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DFC investigates “Buttergate”

DFC investigates “Buttergate”

Dairy Farmers of Canada is putting together a working group of experts to assess the use of palm supplements in feed

By Jackie Clark
Staff Writer

Yesterday, Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) released a statement encouraging dairy farmers to “consider alternatives to palm supplements” as they continue to investigate the controversy around Canadian butter.

The statement was in response to speculation online that changes in butter characteristics were due to palm products, and concern over the potential impact on human health.

Initially, DFC said that “there has been no recent data to show that the consistency of butter has changed, and we are not aware of any significant changes in dairy production or processing. Our sector is working with experts to further assess these reports,” in a Feb. 11 statement.

“The naturally dominant type of saturated fat in butter is called ‘palmitic acid.’ It is normal for the proportion of palmitic acid to fluctuate within an expected range as a result of seasonal and regional variations in a cow’s diet,” said Daniel Lefebvre, chief operations officer at Lactanet. The quote was included in the Feb. 11 release from DFC.

“This fluctuation can influence the properties of the milk fat, which can affect the temperature at which butter will melt. Our data from routine analyses of the fatty acid profile in milk do not indicate any increase in the proportion of palmitic acid in the past year beyond what would normally be expected,” he explained.

“DFC is striking a working group comprised of stakeholders and experts to assess current literature, gaps in data, and look into issues that have been raised by consumers,” the organization said in a Feb. 19 statement. “A diverse range of stakeholders will be invited to participate, with representation from dairy farmers, processors, internal and external experts. We will also seek the views of consumers as part of this exercise.”

The organization maintains that “all milk sold in Canada is nutritious and safe to consume and is subject to Canada’s rigorous health and safety standards. Palmitic acid, which is different from palm fat, is a naturally occurring part of the fat of many plants and animals in various levels,” said the Feb. 19 statement.

The situation was dubbed “Buttergate” by Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, who pointed out the concern voiced by Canadians online about altered physical characteristics of butter, and speculation that it may have something to do with palm oil supplementation in dairy cow diets, in a Feb. 21 opinion piece in the Globe and Mail.

The issue is the lack of transparency around the issue, he said.

“The use of palm oil breaches the moral contract the dairy industry has with Canadians. Unlike the situation in other countries, milk is essentially a public good in Canada,” Charlebois said in the article. “One step in the right direction would be to support research linking cows’ diets with health effects on dairy consumers. That work is amazingly rare right now. Another positive move would be replacing imported palm oil in feed additives with Canadian-grown oils.”

SvetlanaK\iStock\Getty Images Plus photo

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