“I cannot stand seeing milk- and butter-substitutes promoted as ‘better‘ than milk. Milk is naturally healthy, high in calcium and low in fat.”
One company hoping to capitalise on the natural health benefits of milk is Alltech, which believes selenium-rich milk could represent a valuable niche market for the industry.
“We are what we eat,” says managing director Jem Clay, “and so is the modern dairy cow. Natural selenium is just as important for the human as it is for the cow and her calf.”
And on this basis, he believes the dairy industry could do much to develop the lucrative potential of selenium-rich milk, and bolster farmgate prices.
“There has been much interest from smaller processors in adopting naturally higher selenium milk, and producers could benefit from this,” adds ruminant technical specialist David Wilde.
“Selenium-rich milk could be used to drive dairy consumption up among children and that would increase calcium intakes,” says Mr Wilde.
Selenium intake in the UK has fallen substantially over the last 25 years, says Mr Clay.
“As a nation, we used to get most of our dietary selenium from bread. We used to import very hard breadmaking flour from Canada and the USA, where cereals are grown on soils rich in organic selenium.”
Selenium helps the body’s anti-oxidants fight disease. It also detoxifies the waste products our cells create from normal bodily functions.
“Selenium preserves cell integrity and keeps us healthy. There is a positive reason to sell selenium-rich milk on its health benefits,” he says.
On-farm benefits of feeding selenium include reduced somatic cell counts and mastitis levels.
“There are clear benefits to the farmer in reducing cell counts, which will impact not only on milk prices but also on milk yields,” adds Mr Clay.
Arthur Reeves, milk purchasing director for Dairy Crest, says while the company was always interested in promoting the health benefits of milk, there were commercial issues over segregation and marketing of selenium-rich milk.
Peter Nicholson, milk procurement manager at Robert Wiseman dairies, says: “We‘ve not yet seen any work on selenium-rich milk, but we wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand.”