive function in young children, but do not promote overweight or obesity. This dairy-funded literature review is remarkable for its cautious interpretation: “the absence of data from studies conducted in low- and middle-income countries is a serious gap, especially given the dual burden of undernutrition and overnutrition that is becoming prevalent in developing countries.”  That’s another reason for this study: sell more dairy foods in middle- and low-income countries.  China, for example, is pushing dairy products as a means to grow taller children; it does so despite widespread lactose intolerance among the Chinese population.
Oct 22 2020

USDA data on dairy products

The USDA destroyed the ability of its Economic Research Service (ERS) to do investigations that might prove inconvenient for this administration (see my most recent post on this topic), but this agency is still producing reports on specific commodities.

Here are the latest dairy reports.  You have to be pretty nerdy to delve into these Excel spreadsheets but if you do, you will get a good idea of what ERS staff are doing these days as well as learn details about dairy production.  TMI?  Maybe.

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Aug 13 2020

Annals of marketing: Lithuanian ice cream flavors

I am indebted to for this item, which especially interested me because one set of my grandparents immigrated to the United States from Lithuania in the very early 1900s.  Perhaps this explains why I like ice cream so much.

The item:”12 bizarre ice cream flavors from Lithuania.

It seems plain vanilla ice cream might soon be out of fashion in Lithuania, where chefs are experimenting with natural flavors, including plenty not normally associated with ice cream.”

He’s not kidding.  Try these:

    • Pine needle
    • Peony
    • Carrot
    • Rhubarb
    • Beetroot
    • Lavender
    • Quark and nettle ice cream (I had to look up quark.  No, not a subatomic particle: a curd-type cheese).
    • Linden honey and dill
    • Seaweed and caviar
    • Spinach and tarragon
    • Beer
  • Smoked mackerel
Chacun à son goût seems appropriate here.  
Personally, I’ll take vanilla.
Jul 10 2020

Weekend reading: more reports

CAST [Council for Agricultural Science and Technology: Economic Impacts of COVID-19 on Food and Agricultural Markets:  This is a collection of 16 articles by various experts on the effects of Covid-19 on food, agriculture, and forestry.  The report is here.

IATP (Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy): Milking the Planet: How Big Dairy is Heating Up the Planet and Hollowing Rural Communities: The report is here.

FAIRR (a global network of investors addressing issues in meat production): An Industry Infected: Animal Agriculture in a post-COVID world.  The report is here.

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds globally, we are presented with a real-time case study into the vulnerability of animal agriculture systems to external shocks. It has reminded us of the vulnerability of human health to disease risks stemming from both wild and domestic animals, and has served as a warning of the role modern animal production systems can play in increasing zoonotic disease risk.

The British Meat Processors Association is not happy with this one, it seems.


Mar 10 2020

The heartbreaking decline in American agriculture and especially dairy

Farm bankruptcies rose again in 2019 painting a bleak picture on maps of the U.S.

Dairy farms showed the largest decline in 15 years.

As for dairy consumption, take a look at this collection of charts.

Butter and cheese are up; milk is down.

Even ice cream is down.

That leaves us with yogurt as the one product that was doing well, but then wasn’t.

I like dairy foods and don’t want farms to go under, but dairy products are way overproduced so it’s hard to make a living from them.

On another dairy matter, the International Dairy Federation has just issued new guidelines for the welfare of dairy cattle.   Let’s give this industry credit for trying to do right by dairy cattle.  But the real problem, which nobody wants to address right now, is that there are too many of them in the wrong places.

Mar 2 2020

Industry-funded reviews of the week: dairy foods

The dairy industry, ever under siege, is doing its best to convince us to eat dairy foods.  Full disclosure: I eat and like dairy foods.  I do not, however, like the way the dairy industry funds research aimed at marketing its products.  Here are two examples.

Example 1: Full-fat dairy foods are good for you [yes, they can be, but in moderation]

The study: Potential Cardiometabolic Health Benefits of Full-Fat Dairy: The Evidence Base.  Kristin M Hirahatake, Arne Astrup, James O Hill, Joanne L Slavin, David B Allison, and Kevin C Maki.  Adv Nutr 2020;00:1–15.

Conclusions: “Emerging evidence shows that the consumption of full-fat dairy foods has a neutral or inverse association with adverse cardiometabolic health outcomes, including atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and associated risk factors.”

Conflicts of interest and funding (dairy groups are highlighted):

Example 2: Dairy foods can help reduce world hunger [of course they can]

The report: Dairy’s Impact on Reducing Global Hunger

Major finding: “The remarkable consistency of the positive association between dairy animal ownership,
milk/dairy intake, and child growth across the experimental and observational studies, and
the dose-response relationship between dairy consumption and child growth…provide strong evidence that, in rural
low-income settings, household milk production increases household milk consumption, and increased milk consumption results in improved child growth and reduced stunting.”

Recommendation: “dairy development needs to be accompanied by nutrition education of caregivers to ensure that milk is provided in the most critical phase of childhood, namely in the 0.5 to 2-year age group”

Sponsors: “Published by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Global Dairy Platform and
IFCN Dairy Research Network.

Comment:  It’s interesting to compare the first paper to another one done by investigators who are not funded by the dairy industry.  They don’t disagree, exactly, but spin the results much less favoably.  See: Milk and Health, by Walter C. Willett and David S. Ludwig. N Engl J Med 2020;382:644-54.

…guidelines for milk and equivalent dairy foods ideally should designate an acceptable intake (such as 0 to 2 servings per day for adults), deemphasize reduced-fat milk as preferable to whole milk, and discourage consumption of sugar-sweetened dairy foods in populations with high rates of overweight and

Dairy foods are foods.  Like any other, they are not essential.  If you like them, eat them—in moderation, of course.