Canadians’ inability to easily spread butter has sparked an online controversy that has led to Alberta Milk recommending dairy farms no longer using palm oil supplements.
Over the past couple of months, foodies and bloggers have been voicing difficulty with their butter. Sylvain Charlebois, a senior director of Dalhousie University’s agri-food analytics lab, tweeted in December an observation about his butter remaining hard at room temperature. The so-called “buttergate” took off and garnered the attention of international outlets such as the BBC and the New York Times.
The blame for the hard butter was placed on palm by-products that are fed to dairy cows, although this hasn’t been definitively proven to be the cause. In response, the Dairy Farmers of Canada announced on Thursday the formation of a working group to get to the bottom of the issue and recommended dairy farmers consider alternatives to palm supplements. Following suit, Alberta Milk posted the recommendation on their website last week.
Cherylynn Bos, owner and operator of Rock Ridge Dairy Farms near Ponoka, said she does not use palm oil supplements to feed her cows or goats, as that would cause her cow dairy products to lose their organic designation. She said it is tough to say whether they are causing Canadian butter to become harder.
“I mean, they haven’t done a lot of scientific studies from the bit that I’ve seen on palm fat and how it may change the dairy products,” said Bos. “So, is it a subjective thing that the butter is harder now than before? I’m not certain.”
Palm oil is used to create palmitic acid, used in cooking oil, industrial lubricant, and margarine as well as soap, biofuels and cosmetics. A paper published by Dairy Research and Extension Consortium of Alberta shows the use of the supplement in cow feed increases milk fat yield. The paper says there is an economic value to using palm oil in feed based on that increase as well as benefits to cow health and dairy quality.
Bos said that butter producers actually look to make their products firmer to make it higher quality for cooking. She said that regulations and restrictions on the industry may be partly to blame as higher qualities of butter will have less water in them, causing them to be denser.
“Over the years, industry and dairy producers and processors like myself have been so much more scrutinized and regulated to make sure that all the standards are followed 100 per cent. So you’re not going to see higher moisture butters out there,” said Bos.
Karlee Conway, the marketing and communications manager with Alberta Milk, an entity of Dairy Farmers of Canada, told Postmedia in an interview that she was a little surprised by the controversy as palm supplements have been used for years.
“They’re (Canadian Food Inspection) certified and they play a really important part regarding the health of our cows,” she said. “That being said, we’re hearing from consumers that this might be something that they’re uncomfortable with and maybe they don’t like. We need to get more information on this topic. The most important thing for us and our farms is to make sure that we meet and exceed the demands of consumers.”
— With files from Jeff Labine