It is vital to counter negative public perceptions of dairy products amidst world consumers, according to the International Dairy Federation’s (IDF’s) scientific programme chair.
Claus Heggum, chair of the IDF’s scientific programme co-ordination committee (SPCC) and also chief consultant in food safety at the Danish Agricultural & Food Council, was speaking at the World Dairy Summit in Parma, Italy yesterday.
He outlined the IDF’s scientific strategy in the face of sustainability challenges and nutritional issues that have found the world dairy industry under attack from some quarters.
With sustainable dairy production the keynote theme of the conference – underlined by the potential need to feed 3bn more people by 2050 (according to UN estimates) Heggum warned that:
“The current and future public debate on climate change is likely to impact negatively upon the public perception of milk production.”
“For national associations and dairy firms, it’s essential to be very prepared for communication with public in the home countries so as to retain acceptance and even support for the future existence of the dairy industry.”
Identifying positive messages
Heggum said it was essential that the industry, led by the IDF and its partners, Identified positive messages and texts underlining the positive benefits dairy products brought to society.
The nutritional value of milk and milk products was one key benefit, but the public debate currently only focused on the ‘cost’ side of dairy product, their ecological impact, he said.
Consequently, Heggum said the IDF was preparing a paper stressing the essential role of milk and dairy products within a healthy diet, and stressing sector moves to reduce environmental impacts.
Further moves also promised to improve attitudes towards the nutritional value of dairy products, Heggum said, including a revision of the current Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) method for measuring the nutritional value of protein.
However, this favoured non-dairy proteins such as soy, said Heggum, who welcomed its likely replacement by a new method.
“It is therefore very likely that the bias against dairy protein will disappear through this development. IDF monitors developments closely and is ready to impact future discussions on an international level.”
Heggum said the IDF was also controlling a monograph assessing the use of salt in cheese – given consumer concerns worldwide – and reviewing the benefits of Vitamin K2.
Dairy nutrition benefits
Naturally present in fermented milks and cheese, Heggum said there was growing evidence that suggested the vitamin had beneficial effects on bone health and normal blood coagulation.
The IDF was now conducting a review assessing the physiological and beneficial effects of the vitamin, he added.
Furthermore, given the fact that many children worldwide did not consume sufficient amounts of calcium, Heggum said an IDF literature review on a per country basis was assessing children to find out why dairy intakes fell.
Through an existing debate with the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CODEX), the IDF also wanted to change a labelling requirement that had a “signficant impact on negative perceptions of dairy”, Heggum said: the revision of the existing definition of trans-fatty acids.
Heggum said: “This discussion is about whether to take account of the recent scientific information about the difference between ruminant and industrial trans-fatty acids [in the light of evidence suggesting that the latter can contribute to coronary heart disease [CHD]).”
“This development shows that the long-term in emphasizing appropriate science seems to be working, but we are still not where we want to be and we need to continue the effort,” Heggum added.