The primary reason the dairy sector exists is to provide nutrition and health to consumers. Dairy has an important role to play in enriching the nutritional credentials of diets and is just as important to address the issues of over feeding, and under nutrition, that is, too many calories and too few essential nutrients, as it is in those with under feeding and under nutrition, that is, not enough calories or essential nutrients.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has recommended that most if not all diets should contain at least one serve of dairy per day, but there is now growing evidence that at least three serves per day provides a range of benefits as part of a balanced diet.

In this respect India is doing very well. But like much of the rest of the world with a very significant opportunity and challenge in making three serves of dairy per day available for a significant percentage of the population.

Putting aside any hope of providing two to three serves of dairy a day to everyone on the planet, although I do believe that in the interests of nutrition and health we should continue to stretch our minds to think of ways of doing this.

The current trends of increasing consumer population indicate that by 2050 the world would have another 3 billion middle class consumers added to the current 2 billion. Thus, despite the current short term issues we are facing in global supply and demand, I still believe we have shifted from a world that often asked the question: “Where on earth are we going to place all of the milk we produce?” to a world where the key question will be: “How on earth can we produce enough milk to meet demand?”


Common Issues

Despite the majority of global dairy demand growth coming from developing nations, the issues faced by developed and developing dairy markets are quite common.

The world is so interconnected. There are sustainability issues in Asia and sustainability issues in Europe, and the nutritional value of dairy has a common basis globally as well.

Quite frankly the milk producing nations will need to harness all dairy chains and all milk pools if we have to meet the growing demands for dairy and closing the nutritional security gap for all. We will need to drive improvements in the productivity and sustainability of all production systems from smallholder to large-scale farming if we are to produce the dairy nutrition required.

But the general understanding of nutrition and health and role of food and diets is not as advanced as it needs to be and particularly in a world where we cannot afford to squander our food production systems, our food and our diets on naive policies and advice.

We need to move away from the reductionist view of nutrition as the sum of the individual food components and consider the complex way in which multiple food components act within complex diets and individual lifestyles. Those setting policy should also not forget that food needs to taste good and be convenient to eat.


Role of Nutrition

It will not be possible to win the debate about the important role of dairy in the diet if we do not have a more sophisticated understanding of the role that nutrition and diets play in health and wellness. This is a critical issue for the future of the world as we need not food security but nutritional security and we need to understand all consequences of current and future nutritional policies, standards and regulations as we try to combat both the diseases of affluence such as obesity and diabetes and of poverty such as stunting.

And of course we need to produce this nutrition sustainably. However, and this is a very important point, care is needed in interpreting the current contribution to resource use (costs) compared with the benefits produced by the dairy sector.

I often hear comments along the lines that dairy sector has a sustainability issue. Instead, I would suggest that in fact it is the World that has a sustainability issue and given the important role that dairy plays in enriching diets, dairy is as much part of the solution as the problem.


Issue of Sustainability

Like nutrition we need to develop more sophisticated and comprehensive frameworks to both establish and drive improvements in the sustainable performance of the dairy chain and to do that across diverse farming systems.

But as is the case with nutrition care is needed in formulating current and future policies, standards and regulations to ensure that they encompass all aspects of sustainability (social, environmental and economic). Such policies, standards and regulations must narrow rather than widen the gap towards nutritional security.

Nowhere are the three aspects of sustainability more important than in India. As the most significant agricultural product, milk plays a critical role in maintaining the social and economic and environmental sustainability of rural communities and as source essential nutrients for millions of urban consumers.

Such a holistic view of the role of dairy is indeed the focus of the Dairy Sustainability Framework (DSF), which is: Create a vibrant dairy sector committed to improving its ability to provide safe and nutritious products from healthy cattle, whilst preserving natural resources and ensuring decent livelihoods across the industry.


Food Safety Standards

The same can be said for food safety standards as is the case for nutrition and sustainability. These must be based on sound science and globally harmonised if we are to avoid at best confusion and at worst major disruption and chaos in our food supply chains and a growing lack of confidence by consumers.

The biggest issue here is the very word safety which conjures up a rather binary question is it safe or is it unsafe?

Unfortunately this often means is there a risk or no risk? What does safe really mean? Risk free or that the risks are acceptable?

And consumers have no real concept of risk and are scared by the things they do not understand and control.

Food fraud and unscrupulous business practices in the food chain have not helped consumer confidence.

If we do not rise to the challenge of creating a better global understanding of food safety risk, with an emphasis on understanding and better communicating risk then the dairy sector may face train wreck after train wreck.

As the apex body for the global dairy sector, International Dairy Federation (IDF) has an important role to play with all of these challenges and why our refreshed vision is: Helping to nourish the world with safe and sustainable dairy. And our role on behalf of the sector is to: Provide science-based expertise and consensus for the global sector and be the global voice of dairy to key intergovernmental organisations.


Best Practices

Through our work programme and using the best available scientific and evidence based information, we provide a mechanism for the sector to reach global consensus on the technical facts relating to these important issues.

These facts are then available for our member countries to use in the establishment of best practices, policies and standards at national and regional levels and for IDF to use in our work with international intergovernmental organisations in global framework, policy and standards development.

As a key member of the IDF community, India plays an important role in supporting IDF progress towards our vision and fulfil our role. The involvement of India ensures that the issues and perspectives of the worlds’ largest milk producer are incorporated in the consensus positions adopted by the IDF.

The support of India together with our other members has helped IDF to shape the operating environment for the dairy sector.

The dairy sector today would not be as effective, as efficient, as resilient had it not been for the work of IDF. IDF has helped to define the environment in which the dairy value chain operates by being at the forefront in:

  • The development and sharing of scientific and technical knowledge, best practices and guidelines.
  • Providing expertise and influence on behalf of the dairy sector in the development of food standards.
  • Providing expertise and influence on behalf of the dairy sector in the development of methods of analysis and sampling.
  • Providing expertise and influence on behalf of the dairy sector in the development of nutritional policy and standards.
  • Providing expertise and influence on behalf of the dairy sector in the development of animal health and welfare standards.
  • Providing expertise and influence on behalf of the dairy sector in the development of sustainable practices, life cycle analysis and footprints.

And doing this by providing a common platform, systems and processes for the sector to come together to reach consensus through IDF bodies, events and the work programme.

Our membership and representation is truly global covering over 75 per cent of all milk produced in the world, thousands of individual experts covering the entire chain from feed to food and thus well positioned to support both the developed and developing dairy markets.

To enhance the ability of IDF to support the dairy sector, we are putting increased focus on the areas of nutrition, food safety and sustainability which are of course important issues for the sector in India.

Meeting future demand for the nutrients supplied by dairy and ensuring that we have the right nutritional, environmental, food safety and other policies, standards and regulations in place to facilitate this is important not only for the future of the dairy sector but also the future of the planet.


This article was written when the author was President, International Dairy Federation.