Udderly butterly

CowScientists in New Zealand hope to breed cows to produce low-fat, skimmed milk, not only that they are working on a new bovine breed that will produce milk that makes spreadable butter.

Apparently herd member Marge and her sisters and cousins, have the right genetic makeup required for producing skimmed milk straight from the udder and milk that makes and easily spreadable butter. The team hope to partner up with a friendly bull soon and have a commercial herd ready by 2011. Even more importantly from the human health perspective for those whole like the “white stuff” on their cereals in the morning, Marge’s milk is very low in saturated fats and so her offspring will hopefully produce high polyunsaturates and monounsaturated fat milk too.

Ed Komorowski, technical director at Dairy UK says that the New Zealand approach could be used to breed cows that still produce full-fat milk but with only the good fats, which could swing things back in favour of full-fat milk. In the UK, for example, only 25% of milk sold is full fat. “In future if whole milk can be made to contain unsaturated fats – which are good for you – then it might mean that people change back to whole milk products. The big thing about dairy products is taste, so this would be a way of giving the benefits of taste without the disadvantage of saturated fats,” he adds.

Milk from this new healthy breed of cattle could also overcome the problem of what to do with all the waste products of the dairy industry that are produced during the fat-reduction process. “If you can genetically produce milk without fat then that may turn out to be a very good solution to what might later be a big disposal issue,” says Komorowski.

The healthy cows were identified biotech company ViaLactia while screening milk compositions across the entire herd of 4 million New Zealand cattle. New Zealand dairy firm Fonterra has already made milk products from Marge’s milk and they maintain the positive taste.

The research is discussed in more detail in this week’s issue of Chemistry and Industry magazine from the UK’s Society of Chemical Industry.