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Industrialisation of farming doesn’t affect the quality of dairy products. Really?!

Industrialisation of farming Dairy farmers tell us over and over again that the industrialisation of farming does not impair the quality of their produce. But a scientific study has just repudiated this claim by demonstrating that the milk produced by cows fed exclusively on a diet of organic grass (pasture, hay or silage) was significantly better than that obtained from conventionally-fed cows.

In analysing more than 1160 milk samples (1), the study’s authors conclude that cows fed soya and maize (which is over 90% of cows reared in the West) produced milk that was nutritionally inferior to traditional milk. The latter was, on average, 147% higher in omega-3 (50mg compared with 20mg per 100ml of milk) and contained 52% less omega-6 than ‘intensively-produced’ milk.

According to the researchers, the omega 6:omega 3 ratio for the ‘grassmilk’ was 1:1, compared with almost 6:1 for the milk from maize/soya-fed animals, which never get within sight of a field or a daisy.

Why is the omega 6:omega 3 ratio so important?

This ratio of omega fatty acids is much more significant than it might seem. Omega-3 have positive effects both on the composition of cell membranes and many biochemical processes in the body. The more you consume, the lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorders. Unfortunately, the development of intensive farming methods has led to a sharp reduction in the omega-3 content of many foods including leafy vegetables, eggs, meat, milk and even fish (2).

Conversely, it has also resulted in a a huge rise in omega-6: today, we consume 10-15 times more omega-6 than omega-3, when the ratio should actually be equal. These excess omega-6 monopolise all the enzymes required by the body for it to be able to use the omega-3, which are already in short supply. The body is therefore unable to fully use them which results in a physiological state conducive to cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases (3). The incidence of which has been rising alarmingly for several decades …

That’s why the study’s authors advocate a return to a diet that provides a healthy omega 6:omega 3 ratio (of between 1:1 and 4:1). There are 4 ways of achieving this:

1) Take advantage of omega-3 supplements

With the scarcity of omega-3 in modern diets, supplements have become almost essential – provided, that is, they come from natural sources:

  • Fish oil-based supplements. These include Super Omega-3, a supplement produced from sustainable fisheries (certified Friend of the Sea®) which combines 155mg of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and 115mg of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) per softgel, that’s around 70% of the daily amount recommended by the World Health Organisation. This provides a much-needed boost given the inadequate levels provided by fish and crustaceans.
  • Krill-based supplements. Krill oil (from the tiny crustaceans that live in cold sea waters) is an exceptional source of omega-3 fatty acids: the supplement Krill Oil contains 250mg of EPA and DHA per softgel. Its main advantage over fish oils is that it contains significant levels of antioxidants (particularly astaxanthin), comparable to those found in kiwi fruit (with an ORAC value of around 380 units per gram).

2) Choose foods that provide the best omega-6:omega-3 ratio

Consuming enough omega-3 fatty acids is important, for sure, but so too is not consuming too many omega-6 as it will reduce the body’s ability to use the omega-3. It’s therefore important to prioritise foods with a ratio as close as possible to 1:1. Opt for organic milk produced by pasture-fed cows and choose rapeseed oil (2:1), flaxseed oil (0.25:1), chia seed oil or nut oil (4.4:1) over sunflower oil, corn oil (9.3:1) or grapeseed oil (230:1). Also reduce your consumption of animal fats, egg yolks and all processed foods (ready-meals, sauces, salad dressings, etc) which are high in omega-6.

3) Increase your consumption of foods rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)

Alpha-linolenic acid is a plant-source omega-3 fatty acid which the body is able to convert into EPA and DHA, the omega-3s found abundantly in oily fish. As the conversion rate is very low, you can’t rely on ALA-rich foods alone to supply adequate levels of EPA and DHA, but they can help. Here are the best sources:

  • Flaxseed oil
  • Ground flax seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Hemp seeds

So why are cows fed with soya and maize?

It seems obvious to most of us that cows fed a natural diet are likely to produce better milk. Unfortunately, this view doesn’t seem to have been shared by dairy farmers over the last few decades. Under pressure to increase their milk yields, they have gradually replaced grass with fermented maize, a cheaper feed which means the cows can be kept off-ground, ie, in overcrowded buildings away from meadows. To compensate for its high carbohydrate content, the farmers have added soya, a low-cost, high-protein plant, transgenic varieties of which are becoming increasingly prevalent across the globe.

This combination has indeed led to greater productivity – but at a high nutritional cost: milk quality has plummeted, a problem also seen with eggs and meat as they too are negatively affected by the changes in animal feed. What’s more, dairy farmers are now dependent on imports of GM soya (normally from Brazil), as well as herbicides to ensure successful cultivation of maize, a relatively delicate annual plant. The traditional know-how which previously enabled them to rear cattle without the need for such artificial ‘aids’ is gradually disappearing. This has created a vicious circle which also affects the environment: maize-fed cows produce much more methane (a greenhouse gas involved in global warming) and our soil is becoming saturated with pesticides.

The study’s authors very much hope that the growing consumer demand for organic products will convince dairy farmers to return to rearing pasture-fed cows – before it’s too late …

Key points of the article

  • Cows fed with organic plants (preferably by pasture-grazing) produce milk that contains more omega-3 and less omega-6.
  • The omega-6:omega-3 ratio should be between 1:1 and 4:1 but is believed to be between 10:1 and 30:1 in Western countries.

Study at the centre of the article

Charles M. Benbrook, Donald R. Davis, Bradley J. Heins, Maged A. Latif, Carlo Leifert, Logan Peterman, Gillian Butler, Ole Faergeman, Silvia Abel-Caines, Marcin Baranski. Enhancing the fatty acid profile of milk through forage-based rations, with nutrition modeling of diet outcomes. Food Science & Nutrition, 2018; DOI: 10.1002/fsn3.610

References :
1) Charles M. Benbrook, Donald R. Davis, Bradley J. Heins, Maged A. Latif, Carlo Leifert, Logan Peterman, Gillian Butler, Ole Faergeman, Silvia Abel-Caines, Marcin Baranski. Enhancing the fatty acid profile of milk through forage-based rations, with nutrition modeling of diet outcomes. Food Science & Nutrition, 2018; DOI: 10.1002/fsn3.610
(2) Hibbeln, J. R., Nieminen, L. R. G., Blasbalg, T. L., Riggs, J. A., & Lands, W. E. M. (2006). Healthy intakes of ω-3 and ω-6 fatty acids: Estimations considering worldwide diversity. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 83, 1483S–1493S
(3) Schmitt B. Le rapport Oméga-6/Oméga-3 dans l’équilibre alimentaire : Biochimie, métabolisme et conséquences physiopathologiques. Nutritions & Endocrinologie, Septembre-Octobre2010, vol.8, n°47.
Order the nutrients mentioned in this article
Super Omega 3

The purest and most stable natural omega-3 supplement on the market

Krill Oil

A superior, more bioavailable form of omega-3, with increased effects

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