Home » World Food Day » Dairy: A key element in nourishing the world

Dr Judith Bryans

President of the International Dairy Federation

One of the greatest challenges facing our world is eating within planetary limits while supplying nutrient rich foods that encourage optimal growth and performance. As we go forward with important conversations about sustainable food systems, what role does dairy play in tackling malnutrition and creating food security?

Milk – a super food

It takes more than adequate calories to feed humans. Milk products have been an integral part of global dietary recommendations for years, for good reason.

Dairy’s natural nutrient-richness provides an abundant supply of high-quality protein, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iodine and vitamins B2 and B12.

Nutritionists and other scientists have increasingly begun to consider that the beneficial effects of dairy foods on health extend beyond their individual nutrients. Research on this unique combination of nutrients and bioactive factors (the ‘Dairy Matrix’) shows that the collective metabolic effects of dairy components seem to be stronger than that of individual nutrients.

There is evidence that the calcium in milk provides beneficial skeletal benefits because of its calcium-phosphorus ratio, and that calcium and protein in dairy lead to positive results for bone health[1].

Consumption of dairy is associated with better growth and micronutrient status and cognitive performance; especially important for vulnerable populations including children.

There is growing scientific evidence that animal source foods, such as dairy, play a key role in both the treatment and prevention of undernutrition. Consumption of dairy is associated with better growth and micronutrient status and cognitive performance; especially important for vulnerable populations including children.

In addressing the problem of global nutrition security, focus on whole foods, such as dairy, can lead to sufficiency in several micronutrients and macronutrients, improved growth and overall better health.

Dairy production can benefit whole communities

Sustainable production, processing and consumption of milk and dairy products benefit people and the planet.

Millions of people worldwide depend on raising dairy animals as a key livelihood strategy. In parts of the world where malnutrition is still prevalent, increased consumption of livestock products can help improve the wellbeing of the rural poor.

A formal commitment by the dairy sector to help deliver Sustainable Development Goals was made through the Dairy Declaration of Rotterdam in 2016. In it, the sector agrees to promote the sustainability of dairy systems, taking into consideration social, economic, health and environmental dimensions.

Maximising efficiency to reduce impact of dairy production

Like all food production, dairy requires land, water and other resources. The sector accounts for 4% of all global GHG emissions[2] and is striving to reduce this figure. Milk production emission intensity decreased by almost 11% during 2005-2015, at a time when dairy production increased by 30%, as stated by the 2019 FAO report.

As we go forward with essential conversations about sustainable food systems, it is important to recognise that dairy foods produced in resilient, sustainable and low-GHG emission systems present major opportunities for human health, welfare and food security.

[1] Bonjour JP. Protein intake and bone health. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2011; 81: 134-142. Mangano KM et al. Dietary protein is beneficial to bone health under conditions of adequate calcium intake: an update on clinical research. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2014; 17: 69-74. [2] http://www.fao.org/3/k7930e/k7930e00.pdf

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