Lifestyle & Belief

Australian milk companies exposed over waste additive


A cow and it's handler pose for Andrew Baines at Abby Beach on February 21, 2011 in Busselton, Australia. Surrealist artist, Andrew Baines, worked with South West Dairy Farmers on a regime to prepare the cows to stand in the ocean for up to ten mintues to complete his installation.


Paul Kane

The dairy industry in Australia has been exposed over its practice of adding a cheese waste product called "permeate" to fresh milk to save money.

Permeate — described by the Fairfax press as a watery, greenish waste product from the production of cheese — forms up to 16 percent of the fresh milk Australians drink.

The practice was first exposed by the TV news program A Current Affair, which reported that by law, dairy companies did not have to disclose the presence of permeate on the labels of milk containers.

The program outed the mainly large producers who routinely added the substance to their milk as Dairy Farmers, National Foods and Pauls Parmalat.

Fairfax, meantime, reported that competition between supermarkets had reduced profit margins for milk producers, with the result being that permeate was increasingly used to cut costs.

In Australia, producers were allowed by law to dilute milk with "milk components", such as permeate, as long as the total fat level remained at least 3.2 percent (for full-cream milk) and the protein at least 3 percent (for any milk), Fairfax wrote, adding that natural cow's milk had a fat level of 4 percent.

Companies were not required to disclose how much they used within those restrictions. 

There are no known health risks associated with adding permeate to milk, Fairfax pointed out.

According to "Innovate With Dairy," a document put out by the US Dairy Export Council: "Permeate (also called dairy product solids, deproteinized whey or modified whey) is a coproduct of the production of whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, ultrafiltered milk, milk protein concentrate or milk protein isolate."

Permeate can be used in food products as a salt replacement, according to the document, "while maintaining consumer-acceptable flavor."

More from GlobalPost: Fast food salt content varies by country: study

In the US, permeate can be labeled as “dairy product solids” on product labels to reduce consumer confusion, according to the American Dairy Products Institute and the USDA. 

Meanwhile, A Current Affair quoted independent Australian milk processor John Fairley as saying that additives changed the taste of milk and that his brand, Country Valley, did not contain permeate.

“I won't add permeate,” he said. “I want straight milk — straight from the cow, so people can taste the difference.”

Peter Nathan, the chief executive of A2 milk, another Australian processor that refused to put permeate in its products, said: “There is very much a taste difference and I think consumers can really easily taste the difference between permeate milk and our A2 milk,” Peter says. “Ours has a really rich and creamy taste, which is the way milk does taste and is the way milk should taste.”