Technology advances fatty acid control in dairy industry
The UK dairy industry must play its part in reducing saturated fats. "With 25% of saturated fat in the diet derived from dairy products it is not surprising that our industry is attracting attention," said National Milk Laboratories' director Ben Bartlett. "We mustn't rest on our laurels but, instead, work together to gain a better understanding of the fatty acid profiles in milk and how we can influence these through genetics, cow nutrition and management."
Speaking at the British Cattle Breeders Conference in Telford (January 25, 2012), Mr Bartlett announced two four-year projects about to start that will build up a database of fatty acid profiles in milk and lead to the development of tools to help the producers and their adviser manage fatty acid production.
The Optimir project involves NMR and SAC in the UK and 15 other organisations in four EU countries who will pool fatty acid profile data captured from the mid infra red (mIR) analysis of milk samples alongside phenotypic data. This will establish a common platform across Europe and allow the development of decision-making techniques relating to fertility, health, feeding and the environment.
The second project, 'Monitoring and improving the efficiency of healthy dairy products, farms and supply chains', is UK based and co-funded by the Technology Strategy Board. Again, NML will use mIR analysis to provide fatty acid profiles on both bulk milk and individual cow samples. Working with project participants SAC and Marks and Spencer, this data will be used to establish links with genetic and management factors.
"Both these projects use mid infra red technology - a technique that can establish fatty acid profiles at a fraction of the cost of gas chromatography and has made the large scale testing of milk samples possible," said Mr Bartlett.
For the past two years NML has been routinely generating fatty acid profiles for 50,000 milk samples a month and identifying the groups of fatty acids, such as saturated fatty acids (SFA), in each sample.
"Whilst the data is not yet published, it is clear that there is a wide variation between herds. In November 2011 the overall industry average %SFA was approximately 69%, but at the extremes some herds had an SFA % less than 57% whilst others had a % SFA of more than 80%. The reasons for the range in SFA percentages are complex and varied, but the two primary drivers are feeding and breeding."
Data also shows a wide range in %SFA within a herd too. Some cows can be seen to be producing more than 5.5% fat with SFA results below 60%, whilst others are showing much lower fat results with SFA's above 70%. "There is a need to understand relationships such as cow health and productivity against the fatty acid profile and groups of fatty acids such as saturated fatty acids," added Mr Bartlett.
Whilst fatty acid production is a complex business - a cow will produce about 1.2kg of 400 different dairy fatty acids from 600g of 10 different dietary fatty acids - there is evidence that cows that produce fat that is good for the human diet are healthier themselves. Certain UK feed companies are already using fatty acid profiling as a tool to assess the nutritional status of dairy herds.
"And genetics plays a major role. With the advent of genomics there is a real prospect that significant advances can be made in the genetic makeup of the UK dairy cow such that she will respond well to feeding strategies designed to change the fatty acid profile in the milk that she produces.
"Although the industry has a way to go, the implications for our dairy industry are huge with the prospect of feeding and breeding programmes that will improve cow health and also strengthen the nutritional value of milk within the human diet."