Study proves grass-fed herds are healthier

A study conducted by teams of scientists in Cork has proven that milk and butter from pasture-fed cattle are superior in nutritional properties, appearance, flavour and colour.

The ‘Profiling Milk From Grass’ study, conducted by Teagasc Moorepark Research Centre and the APC Microbiome Institute, underpins the core claim in Bord Bia’s ‘Origin Green’ campaign that Ireland’s grass-fed dairy and meat herds have a natural advantage over the indoor-fed herds of the vast majority of cows in the world.

“Results so far are very exciting and indicate that milk and dairy produce from grass and clover-fed cows has significantly higher concentrations of fat, protein and casein,” said Tom O’Callaghan, a PhD student at Teagasc and first author on both papers.

“Milk from pasture-fed cows [grass or clover] has far higher concentrations of healthy fatty acids.Butter produced from pasture-fed cows being superior in appearance, flavour and colour as confirmed by sensory panel data.

“Pasture-derived butter is also nutritionally superior for heart health with lower atherogenicity scores and significantly higher concentrations of CLA (c9t11), a healthy fatty acid and B-carotene, which gives the butter a lovely golden colour.”

Funded by Teagasc, Science Foundation Ireland and the Dairy Research Trust, the study is led by Teagasc and UCC, with APC Microbiome Institute’s Catherine Stanton at Teagasc Moorepark Food Research Centre, and Paul Ross in UCC.

The study is published in two papers in the Journal of Dairy Science this month. The paper on butter quality has been selected as the Editor’s Choice in the highly respected industry publication.

Teagasc’s research also shows that consumers generally perceive that milk and dairy products produced from cows maintained on outdoors grazing pastures are “healthier” than from cows fed typical indoor rations and concentrated feeding systems. This study confers the consumer’s perception.

Prof Ross said: “The significance of these results is that they provide scientific substantiation for what we long thought to be the case — that dairy produce from pasture-fed animals is superior, from a compositional and nutritional perspective, to those derived from their indoor counterparts.”

Prof Stanton, one of the senior authors on the studies, added: “The next step is to demonstrate that this has a longterm positive influence on human health through clinical studies.”

Pat Dillon, head of the Animal and Grassland Research and Innovation programme in Teagasc Moorepark, said: “The research carried out at the animal and grassland research centre in Moorepark over an entire lactation confirm the superior quality of dairy products produced from pasture-based system at the Teagasc Food Research Centre in Moorepark.”

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