June Dairy Month is here again, an important reminder to consumers of the tremendous contributions that milk and dairy products offer. But challenges continue to come from plant-based would-be competitors and those with an anti-animal, vegan agenda.

This year a new challenge was brought on by the outbreak of avian/bovine influenza which originally was spread by birds and waterfowl. The virus has been confirmed in nine states.

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said the disease can spread cattle to cattle, as evidenced by transmission via movement between herds, and can spread from dairy cattle premises back into nearby poultry premises so testing was mandated for lactating dairy cows moving across state lines.

The major media reported that the influenza had been detected in pasteurized milk purchased at stores; however, what was detected were “viral fragments” after pasteurization – evidence that the virus was dead, with no impact on human health.

All dairy cattle are subject to the Federal Meat Inspection Act and must be slaughtered and processed under inspection by USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Service, ensuring that all meat entering the food supply has been inspected and approved for human consumption.

The bottom-line message to consumers is that the safeguards which the U.S. put in place many years ago to protect the food chain are working. One of the best sources of updated information on the influenza outbreak is the National Milk Producers Federation website at nmpf.org.

Meanwhile, the popularity of plant-based beverages calling themselves “milk,” butter-wannabes, cheese-like imposters and would-be “ice creams” have fallen out of favor considerably as smart, health conscious consumers do their homework and examine the contents on the package of these products and learn how they are made.

The naturalness of animal-based milk and meat remains superior in nutrition, price, safety and, yes, sustainability – and is perhaps why some countries are even banning lab-based meats outright.

Research over the years has corrected the view that butter was an enemy to heart health. Consumers have since returned to butter and away from margarine. It’s part of the reason why the price of butter is as high as it is today.

Speaking of health benefits: the July 19, 2023 Daily Dairy Report detailed the Dublin Declaration of Scientists statement on the societal role of livestock that said, “The highest standards of bio-evolutionary, anthropological, physiological and epidemiological evidence underscore that the regular consumption of meat, dairy and eggs as part of a well-balanced diet is advantageous for human beings.” More than 1,000 scientists worldwide have signed that declaration.

That statement, said the DDR, was followed by the release of a study that showed “eating whole-fat dairy products can protect the heart against cardiovascular disease (CVD).” The research, “Diet, cardiovascular disease and mortality in 80 countries,” published in the European Heart Journal July 6, developed a healthy diet score for 147,642 people living in 21 countries using data from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study who were followed for a median duration of more than nine years. The results showed that a higher intake of protective foods, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, fish and whole-fat dairy, compared with a lower intake, was protective for CVD. This was true for both people with existing heart disease and those without, the DDR reported.

Additionally, the NMPF cites the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), which provides advice on what Americans should eat and drink to meet nutrient needs, promote health and prevent disease and is published jointly every five years by USDA and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS).

The DGA includes dairy products because dairy foods provide about 52% of the calcium, 51% of the vitamin D and 17% of the protein consumed by Americans. Research shows that healthy eating styles, which include low-fat and fat-free dairy foods, are linked to a reduced risk of some of the most prevalent chronic diseases in the U.S., type 2 diabetes and CVD in adults and improved bone health.

Americans need more dairy in their diets, according to HHS and USDA – 88% of them fall short of the panel’s recommendations. That includes 79% of 9- to 13-year-olds, who rely heavily on school lunches to meet nutritional needs.

The DGA committee recognizes milk as a nutrient-rich beverage that contributes positively to under-consumed nutrients, including potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamins A and D and others.

One final thought on dairy’s sustainability: the International Dairy Foods Association pointed out, “The U.S. dairy industry has committed significant resources to achieve ambitious environmental stewardship goals, including greenhouse gas neutrality, optimized water use and improved water quality by 2050, resulting in a glass of milk with the smallest carbon-intensity footprint in the world.

“In fact, U.S. dairy is producing more than twice as much milk with half as many cows on much less land with much less water and feed than in 1960. This progress is a testament to the United States’ voluntary, incentive-based sustainability policies,” said the IDFA.

Enjoy dairy products, America. They’re good for you, your family and your planet.

by Lee Mielke