What’s in the milk in Dubai?

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Do you know what you’re pouring on your cereal each morning? Concerned about added hormones and antibiotics in UAE milk? Want to know about cow’s milk alternatives? Confused by too much information and not enough facts? Our friends at Good magazine have the answers. 


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Milk. You drink it from when you are born until you are late in old age, albeit in different formats. The fact of the matter is, milk is very important for you. It is essential for healthy teeth and bones, which may reduce your risk of osteoporosis as well as lower blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

It seems here in the UAE we are becoming more aware of the health benefits of milk, whereby dairy product sales grew by more than 50 percent between 2007 and 2012 in the GCC, according to food and drink consultancy Zenith International. It’s all down to changes in lifestyle and dietary patterns, which people are becoming more educated about.

However, with all this knowledge and information about the calcium and vitamins in our milk, many people in the region have been wondering what actually goes in our milk. What’s the difference between regular milk and organic milk? Is camel milk better for you? Are there hormones and antibiotics in your milk?

THE BENEFITS

An 8 ounce glass of milk provides you with a considerable percentage of your daily recommended allowance of vitamins and minerals: 17% protein, 29% calcium phosphorus, 23% riboflavin, 25% vitamin D and 15% vitamin B-12.

HORMONES & ANTIBIOTICS

According to the American Cancer Society, Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) is a synthetic (man-made) hormone that is marketed to dairy farmers to increase milk production in cows. It has been used in the USA because the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approves it. By using rBGH and increasing milk production, profitability increases in the meat and dairy industries.

The available evidence shows that the use of rBGH can cause adverse effects in cows, but the potential harm to humans is inconclusive. It is yet unclear that drinking milk produced using rBGH significantly increases IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factors) levels in humans or adds the risk of developing cancer.

However, hormone-treated cows may become more prone to infection of the udders, called mastitis. This could lead to treating the cows with antibiotics, whereby the residue stays in the milk. The increased use of antibiotics to treat mastitis in cows does promote the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but the extent to which this affects humans is still unclear.

Amera Varghese, dietician at Mediclinic Welcare Hospital says, “Cows raised on conventional farms are often given rBGH to boost the amount of milk they produce. Although scientists don’t agree that rBGH poses a health hazard to humans, if you have a baby or a child that drinks milk, you may consider choosing rBGH free or organic milk”.

GO ORGANIC? 

Organic and regular milk contain the same essential nutrients that make dairy an essential part of a healthy diet. Cows producing organic milk cannot be treated with synthetic growth hormones or antibiotics and their diets must be free of pesticides.


THE PRODUCERS

We spoke to local and international producers to tackle some of the challenging questions about your milk.

AL RAWABI

Milana Sahinovic, dairy projects manager at Al Rawabi says, “Our milk has the ‘straight from the farm’ taste that has secured its position as Dubai’s favourite brand. It started back in 1989 when we only had 500 imported cows and have now grown to 12,500 cows, ensuring a high living standard where the cows go through a showering and cooling system in order to survive the scorching heat of the desert. When temperatures go above 21 degrees, the automatic cooling system kicks in to keep the cows happy”.

The milk does not contain any additives or preservatives, and all cows are hormone free. Cows are given high quality feed from places such as Egypt and the USA, which is tested within the company and by the Dubai Municipality.

The “Cow Health Team” is on standby 24/7 to ensure the health and safety of the cows. Should a cow become sick and antibiotics are administered, the sick cow will be removed from the milking process until she gets better and the milk is completely bacterium free. The milk is also tested for bacteria and antibiotic presence and if any are found in the milk, it is immediately discarded.

Currently, Al Rawabi farm which is based in Al Khawaneej, produces 150,000 litres of dairy products a day – an average of 31 litres per cow per day – with each cow being milked three times a day. This results in Al Rawabi holding a third of the share of the UAE dairy market.

Where to buy: Supermarkets across the UAE.

How much: Dhs10 for 2 litres.

ORGANILICIOUZ

Organiliciouz is the brainchild of Emirati farmer Obaid bin Ghubash. It all began when his wife became pregnant and wanted to have an organic diet to ensure no chemicals were going into her system. Obaid started the Organiliciouz fruit and vegetable farm back in 2010 and a year later, he launched Organiliciouz milk. With more than 100 cows based on a dairy farm in Sharjah, his wife now has a purely organic diet, as do his children.

A 1 litre bottle retails at Dhs23, which may be steep in comparison to other brands, but it is because of the cost of running an organic farm where the feed itself is very expensive as it is imported. Moreover, the cows are hormone, additive and pesticide free so it really is the pure white stuff. The lucky cows are also allowed to roam around the farm between 5pm and 7pm, even in summer and that allows them freedom of movement, leading to a healthier cow.

So, is organic milk actually better for you than regular milk? Obaid bin Ghubash says, “Yes, as it contains more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, beta-carotene and 60% higher levels of essential fatty acids. Recent research suggests those fatty acids play a big role in hormone regulation amongst women”.

Where to buy: Spinneys, Organic Foods & Café, The Farmer’s Garden Shop, Blue Planet Green People, The Farm House and Nature’s Chalet.

How much: Dhs23 for 1 litre.

KOITA

Koita milk is fairly new to the UAE market, yet the company has been operating here for many years. Chief Executive Mustafa Koita visited 17 different countries around the world and found the happiest, healthiest grass-fed cows in Italy. So, that’s where Koita produces milk and then brings it in to the UAE.

Although it is not fresh from the fridge, it does have a six-month shelf life. “This is done by heating the milk with steam for 3 seconds, cooling it down and then putting it in airtight aseptic TetraPak packaging made from paper (rather than plastic) that provides a light barrier, therefore preserving taste and freshness” says Koita.

It has no artificial preservatives, no pesticides, no antibiotics and no hormones added to it. Moreover, it is certified organic by the EU commission, one of the strictest in the world. The only thing added to the milk are vitamins A and D3, after listening to over 1,500 mothers around the Gulf and the majority wanted them added, as there is a deficiency of these vitamins in this region.

Finally, something that makes Koita different from the rest is the fact that they donate 5% of all net profits to local charities, including Adopt-A-Camp in the UAE and the Disabled Children’s Association in Saudi Arabia.

Where to buy: Waitrose, Spinneys, Choithrams, BioOrganic, and mumzworld.com.

How much: Around Dhs15 for 1 litre.

YEO VALLEY 

This UK brand started in Somerset, back in the 1400’s when the Mead family began farming in the region. Fast-forward to the 1960’s and they had Holt Farm with only 30 cows for herding. In 50 years, Yeo Valley has grown into the UK’s number one organic dairy brand, winning numerous awards along the way.

British Friesians are the breed of choice at Yeo Valley because they say they are more fertile, live a lot longer, and are better suited for their grass-based system. The company hasn’t bought any cows for over 20 years, they just breed from their own herd and all the cows have names and a detailed family tree. Their feed is naturally organic, the majority of which is produced from their arable acres and grasslands. They are milked twice a day and in the cold winters of the British Isles, the lucky cows are housed in warm dry barns, each with its own cubicle and its own mattress (now that’s five-star service), yet they have plenty of space to roam around and socialise. Yeo Valley is imported into the UAE via a third party company and appeals to many of the local British expats, who enjoy a taste of ‘home’.

Where to buy: Spinneys.

How much: Dhs21.50 for 1 litre.


WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE? 

With many adults and children having some form of allergy or intolerance to cow’s milk, the market is abundant with alternatives.

Camel milk

camel

Camel milk has been used for centuries as a natural remedy in Middle Eastern, North African and Asian cultures. According to Amera Varghese, dietician at Mediclinic Welcare Hospital, “It is a rich source of protein with potential antimicrobial and protective elements, which are not found in cow’s milk. It has natural antibiotics such as lacto-ferrin, which keeps the milk fresher for longer and does not allow bacteria to grow quickly”.

Camel milk also has more fat and protein than cow’s milk and lower cholesterol than in cow or goat’s milk. The high vitamin and mineral content makes it appealing; vitamin C is three times higher than cow’s milk and iron is 10 times higher.

Pros: High vitamin and mineral content.

Cons: Difficult to get anywhere else if you leave the UAE.

Where to buy: Widely available in supermarkets.

How much: 1 litre of Al Ain camel milk costs Dhs16.50.

Soy milk

Soybeans

If you have an allergy to cow’s milk, are lactose intolerant or just don’t like the taste of any animal milk, then soy milk might be the answer. Rich in calcium and iron, this plant-based milk is also a good source of vitamin B-2, and vitamin B-12. This helps your cells produce DNA, aids in red blood cell function and also keeps your nerves healthy. However, soy milk is not suitable for those with a soy allergy or patients who are recovering from breast cancer, because the soy contains chemicals with a similar structure to estrogen and may cause complications.

Pros: An alternative to those with milk allergy or lactose intolerance.

Cons: Some varieties are sweetened therefore calories are increased, which may be unhealthy for children.

Where to buy: Widely available in supermarkets.

How much: 1 litre costs approximately Dhs10, depending on brand.

Goat’s milk

goat

Goat’s milk is not recommended for anyone who has an allergy to cow’s milk, as the proteins found in goat’s milk are sufficiently similar and may cause cross-reactivity. However, goat’s milk contains less lactose than cow’s milk, making it easier to digest. One thing that sets goat’s milk apart from its rivals is it has more oligosaccharides (carbohydrates) than cow’s milk, with an amount similar to human milk. These act as prebiotics in the gut and may help to maintain the health of the digestive tract by encouraging the growth of beneficial gut bacteria and preventing the growth of harmful bacteria.

Pros: Easier to digest than cow’s milk.

Cons: Not suitable to those with a cow’s milk allergy.

Where to buy: Widely available in supermarkets.

How much: 1 litre costs approximately Dhs10, depending on brand.

QUINOA MILK

The Incas called it ‘the mother seed’ and now you can find it in your local food store, as a drink. The benefits of quinoa have caused a media frenzy in the past few years and for many, the seed has become a staple in many homes in this region. The drink itself is also packed full of protein, iron, manganese, copper and lysine (good for healthy skin). It is also gluten free, which is a big plus for people on a strict gluten-free diet. You can add it to your tea, coffee, cooking sauces or enjoy it by itself.

Pros: An alternative to those with milk allergy or lactose intolerance; gluten-free and suitable for vegans.

Cons: May be an acquired taste.

Where to buy: Organic Foods & Café, Waitrose.

How much: 1 litre of Eco Mil Quinoa Milk costs Dhs16.50.

– What’s your favourite milk to drink in Dubai?

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