Science does not always win the day, but having facts obtained in a logical and dispassionate manner can defuse arguments based on politics or emotions. Two reports — one dealing with a dairy food, the other with dairy processing — crossed my desk in April.

The American Society for Nutrition and the Danone Institute International sponsored a “global summit” to discuss the health effects of yogurt during the ASN’s Scientific Sessions & Annual Meeting at Experimental Biology in Boston in April. The event featured leading international experts in medicine and nutrition science. The summit presented 15 speakers from 13 countries.

ASN and the Danone Institute are partnering with The Nutrition Society in the United Kingdom on a multiyear initiative to examine and document the health effects of yogurt, stimulate new research and communicate available scientific information to healthcare professionals and the public. Annual scientific conferences will be held around the world to share findings and encourage new research on the topic.

April’s summit focused on the impact of yogurt and dairy consumption on health outcomes and healthcare costs, particularly related to chronic health conditions.  Those who eat yogurt regularly tend to have lower blood pressure and they tend to gain less weight over the years, Sharon M. Donovan told me.

Donovan, the past president of the ASN and a professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois, Champaign, said the summit took an “evidence-based approach” to yogurt and health. She said that research finds that yogurt eaters tend to eat other healthy foods and are more physically active, too. These findings can aid health professionals in advising their clients on what to eat and what steps to take in leading a healthy lifestyle (such as including regular physical activity).

The information from the summit can also shape the messages that yogurt marketers put out to consumers. Current ads tend to portray the food as fun to eat and as a healthy snack. Another message marketers could deliver is that yogurt can plug the nutrition gap (protein, calcium and potassium, for example) found in some diets.

How about ads associating yogurt and physical fitness across the generations? Think about showing skate-boarding teens, parents playing in co-ed softball leagues and grandparents swimming laps. They all reach for a yogurt when they are finished. This is an approach the fluid milk industry could follow, too. Milk processors are hampered because they sell regionally and lack the marketing muscle of national-brand yogurts like Yoplait, Dannon, Chobani and Fage. Still, milk has a strong health message and a story to tell.


Eco-friendly dairy

Forty-three years after the first Earth Day in 1970, on April 22, 2013, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, Rosemont, Ill., made available new science-based resources for dairy processors to help them calculate the environmental footprint of a gallon of milk.

“U.S. Dairy’s Environmental Footprint” is a 20-page reference guide that pulls together in one place the Innovation Center’s research since 2008. In easy-to-read text and graphics, the booklet explains the concept of lifecycle assessment and follows the journey of a gallon of milk from the beginning of the lifecycle when crops are grown to feed cows through producing milk, processing it and on to packaging, distribution, consumption and finally disposal of the gallon package by the consumer. Readers also learn about dairy’s carbon and water footprint, best management practices in plants and with transportation, and dairy’s role in the global food system.

The guide builds on work dating to 2008 when the Innovation Center launched the Sustainability Commitment.  Since then, the U.S. dairy industry has been striving to create the most transparent and documented dairy LCA database available. Due in part to its rigorous science-based approach, it was chosen to be the pilot industry participating in the National Agricultural Library of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide an open-access, prototype LCA database and tools.

In a statement, Simon Liu, director of the National Agricultural Library at the USDA, said, “We are very glad to have the dairy industry’s leadership. The goal is to continue to expand the data in the National Agricultural Library so that we can advance the science and meet the growing demand for quantitative data that helps to identify opportunities for innovation and improvement.”

“These science-based resources are powerful examples of our industry’s vision to sustainably deliver nutrient-rich dairy foods and beverages to the table, starting with the dairy farmer and continuing through the dairy supply chain,” said Barbara O’Brien, president of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

The Innovation Center also announced the availability of a special issue of the International Dairy Journal and Farm Smart. The journal features 10 peer-reviewed articles highlighting findings from the fluid milk LCAs. Farm Smart is an online tool currently in development to help dairy producers calculate their environmental footprints. The goal of Farm Smart is to integrate scientific analysis with farm-specific data to provide powerful, yet easy-to-use decision-making tools for dairy producers.

Dairy foods and dairy processing are under fire in some quarters. There only has to be a well-organized vocal minority to raise a stink. I encourage dairy processors to become familiar with these science-based tools and use them as needed to blunt, deflect or knock down objections to the way you conduct your business.