Friday, December 1, 2023

Producers challenge synthetic promises

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Despite the attention on synthetic dairy products the New Zealand dairy industry remains confident the traditional source of milk will remain a preference for the world’s consumers.
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Evidence synthetic dairy’s claimed lower environmental footprint exists remains scarce, Dairy Companies Association executive director Kimberly Crewther said.

“To date we have not seen any scientific evidence that provides weight to these claims.” 

The main source so far appears to rest on a 2015 report commissioned by the Perfect Day synthetic milk company. 

It claimed 35-65% lower greenhouse gas emissions for yeast-derived milk than bovine milk.

“However, it appears the authors used a target of 0.33g of protein a litre of milk, grossly underestimating the inputs required.”

Food standards regulations require milk to contain at least 3% protein.

“When the correct levels of protein in milk are taken into account the Perfect Day greenhouse gas claim seems to suggest they could produce a product with roughly 1% of the protein of naturally occurring milk for 35-65% of the gas emissions.”

The report has since been removed from the Perfect Day website.

“We have observed a shift in public statements from Perfect Day away from producing synthetic milk to a focusing on individual dairy protein ingredients. This may reflect the complexity of milk and fermentation working best when producing a single compound.”

The sugar required to act as a feedstock for the synthetic milk’s yeast source has a high environmental footprint. The production of lysine requires more than five tonnes of corn or maize to produce corn syrup, for one tonne of final product.

“A tonne of lysine produced this way has approximately 8t of carbon dioxide emissions, comparable with NZ whey protein, a complete protein containing lysine and other amino acids.”

Crewther said the association is also concerned about the labelling of such products. 

Products like it that do not meet the definitions of milk or dairy as set out in Codex or the Food Code should not be labelled as milk or dairy.

The Codex definition of milk is the normal mammary secretion of milking animals obtained from one or more milkings without either addition to it or extraction from it.

A spokeswoman for DairyNZ said it believes decisions about what food to eat should be based on accurate, balanced and scientific information, grounded in the NZ context.

“We respect all views and lifestyles with or without dairy foods.” 

The industry body says there is room for dairy, plant-based and synthetic alternatives to feed the world’s burgeoning population and there will always be a premium market both here and internationally for natural, nutrient-dense NZ dairy products.

Last year Associate Agriculture Minister Meka Whaitiri told the Platinum Primary Producers conference in Taupo the Government fully expects synthetic milk to be available within two years, closely followed by red meat alternatives.

She also emphasised the need for NZ producers to have a clear point of difference, including better taste, nutrition profile, physical qualities and sustainability claims to withstand the challenge the disrupting technology will bring, leveraging NZ’s natural assets claims.

So an assurance framework is to be developed to support that.

An Primary Industries Ministry spokeswoman said that proposal has since been rolled into a broader project led by MPI’s policy and trade branch. 

It aims to establish a set of industry-led assurances for production standards that can be important differentiators for NZ’s primary products in export markets.

The project has since been temporarily paused while officials work more broadly on what is needed to transition the primary sector amid the technology.

“The possibility of an assurance scheme is being discussed as part of that work but final decisions have not yet been made.

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