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Stilnovo, sustainability and innovation for sheep milk supply chain

Stilnovo is a newborn all-Tuscan project which mission is to combine improvement of sheep milk quality with environmental sustainability, to re-discover autochthonous plants in order to have higher volumes of raw materials available during the course of a year while increasing product quality, starting from the sheep milk product that is the king of the territory, the Tuscan Pecorino Dop. Actually, the word Stilnovo is almost an acronym for Sustainability and innovative technologies for sheep milk supply chain. Caseificio Sociale di Manciano, in Grosseto Province, is the coordinator behind this project, with the scientific contribution of Scuola superiore Sant’Anna of Pisa, University of Pisa and University of Florence. The main objective is to add value to the Maremma area, to its excellence products, its tradition and passion animating local farmers and companies. Stilnovo is a supply chain project funded by Tuscany’s Rural Development Program 2014-2020 aimed to increase sheep milk quality through innovations at production and processing level. Nine farmers and members of Caseificio Sociale Manciano are involved in the project, along with their sheep herds and grazing lands, where they will introduce sustainable farming practices in order to increase milk quality, animals’ well-being and companies’ productivity.

Phases of Stilnovo

The project, which will end in 2018, is divided in two phases: during the first one, innovative farming techniques will be transferred to partner companies to increase quality and environmental sustainability of grazing lands and milk produced by the sheep; after that, the study will continue with the analysis of transformation and aging processes, thanks to specific tests for organoleptic and nutritional characteristics of cheeses with edible crust.

Rediscovering plants

Another interesting advantage of the Stilnovo project involves rediscovery and cultivation of autochthonous and innovative plants which can be used to increase sheep feeding, therefore obtaining better milk – available almost all-year round – with lower costs for feeding the sheep. This will also protect the environment thanks to a decrease in abandonment and erosion risk of cultivated farm lands.

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A quick pasteurization method for donated mother’s milk

An Italian technology will allow to preserve many more nutritional and biological values of mother’s milk, through pasteurization of human milk donated to Milk Banks.

Guido Moro, president of the Italian Association of Donated Human Milk Banks (AIBLUD), Laura Cavallarin of CNR in Turin and Enrico Bertino, director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Center of Torino University, invented a new method of quick pasteurizationfrom 5 to 15 secondsat high temperature – 72°C – to preserve main properties of donated milk. Today, the ilk donated to the banks (34 in Italy and 210 in Europe) is processed through traditional Holder pasteurization (62,5°C for 30 minutes), which unfortunately destroys many bioactive and nutritional ingredients, thus reducing its positive effects.

This method guarantees a safe and low-impact pasteurization process, which is ideal for the different volumes of donations since it is able to pasteurize up to 10 l of milk per hour, with a minimum volume of 100 ml.

The role of breast milk in the development of  premature babies

It is well know how mother’s ilk plays a crucial role in the survival and correct development of premature newborns: It provide enzymes, proteins, fats and other bioactive principles that foster growth of immature organs and gastro-intestinal and metabolic systems in premature newborns, it also decreases grave diseases percentage, such as necrotizing enterocolitis, bronchopulmonary dysplasia, premature retinopathy and numerous other conditions that put the newborns’ survival in danger. Breast milk can have a substantial and long-term impact on cognitive development in premature babies, who have a higher chance to develop neurologic disorders compared to end-term newborns.

According to Prof. Moro, the unrivalled value of mother’s milk for premature newborns and end-terms babies has never been more obvious and the medical community, along with government and society, have the duty to make the necessary changes in order to ensure that all newborns can receive an ideal breastfeeding, and that mothers and children receive the necessary support to provide them with it.

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The China Project, an outdated study

There’s been a lot of talk about the ethics of a diet that includes milk and dairy products, since the 70s, with plenty of studies aimed to evaluate advantages and issues, and sometimes to totally repeal the virtues. This is the case for The China Study, a study published by T. Colin Campbell (also known for being Pres. Bill Clinton’s physician) and his son Thomas M. Campbell II in 2005 which is based on results obtained by a namesake study, The China Project, one of the biggest nutritional-oriented studies ever in history, launched thanks to a 20 year long partnership between Cornell University, Oxford University and the Chinese Academy of Preemptive Medicine, which involved 6500 adults coming from 65 Chinese counties, carried out by filling surveys, blood tests and clinical observations.

What is the China Project?

The research pinpointed 8000 statistically relevant associations between lifestyle, diet and development of certain diseases, including a big quantity of additional research data coming from different sources. Campbell outlined a unique unifying principle according to which people who consume food products of animal origins show development of chronic diseases, while people who consume a vegetable-based diet are in overall better health and show a lower incidence of chronic diseases. This statement, as well as those saying that consuming foods containing more than 0 mg cholesterol is not healthy, derives from a highly selective kind of research focusing on just a small data sample while completely ignoring other data.

A study supporting a vegan diet

Basically, the book “The China Study” supports a vegan diet. Campbell talks about the role that animal-based food products play in causing prostate cancer, but he doesn’t mention the powerful preemptive effect attributed to vitamin A, contained in many animal-based foods. Same treatment has been reserved to other nutritional substances like vitamins from group B and carotenes, which the author states can be found in vegetables but actually have much higher concentrations in foods such as egg yolk, milk and liver of several animals. Many other examples come from a rough reading of the book and from the well-argumented critiques of an American blogger, Denise Minger, who, on her web blog about lifestyle and nutrition, became a reference point for many readers as well as many experts in the sector. A peculiar case of inconsistent statements that can be found in the book The China Study refers to casein, a milk protein which is, according to the author and along with every other animal-based proteins, amongst the possibly most powerful carcinogenic substances we all consume. Campbell writes about the link between casein and cancer based on one of his previous scientific researches which demonstrates an increase in tumors in lab animals exposed to casein. This result, if supported, is surely important and strongly suggest that further researches are needed in order to establish a safety of supplementation in human beings, especially amongst bodybuilders, athletes and those who use casein for muscular recovery. However, it actually seems Campbell took his research beyond its logical context, and mistakenly concluded that all forms of animal proteins have similar carcinogenic properties in human beings. This statement does not take into account a vast scientific literature showing the important antitumor properties of many proteins contained in milk serum. Milk and its derivatives are considered damaging foods for health in the book The China Study only due to the presence of casein.

The carcinogenic effect of lysine in vegetables

Another crucial piece of information comes from a scientific research from 1989 by Schulsinger et al., where it is showed that if we add the amino acid lysine to wheat protein we obtain a carcinogenic effect similar to the one Campbell had obtained with casein during his experiments. In order to better understand this data we have to take into consideration that there are nine amino acids in nature, which are defined as essential and our body is not able to produce them on its own, we therefore have to introduce them with diet. Lysine is among these aminos. Many vegetable-based proteins lack some amino acids, however, by combining them together we can get a complete amino acid profile. For instance, cereal and legumes, which are consumed in large quantities in a vegan diet, have complementing amino acid profiles, in that one makes up for those amino acids that the other lacks. Therefore, if Campbell’s conclusions were to be believed, vegans would also be subject to a high risk of cancer as he showed to be the case for casein, even if they avoid all animal-based foods. This makes us understand how the relationship between animal proteins and cancer is obviously more complex than that, and is connected to the totality of substances we can found in foods, therefore it is impossible to extrapolate some kind of universal rule of thumb from a link between isolated casein and cancer.

The China Project in Depth

Up to this point we have told about Campbell, but what actually is The China Project? In epidemiologic studies, besides food related data, several other risk factors are taken into account for what the development of heart diseases and tumors like schistosomiasis, Hepatitis B, higher rates of tuberculosis, pneumonia, intestinal obstruction or general lifestyle or work conditions. The China Project’s data speak for itself: animal proteins are not related to a higher percentage of disease, as showed by the fact that the inhabitants of the Tuoli province, although consuming around 134 g of animal proteins a day, have the same average level of cholesterol of Shanyang population, and slightly lower levels than Taixing province, where the population ingests an average of just 1 g of animal proteins a day. Clearly, correlation between animal-based foods and cholesterol levels in the blood is not always linear, and more factors play a crucial role in its variation. The counties analyzed in The China Study have been picked in such a way to reduce variables as much as possible during the process of data collection regarding lifestyle. The Chinese rural areas analyzed by the research have been picked on purpose in order to guarantee that local population had spent their whole life in the same area and consumed the same typical food of the area. In short, The China Study is an anthology of cherry-picked data and a strongly misleading interpretation of the original data from The China Project, and it cannot justify the life choice of those who decide to lead a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle in contrast to those who wish to eat a varied diet that also includes animal-based products. Despite all this, we must say that The China Study contains many excellent points in its critique toward reductionism un nutritional research, the influence of food industry in research and the need to obtain nutritional substances from food products; however, the work’s prejudice in regards of animal-based foods and its penchant for veganism permeates each and every chapter and page of this book. Campbell might have been influenced by his expectations on potential damages to health connected to animal proteins, thus proposing statements that have consolidated their position over time, also thanks to the vast consensus among the vegan community. Thus, The China Study did not receive the critical review a book of its proportions deserved.

Andrea Ghiselli, certified nutritionist and head researcher at Inran, talks about vegan propaganda studies, such is the case for The China Study. “It is the study of a researcher” states the researcher – “that goes against countless other studies conducted worldwide. It’s him against the world, a crazy person speeding in the wrong lane of the highway. Milk consumption – which, according to The China Study, would be responsible for the onset of tumors due to casein, is on the contrary, officially recognized as a protection factor from grave diseases such as heart diseases, diabetes, hypertension and many types of tumors”. According to Ghiselli, the work carried out by Colin Campbell has been successful only because it stated just what a specific community of people – vegans and vegetarians – wanted to hear. “The study doesn’t have any validation in reality. It’s been done 40 years ago and then proved wrong by current literature. The whole current orientation of scientific community are just the opposite. Campbell, for instance, carried out several in vitro experiments, placed casein in a vial and saw that the cells of a specific type of tumor were doing better: but of course, casein provided the cells with some food, but the same thing would have happened with any other kind of nutrients. It is known and demonstrated that, on the contrary, cow milk acts as a protective agent against major diseases of our time.”

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A massive herd of sardinian sheeps Sardinia for Earthquake-stricken populations

massive herd of sheep, including numerous lambs, took off from Sardinia directed to Umbria; Sardinian sheep breeders have donated almost a thousand sheep. A significant gesture that helps giving back hope to their ill-fated colleagues who lost their animals during the terrible earthquake, around seven months ago.

Sa paradura, an ancient tradition

This is a way to renew the ancient agricultural tradition of “Sa paradura”, when one or more sheep are donated to those stricken by bad luck in order to help them get back on their feet. According to the calculations from Coldiretti based on the last Istat survey, over 25 thousand agricultural companies and stables have been hit by the earthquake in 131 communes spread over Lazio, Marche, Umbria and Abruzzo, covering an astounding 292 thousand hectares of agricultural lands, mostly employed for vegetable farming and grazing, the vast majority of companies (96,5%) being family-run businesses. 40 thousand sheep generating a flourishing of satellite agricultural and industrial activities, with many cheese makers producing world-renowned high-end delicacies.

Operation maxi herd, organized by Coldiretti, involved sheep coming from all over Sardinia, from Barbagia to Gallura, from Ogliastra to Campidano, from Nurra to Sarrabus, and the gathering point was the Bonassai Agris research center, in the Sassari area where the sheep were loaded on trucks and brought to the Olbia white port, where, last March 31, they embarked a cargo ship directed to Civitavecchia and then arrived in Cascia, Umbria. They decided to assign the sheep to 40 Umbrian shepherds with a randomized procedure – called “a stumbu” – carried out by a blindfolded kid, according to the criteria of the ancient tradition. A gesture of help for the earthquake-stricken farmlands.

The hurdles of Sardinia shepherds

Sardinia, land of shepherds where 40% of Italian sheep can be found, divided in the 12 thousand breeding farms all over the island, wanted to give its contribution, although this sector is navigating through really difficult times: just consider that the daily milking of a sheep yields an average of one liter of milk a day which price on the market is almost half of what it was two years ago – just 60 cents compared to 1 euro in the second half of 2015.

We have witnessed numerous examples of solidarity during these last months, a sign that the primary Italian sector is alive and still and integral part of the country’s social fabric: from the “adopt a cow” operation, which has already found a home for at least 2000 sheep and cows that had lost theirs due to collapsed stables, to the “give a bail” project aimed to guarantee food for the livestock. Ordinary people also took part in the aids: just consider that over 50 thousand Italians tasted the “solidarity Caciotta”, a cheese made with the milk coming from the earthquake-stricken areas of Norcia, Amatrice and Leonessa, and the “friend Cacio”, made with milk from Marche farms.

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SheepNet, the sharing project launches

SheepNet, spot-on acronym for Sharing Expertise and Experience towards sheep Productivity through NETworking, has just launched; it is a project aimed to share knowledge and experiences regarding sheep productivity through the building of an international work network, funded with €2 million coming from the European program Horizon 2020, a partner with which the project is working towards increasing sheep productivity in Europe and the near East. Italy is represented by Agris, the Sardinia agency for research in agriculture. The project will allow exchange of practical and scientific knowledge between researchers, farmers and technicians, thanks to a multi-actor and interdisciplinary approach, and promotion of implementation and spreading of the best and most innovative technologies and practices for increasing productivity in sheep breeding.

Where SheepNet will operate

We are talking about an area that has historically been always interested in sheep livestock resources and the related supply chain and where, as of today, over a hundred million sheep are bred, of which 85 million, divided between 830,000 companies, are in the Old Continent, and an astounding 31 million in Turkey only, divided among 127,000 companies. Although we are talking about huge numbers, we have to take into consideration the fact that in Europe, starting from 2000 till today, the number of breeders dropped by 50%, and this jeopardizing the sustainable development of those areas generally considered as less favorable.

Along with Turkey, there are six European countries which are interested in sheep breeding and are included in the network – open to any other European countries – and they are Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, Romania, France and Ireland.

After the inauguration, this last November at the Teagasc center for sheep research in Athenry, Ireland, a multilingual exploratory survey has been launched a few weeks ago, aimed to researchers, technicians, breeders and industry stakeholders, with the goal to identify the main issues and necessities for obtaining good production results in terms of fertility, pregnancy and number of reared lambs. Within the SheepNet project, many national and international workshops will take place, along with publications and events; the project’s deadline is October 2019.

Italian presence in SheepNet

As for the Italian component of this project, it will be in charge of activating the Italian network basically for what concerns milk production. Agris will be supported by partnerships with Regional Farmers Association of Sardinia (Aras), Inter-Provincial Farmers Association (Apa), National Association of Sheep Farming and Italian Society of Pathology and Breeding of sheep and goats.

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First positive two months for milk and dairy export in China

2017 definitely started off on the right foot for those importing from China: during the first two months of the year(source: CLAL), if compared to the same period of 2016, there was an increase in volume (+3,8%) and, most importantly, an increase in value (+16,2%) of milk and dairy export, with around 454.736 tons of products for 1 billion 406 thousands USD dollars, a sign that there is still plenty of room for development for the Asian giant.  Products with the better performances where milk for infancy, with a god 10,5% in volume, milk cream, with really interesting percentages both in terms of volume (30,2%), but mostly in terms of value (35,2%), cheese (14,5% increase in volume and e 16,7% in value) and serum powder (with a remarkable +40,5% in value).

As for milk powders, there are more than positive data regarding both skimmed milk powder (+4,2% in volume and a 19,4% increase in value compared to the same period of 2016) and whole milk powder (+3,9% in volume and a whooping +24,7% in value). Lactose for the food industry showed the best performances, with a 84,8% increase in volume and a 56,8% increase in value. Butter, as we already revealed in the last articles, experienced a decrease in sales volumes (-21,8%) although its value is substantially stable, reduced quantities notwithstanding (+0,7%). Unpackaged and packaged milk are both decreasing (-6,1% in volume and -5,4% in value) as well as caseinates (a huge collapse, with a -46,7% in volume and a 40,3% decrease in value). Yogurt and buttermilk are dropping only 13,6% in value.

February, milk and dairy export by volume

As for February data of this year compared to the same month of last year, Chinese export increased in volume for what concerns serum powder(+63%), whole milk powder(+50,8%), milk for infancy(+38,4%), cheeses(+36,4%), skimmed milk powder (+16.0%) and milk powder(+59,9%). Both yogurt and unpackaged milk are rallying (+37,5%). Volume decrease for butter is confirmed, although slightly better (-15.4%).

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Cheese exports from the European Union are on the rise

After all, last January was a positive month, if  compared to the same month of last year, for exports of some dairy and milk products form the European community: in terms of volume, milk cream exports increased (+21,8%), as did cheese exports (+13%), milk for infancy (+11,1%) and whole milk powder (+6,1%). We cannot say the same for other products:  we have seen a decrease in exports related to serum powder (-0,5%), skim milk powder (-7,8%), butter (-37,1%) and packaged and unpackaged milk (-1,3%) (Source: www.clal.it)

Cheese prices

In terms of value, prices per unit of EU exports for the 28 member countries for the month of January of this year, when compared to January 2016, increased for butter (+43,0%), whole milk powder (+24,4%) and skim milk powder (+9,8%), milk  serum powder (+4.4%) and milk cream (+1,5%).

On the other hand, prices decreased for cheeses (-1%), milk for infancy (-7,2%) and for unpackaged and packaged milk (-4%). Total value of exports by volume was 384.285 tons, basically equal (+0,2%) to the same month of previous year. Definitely better performances in terms of value, with a 10,3% increase. (Source: www.clal.it)

As for cheese export from the EU community during January, the United States were the major importers, with a 1% increase equal to 9,986 tons for a 16% share. Second place for Japan, with a 47% increase and 7,695 tons. Third exporter was South Korea, which took the place of Switzerland, now fourth however increasing its exports by 5%. The Asian country scores an excellent 53% after its decrease in 2016, passing from 2,934 tons in 2016 to 4,479 ton this year. Fifth place for Saudi Arabia with a 4% increase. Now, we are expecting a further increase given the fact that January 2016 was the least profitable month (September being the most generous one, the only month last year breaking the 70,000 t threshold).

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Milk powder, prices decrease in Oceania

The two major countries in Oceania are still seeing mixed results. Milk production in Australia, in January, decreased by 5,9% compared to the same month of last year. (data Clal)

On the other hand, favorable weather conditions in fall in New Zealand might favor a better-than-expected milk production.

As for butter, minimum price is on the rise, also thanks to the increasing anxiety about fat matter availability that this market is facing right now.

Prices are also decreasing for cheddar cheese, and buyers are satisfied with this correction, since they had previously found prices to be rising too quickly.

 Substantial decreases for milk powder

For what concerns milk powders, price decrease both for whole milk powder and skimmed milk powder is substantial. Price decrease of skim milk powder reduced the difference with European countries. Some buyers had continuously opposed resistance to prices in Oceania, focusing their attention on European prices. A higher-than-expected milk production also played a significant role.

Whole milk powder prices also decreased and now are slightly lower than European’s, thus inverting the previous situation.

Weak prices during recent auctions might be ascribable to several factors such as the fact that some observatories believe excessive volumes have been auctioned for certain products, or that many prices were too high compared to market transactions or even that milk production in New Zealand might exceed expectations. In March, skimmed milk powder in Germany was 1.876 euros per ton, a 6.90% decrease compared to February, while in the United States price is 1.831 euros per ton, which is a -9.74% compared to last month of this year, and in Oceania price is 2.232 euros per ton, a 41.6% increase compared to March 2016 but also a 1.75% decrease compared to February of this year.

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The yogurt lactobacillus to fight depression

Could depression, the “dark evil” affecting more and more people worldwide, be cured with yogurt? It looks like it could. The disease might be treated thanks to appropriate changes in diet in order to act on the liver’s microflora. This is the result of a study conducted by the Virginia University and published on “Scientific Reports” in which they have identified the key role of lactobacillus, a typical bacterium found in yogurt.

According to Alban Gaultier, one of the authors of the study, we might be able to get rid of complicated drugs and side effects because we are simply going to act on the microbiome.

The research has been monitoring symptoms of depression in mice, observing in particular their response to the composition of bacteria found in liver. Scientists have determined that levels of lactobacillus in stressed mice would then read the most during times of stress and by integrating this element in their diet, they behavior would almost go back to normal. In other words, yogurt may become an important source in order to stock up on those substances we need to fight depression.

Lactobacillus vs. Kynurenine

To be specific, the study found out that the influence of lactobacillus on symptoms of depression is related to its role as controller of another substance, a metabolite known as kynurenine, which concentration in the blood rises as the lactobacillus’ decreases, therefore inducing the unpleasant symptoms of depression.

Human trial

As it often happens in these instances, although some behaviors observed in mice might be commonly recognized as symptoms of depression, the major limitation of this study is the absence of confirmation on humans. And this is the next goal for the US team: University of Virginia has released a statement saying that the first subjects on which they will try to validate the results of this extraordinary study will be patients of multiple sclerosis, since they are often subject to this kind of psychological disorders.

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Oceania, negative data for milk production

A decidedly negative period for two of the major Countries in Oceania, Australia and New Zealand. In Australia, Murray Goulburn, one of the major Australian milk processing companies, keeps reporting financial losses referred to the period July – December 2016, in view of a 5% decrease in collected milk (source: clal.it)

In New Zealand, Fonterra amended its forecast for what regards collected milk during the agriculture season ending May 31, passing from a -7% to a “better” -5 presents on the previous agricultural season. Payout for prices at the stable that was forecast this last November has been confirmed (around €4/kg; data clal.it).

The decrease in milk production, in the second semester 2016 in Australia amounted to 8.55% compared to the same period of the previous year; in New Zealand, between June 2016 and January 2016, the decrease has been decidedly less severe (-2,61%).

Prices of derivative products in Oceania

As for prices of derivative products in Oceania, process for butter are on the rise, and they have reached their maximum point. This increase was expected due to limited availability of fat matter in the area. Australia dealers prefer to supply those customers who purchase bigger quantities and on longer terms. This fact contributed to lower Australian export of butter, unlike New Zealand which, thanks to a definitely smaller population to satisfy, could increase its sales to the foreign market.

Cheddar cheese prices are slightly decreasing, but the market is expected to stabilize soon. Meanwhile, internal demand for this kind of cheese in Australia is still on the rise.

For what concerns prices of milks in powdered form, price of skimmed milk is slightly increasing, with a market focused on the short-term. Maximum prices for powdered whole milk are slightly decreasing, this situation is probably due to the fact that some potential buyers have slowed down their purchases and some European competitor producers have intensified their efforts in order to penetrate international markets with competitive prices.

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