Monday, June 20, 2011


Mother's milk is supposed to be a complete food that can sustain the life of a child during initial months after being born and animal milk from cow and buffalo is also equally nourishing for human beings of all ages. There are also milk derived from sheep, goat and camel consumed in some regions and irrespective of the source, milk can be rightly called the "elixir" of life. Of course some nutrients like Vitamin C and Iron are not supplied by milk and often in formulated products these nutrients are added during processing. Another dimension to milk yielding cattle is that they are also good sources of meat with beef from cow being the most consumed animal product in the world. One of the endeavors of science has been to make the milk animals yield more and more milk through breeding and more efficient feed materials. While India, based on its "low input-low out put" model surpassed the US in milk production, it is the "high input-high out put" model which raised productivity to very high levels, never thought of before. As against India's 100 million milch animal population produced on an average less than 4 kg per head per day, the corresponding figure in the US is around 30 kg. It may, however be debatable whether the methods used to achieve this impressive yield figure are ethical or safety pliant.

"The United States has about 60,000 dairy farms; the vast majority, about 99 percent, are family owned and operated and members of producer cooperatives. According to USDA, since 1970 milk production per cow has more than doubled - from 9,700 pounds to more than 20,500 pounds per year. In total, U.S. dairy cows produced 189 billion pounds of milk in 2009. Even after seeing numbers like these, it still may be surprising to learn that milk has a farm value second only to beef among livestock industries and equal to corn. According to the American Dairy Association, dairy is the No. 1 agricultural business in California, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin. Not only do dairy farmers help fuel the economy, they fuel people's bodies with economical food products essential to good health. The National Dietary Guidelines for Americans, commonly known as the food pyramid, recommends that children and adults consume three cups of milk or dairy products per day to provide vital nutrients, including calcium, potassium, vitamin D and protein. Diets rich in dairy foods help maintain bone mass, reducing the risk of osteoporosis in older adults. And, proving that mother's old adage of "Drink your milk" was sound advice, researchers have shown that the intake of milk and milk products is crucial during childhood and adolescence, when bone mass is being built. According to the National Dairy Council, dairy products are the No. 1 source of calcium, potassium, phosphorus and vitamin D in Americans' diets. Research shows that dairy foods, when consumed as part of an overall healthy diet, may help to reduce the risk of diseases such as hypertension, obesity and colon cancer".

Is it not amazing that milk when taken as per the recommendations of nutrition pundits can provide biologically efficient Calcium to the extent of 25% of "Daily Recommended Intake" (DRI) for an adult? While Indian can be proud of outpacing the US in total milk production, it has a long way to go to increase the per capita consumption to the minimum nutritional requirement. While the top milk consuming country Finland shows a per capita consumption of 184 liters per year, the corresponding figure for India is 78 liters per year. Of course the average consumption figure hides the unpalatable situation behind, in that the gap in consumption between "haves" and "have nots" is very wide with poor people practically not consuming any milk at all due to economic compulsion. How milk production in India can be increased is a complex question as the current out put is achieved by millions of small producers with limited income and to transform this low input-low output situation into a high production model calls for investments and technological intervention of a massive nature. Whether this is feasible remains to be seen.


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