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Climate and health on the agenda at international dairy conference

Health challenges, climate change and the increasing demand for nutritious food were on the agenda, when Aarhus hosted the “International Symposium on Milk Genomics and Human Health” on November 12-14.

2019.11.25 | Lise Bundgaard

Senior researcher Troels Kristensen from the Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University, discussed how dairy production can be increased, while sustainability and climate are taken into consideration. Photo: Lise Bundgaard.

The international symposium was organized as a cooperation between the scientific society International Milk Genomics Consortium, Aarhus University and a number of industrial partners, including Arla Foods and Arla Foods Ingredients.

Almost 100 researchers from all over the world were gathered to present and discuss the newest knowledge in the field of dairy with a focus on health, sustainability and genomics. Two researchers from Aarhus University gave speeches at the first session of the conference, where sustainability was the topic.

Intelligent use of dairy can be a climate solution

Senior researcher Troels Kristensen from the Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University, discussed how dairy production can be increased, while sustainability and climate are taken into consideration.

Troels Kristensen addressed one of the main challenges for dairy production: the large land use. One of the possibilities for reducing both the land use and the impact on the climate is to grow more grass in proportion to other crops.

This is due to the fact that grass produces a higher yield of both protein and energy compared to annual crops, e.g. cereals and maize, reducing the need for land. The cultivation of permanent grass land contributes to building carbon in the soil and thereby reducing the greenhouse gas emissions from dairy production.

- In the short term, there could be a climate advantage in increasing the proportion of grass in the feed at the expense of cereals and maize. In the long term, we can use the grass crops in the cattle feed in a more intelligent way. The cows mainly need the fibre content of the grass, while the protein content of the grass can be used for feeding pigs and poultry. In this way, the separation of the components of the grass can support both a more sustainable development in the production of dairy and in the production of meat from pigs and poultry, Troels Kristensen explained.

Troels Kristensen also discussed different strategies to reduce methane emissions from cattle farming. Methane, which is a strong greenhouse gas, primarily comes from the fed processing in the rumen of the cow, and this is the most important factor in the climate impact of cattle farming.

In Denmark as well as internationally, there is a scientific focus on the reduction of methane emissions.

Impact on the nutritional benefits of milk

A number of research projects study the possibilities of conversion into more climate-friendly operations and to breed cows that emit less methane. In this connection, it is important to understand the interaction between the operational strategies, the cow’s genetics, the micro-organisms of the rumen and the composition of the milk.

- When the composition of the feed, the genetics and the procedures change, then the composition and the functionalities of the milk can change too, associate professor Nina Aagaard Poulsen from the Department of Food Science at Aarhus University explained.

At the conference, she gave a speech that highlighted the link between sustainable production and the composition, the technological qualities and the nutritious value of milk.

Nina Aagaard Poulsen presented a study documenting how prolonged lactation influences the quality and cheese making ability of the milk. Prolonged lactation is a production strategy, where the calving interval is 18 months instead of the normal 12 months.

- With the new possibilities and initiatives, it is important that we also bear in mind the quality of the milk and ensure that there are no significant changes in the nutritional benefits of milk and its functional abilities, Nina Aagaard Poulsen explained.

Dairy matters

The conference was preceded by a pre-symposium on November 11 with the title “Dairy matters”, where a selection of research projects taking place at the universities in Denmark within human health and nutrition were presented.

One of these project was DairyMat, represented by post.doc. Jesper Malling Schmidt from the Department of Food Science at Aarhus University. DairyMat studies how the structure and texture of foods affect the digestion and uptake of nutrients with a special focus on lipids.

- In the project, we work with a range of dairy products with different texture and microstructure, e.g. cheddar cheese, a drink and a yogurt-like product. We do in vitro digestion of the dairy products and in collaboration with Copenhagen University in vivo studies. The goal is to gain deeper knowledge and possibly predict the impact on food texture on digestion.

The ability to predict how much fat we absorb from a given product is useful both in relation to overweight and underweight.

Creating dairy synergies

Member of the steering committee of the International Milk Genomics Consortium, Peter L. Wejse, head of open innovation, universities & consortia at Arla Foods amba, stressed the synergetic value of having a cross-disciplinary milk conference for both universities and companies:

- The research inspires our product development, but it also works the other way around. Our dairy production can also inspire research. That’s why we need a conference that covers everything. Working for a dairy company, it is very exciting to learn, how a kangaroo or a sea lion uses its milk. Which differences are there, and what can we learn from it? This forum opens up for new ways of thinking, because you meet new perspectives.

About IMCG

International Symposium on Milk Genomics and Human Health is organized within the framework of the scientific society “International Milk Genomics Consortium”.

The purpose of the annual conference is to gather international experts within the field of nutrition, genetics, bioinformatics and food science etc. to discuss and share research findings in relation to milk and health.

The meeting in 2019 is held in Denmark and is organized in a cooperation between Aarhus University, Arla Foods AMBA, Arla Foods Ingredients and the Danish Dairy Board.

An overview of the sponsors and contributors can be found on the website of the IMGC:



More information

Associate professor Nina Aagaard Poulsen
Department of Food Science, Aarhus University
E-mail: nina.poulsen@food.au.dk
Tel. + 45 2396 7003

Postdoc Jesper Malling Schmidt
Department of Food Science, Aarhus University
E-mail: jesper@food.au.dk
Tel. + 45 4189 3314

Food, DCA