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18 January 2016

Modifying Dairy Cow Feed to Obtain Omega-3 Rich Milk

Yvan Chouinard and his team have developed technology to increase Omega-3 content in milk.

The market for foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids is growing at a fast pace due to their ability to prevent heart disease. Whole milk does not fall into the category of Omega-3 rich food, containing only 20% of the 300 mg required per portion according to Canadian standards for labelling products as a “source of polyunsaturated Omega-3 fatty acids.” Adding flaxseed oil or flaxseeds, which naturally contain Omega-3 fatty acids, to dairy cow feed does not yield enriched milk since the digestion process degrades the fatty acids and transforms them into saturated fatty acids before they are absorbed. As a result, the industry adds flaxseed oil and flaxseed to the milk at the plant in order to provide consumers with Omega-3 enriched milk, at 300 mg per portion.
However, research by a team led by Yvan Chouinard have found that adding particle-size fatty acid calcium salts, manufactured with flaxseed oil, to dairy cow feed increases the Omega-3 fatty acid content of milk by 300% (to 250 mg per portion). The saponification of Omega-3 fatty acids triggers the formation of calcium salts which physically protect the fatty acids from the effects of digestion. The fatty acids are then transferred into the milk fat. Additional research has shown that adding sources of Omega-3 fatty acids to dairy cow feed improves their reproductive health.

These research findings come as good news for all milk producers, even those who do not necessarily want to market Omega-3 enriched milk.

Additional research must nevertheless be completed before we start seeing this new type of enriched milk on grocery store shelves.

Read the article in the magazine Le producteur de lait québécois. [in French only]