Tomorrow's world an udder day

00:00, Jul 28 2014

We're only just starting to understand the natural qualities and versatility of milk, writes Andrew Hoggard.

Just imagine a Jetsons-like future.

We wake up in the morning and walk on synthetic oil-based carpets into a kitchen to prepare a cup of synthetic coffee from recycled wastewater.

For breakfast, we can either pop an "egg and bacon" breakfast pill or use a Star Trek-like "replicator" to 3-D print a "Kiwi Breakfast‘" using a protein cartridge. The adventuresome may opt for ersatz toast spread with wowbutter or artificial peanut butter.

We don our nylon clothes, made from oil, hop into an electric driverless vehicle and travel to a life-improvement centre.

Meanwhile, a robotic doppleganger does all that nasty stuff called work. Heading home, we tune into the news read by a robotic newsreader in a computerised newsroom.


This vision sums up the almost gleeful response of our media to Muufri's proposed fluid. I hopped onto their website, which asks for donations, and thought it seemed like a university project. Apparently not. These guys have a brand, packaging and reputedly, a product that's ready to roll.

The fact that we have non-dairy soy milk hasn't stopped some newspapers and commentators from predicting the end of dairying as we know it. As a PR exercise, it must have exceeded their wildest dreams. Maybe Fonterra ought to find out who they use.

Am I right to doubt the predictions of doom, or am I the guy who cornered the CD music market just before iTunes took off?

After being interviewed by Marcus Lush on RadioLive, I heard him opine about the thousand litres of water it takes to create a kilogram of milksolids. He asked himself why milk was so expensive since it's just water and proteins, and that it seemed inefficient. "Am I anti-milk?" he asked himself. The word "yes" came to mind.

The thing about water footprinting is that it seems to exhaust all the water we have on Earth. Apparently, it takes as much water to create a litre of coffee as a litre of milk and manufacturing a litre of soft drink apparently uses upwards of 600 litres of water. It may be uncomfortable to face, but every man, women and child in New Zealand uses 250 litres of water, every single day, before we pick up that cup of coffee or glass of milk.

So is Muufri the dairy killer? No, it is not. There are non-dairy choices around, if that rocks your boat. Heck, the New York Times 102 years ago ran with "No Need for Cows Now" after German chemists made cheap synthetic milk-like stuff using vegetables.

Cheap doesn't guarantee success or desire since there are much cheaper alternatives to an iPhone. While you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs, the Edmonds Cookbook adds milk too.

This Muufri may have a role as cheap emergency liquid in the developing world, in a similar way to what Bill Gates is doing with GM rice and non-meat artificial protein. This assumes, of course, that Muufri doesn't encounter real-world problems when people start using it for more than pouring on to Weet-Bix.

Another issue is that mammalian physiology is a pharmacological wonderland. The sum of what comes out of a cow's udder is far greater than copying its parts in a beaker.

Reading the Bullvine website, i see Monash's Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences has looked into the nanostructure of milk for how it interacts with our digestion. Bearing in mind that this was only last year, Monash found that when we digest milk, enzymes in our body break down the fat molecules into small but highly organised components.

This enables fats, vitamins and lipid-soluble drugs to cross cell membranes and into the circulatory system. This not only opens the door to exciting new milk products but perhaps even new ways of delivering drugs.

We're only just starting to understand the natural qualities and versatility of this wonder food called milk. Fonterra already has healthcare partnerships with DFE Pharma producing pharmaceutical products and has recently inked a deal with Abbott of America.

What we have to watch out for is to avoid wool's fate.

Wool has been corrupted to mean oil-based carpet and even glass fibres so the International Dairy Federation needs to globally protect "milk". That's why margarine isn't called butter and why you can't call Lindauer Champagne. Muufri cannot be called milk because it's not. Humans and cows have gone together like peaches and cream for 10,500 years.

Muufri may deliver the elements of milk but is it any good? I can get my vitamins from a pill but veges provide a better balance. My Soda Stream can produce a cola but it's not Coca-Cola. With milk, you just can't beat the real thing.

Andrew Hoggard is dairy chairman of Federated Farmers.

Manawatu Standard