Organised by the European Dairy Association (EDA), the conference will examine the health effects of fatty acids in dairy and whether saturated fat in products has a negative health impact.
Due to take place this afternoon, the conference will also examine what role public policy should play in advising EU consumers.
Speakers at the event include Professor Arne Astrup from the University of Copenhagen (on whether we should change our current paradigm on saturated fat based on new science), and Professor Givens from the University of Reading – presenting science on the value of dairy for health.
High-profile panel discussion
MEP Esther de Lange will also discuss how to align policies directed at the health of EU consumers with the latest scientific developments.
The above speakers will be joined in a panel discussion by Stephanie Bodenbach from DG Sanco (the body responsible for implementing EU laws on food safety, consumer rights and health protection).
Professor André Huyghebaert from the University of Ghent and Laurent Damians from the European Milk Forum (EMF), a member organisation seeking to maintain and develop EU milk and dairy consumption, will also feature on the panel.
EDA secretary general, Joop Kleibeuker, told DairyReporter.com: “The reason we organised the conference now is that we see that there is a change in the acceptance and understanding of the role of saturated fats in relation to, for example, cardiovascular and heart health.
"There is quite some evidence that saturated fats are not all the same. Secondly, there is strong evidence when you look at food as a whole, for example cheese. You see that even when cheese contains significant levels of saturated fat, people consuming cheese do not have more problems with cardiovascular disease."
Saturated fat to blame?
A recent workshop chaired by Prof. Astrup in Denmark brought together leading experts in the field who concluded, in Kleibeuker's words, "that there was no evidence that saturated fats really are the source of the problem"; he said this workshop and other publications prompted the EDA to organise today's conference.
Kleibeuker said: "You won't change perceptions with a single session, but we hope that this can contribute to this. We want to accelerate discussions, the exchange of knowledge, and change perceptions.
"Because there is a lot going on at the moment -- we've had the food information regulation, we have had the claims, we will have the nutrient profile discussions again."
He added: "There are many discussion on reformulation, and in many of these saturated fat plays a role. And we want to make sure that they play the right role, with the right science behind the policy developments that we will see in coming months and years."
Asked if he believed that studies such as a one (published last year) based on the Oslo Health Study, which suggested an inverse correlation between full-fat cheese consumption and metabolic syndrome, were encouraging, and whether now was an good time to hold such a conference, a spokesman for trade body Dairy UK (which is attending today’s event) told DairyReporter.com:
“Absolutely. We need to make sure that government and policymakers are making decisions on the basis of the latest science. It’s vitally important.”
Current UK National Health Service (NHS) guidelines stress that fat in milk provides calories for young children, for instance, but states that “much of the fat in milk and dairy foods is saturated fat”, and advises lower-fat milk and dairy foods as “healthier choices”.