*Krissa Welshans holds a bachelor's degree in animal science from Michigan State University and a master's degree in public policy from New England College. Welshans has long been involved in agriculture and has worked with numerous agricultural groups, including the Animal Agriculture Alliance.
FISH oil is commonly used to enhance food with omega-3 fatty acids. Some companies already offer omega-3-fortified milk, but ensuring that it still tastes like milk has proved difficult.
Researchers are making progress in eliminating the fishy taste associated with adding fish oil (Feedstuffs, Dec. 10, 2012), but a newer, naturally occurring method of enriching milk with omega-3 fatty acids without compromising milk's flavor has been discovered.
EXL Milling Ltd. of Saskatchewan has created an oilseed feed additive from a unique blend of canola and flaxseed that naturally increases the omega-3 content in milk (Figure).
According to a report from the Flax Council of Canada, ruminants digest their food in stages, which has presented challenges for dairy farmers, the main one being the process of biohydrogenation -- the chemical reactions in which microorganisms in the rumen transform the polyunsaturated fatty acids found in feed into saturated fatty acids.
To enrich milk with polyunsaturated fatty acids like alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the essential omega-3 fatty acid, and its long-chain metabolites, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the dietary supply of these fatty acids must be protected from rumen biohydrogenation.
EXL has created a proprietary process for canola and flaxseed that prevents this biohydrogenation. The company heat and steam processes the oilseed so the natural starch content is gelatinized to form an encapsulation around the lipid, and the hull remains intact but porous for digestion by the animal.
Dr. Robert Ovrebo, a large-animal veterinarian from Minnesota who has worked primarily with dairy animals for 38 years, has been researching ways to improve reproductive health in dairy cows and has found the EXL process to be the most beneficial for both producers and consumers.
He said the natural enrichment of omega-3 fatty acids in milk for human consumption and the reproductive benefits to the cow are a win-win.
According to Ovrebo, the processed oilseed has a large portion of its fat content rumen bypassed unchanged to the intestinal tract for absorption. From here, it enters the bloodstream and can flow to the mammary gland to be incorporated into the butterfat as an omega-3 fatty acid or enter the liver for conversion to EPA, DHA and other metabolites.
As for the reproductive benefits, Ovrebo said cows have better reproductive efficiency, reduced incidence of transition cow metabolic events, better support for their immune system, an earlier return to positive energy balance, increased milk production and improved body condition scores. Additionally, calves are in better health at birth and beyond.
Ovrebo explained that the processed oilseed helps reduce the omega-6:omega-3 ratio, which is important for all species. This, he said, results in a balance for proper biological functioning.
"In both animal and human diet nutrition, the omega-6 is much too high and promotes a deregulated inflammatory process," Ovrebo explained. "For food animal diets, the oilseed of flax or a blend of flax/canola gives the best source of omega fatty acids."
The Flax Council of Canada reported that a high dietary omega-6:omega-3 ratio has been linked to low-grade chronic inflammation that contributes to conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, cancer, coronary heart disease, metabolic syndrome, obesity, type-2 diabetes, osteoporosis and even dry eye syndrome. Reducing the omega-6:omega-3 ratio helps decrease inflammatory reactions and lowers the risk of chronic disease.
Improving the ratio, the council said, can be achieved by eating fewer omega-6 fats, eating more omega-3 fats or doing both. The recommended dietary omega-6:omega-3 ratio should be between 4:1 and 10:1, and buying milk and meat products with a low omega-6:omega-3 ratio helps improve the dietary mix of fatty acids in humans.
As far as comparing oilseeds to fish oil to provide omega-3 fatty acids, Ovrebo said the oilseed feed additive provides a more natural method that is also proving to be healthier than fish oil. He explained that fish oil is primarily two fatty acids referred to as EPA and DHA. These are not essential fatty acids since animals can make these from ALA, which is high in the oilseed of flax.
"The conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA is now thought to be more biologically active and beneficial than a fish oil source," Ovrebo noted. "Plus, the cold-water fish, which are the best source, are being depleted, and other (lower)-quality fish are being used for oil products."
The EXL product eliminates the step of manually fortifying milk with omega-3 fatty acids but also has more benefits for both consumers and producers. The product showcases the resourcefulness of agriculture and its commitment to using natural methods to improve both animal health and food products.
TB in Michigan herd
A dairy herd in Alpena County, Mich., has tested positive for bovine tuberculosis (TB), the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development reported.
Routine bovine TB surveillance testing confirmed the medium-size dairy herd as "bovine TB positive."
Bovine TB is an infectious bacterial disease that affects cattle and white-tailed deer in the northeastern Lower Peninsula of Michigan.
Since the bovine TB eradication effort began, all of Michigan's 14,000 cattle farms have undergone TB testing. Since 1998, the state agriculture department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have detected 55 TB-positive cattle herds and four privately owned cervid operations in the northern section of Michigan's Lower Peninsula.
Golden Guernsey files
OpenGate Capital LLC, a private investment and acquisition firm, recently announced that one of its portfolio companies, Waukesha, Wis.-based milk processor Golden Guernsey LLC, has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Delaware bankruptcy court.
The company, established in Milwaukee, Wis., in 1930, abruptly closed in early January, leaving more than 100 people unemployed.
The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development is investigating complaints that the company did not follow the state's plant closure law, which requires a 60-day notice to be filed with the state and the affected municipality.
Golden Guernsey was previously owned by Dean Foods, but in September 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice required Dean to sell the business in order to resolve antitrust concerns that the company's share of the school milk supply business was too large.
When OpenGate acquired Golden Guernsey, the acquisition terms included an exclusive and fixed-price milk supply agreement and the assumption of a legacy union contract.
During the investment period, OpenGate said it successfully implemented new sales and operations strategies that created a seamless transition of Golden Guernsey from the former owner's organization and yielded a 20% increase in sales.
However, OpenGate said Golden Guernsey was suffering under the pressure of trying to provide lower-cost products and, therefore, was unable to successfully reduce its expenses in a way to achieve a state of financial viability given some of its legacy relationships.
Since being acquired by OpenGate, Golden Guernsey made efforts to reduce its expenses through discussions with its various suppliers, vendors and the labor union.
"The prospect of closing the plant and the potential for bankruptcy were raised on several occasions with these groups, all of which were provided with a clear picture of Golden Guernsey's fragile financial condition. Despite this, Golden Guernsey's efforts were rejected, leading to the closure of the business," OpenGate said in a press release.
Andrew Nikou, chief executive officer of OpenGate, said, "We have to make realistic decisions about our investments, and the reality is that the Golden Guernsey business was unable to achieve financial autonomy given the pressure to lower prices and seemingly non-negotiable operating expenses."
He added that it was a very difficult decision given the loss of jobs and disruption to milk delivery service but said the move had to be made.
"The closure of the plant is not a reflection of the hard work contributed by the Golden Guernsey family of employees. Unfortunately, when expenses overwhelm revenue for too long and we are unable to achieve cooperation from the people with whom we do business, the business cannot be sustained," Nikou concluded.