The great permeate debate: Open

Today’s two page advertisement by Meadow Fresh (a Goodman Fielder milk brand) in the NZ Herald promoting its ‘permeate free’ milk drew my attention for two reasons: the first two pages of a major newspaper now sells itself (out) to advertisements not news; and that the milk war continues between the two biggest dairy brands in New Zealand.

Permeate in the milk world is (according to Nutrition Australia): the collective term for the milk-sugar (lactose), vitamins and minerals components of milk.

Permeate debate

Photo credit: Thanks Llyod Power.

To help you as a consumer understand what is going on here, I offer my thoughts on the silent permeate debate that is happening. The term is now thrown around by marketing teams in major food brands trying to get consumers to buy their milk, because when companies do add permeate to their mix they do not need to tell their consumers. The Food Standards Code (Standard 2.5.1) allows companies to adjust the components of milk, ie add or take away permeate.

So the discerning consumer is meant to use the following logic: “Oh, the other major brand must add permeate. Permeate must be bad. Therefore I will buy this permeate free option instead.” The other brand would add permeate to their milk all the time and have done since they helped craft the food standards on such practices. Why? Adding permeate makes the milk mix constant in its proteins and fats, exactly as it states on the bottle. In the olden days before corporate global food brands meddled with such things, milk had different qualities at different times of the year as cows fluctuated with the seasons. Spring was creamy as the grass grew abundantly, summer might be lighter, autumn perhaps less fatty depending on the weather and so on. If you raise cows the natural way with low stocking rates on grass pasture you get this great result. If you feed cows a mix of palm kernal oil extract (regardless of whether that is ‘ethically’ sourced or not) plus some other feed supplements, and a bit of grass, while standing them on a holding pad all day, then the mix of milk will not fluctuate as it once did. Of course it will not.

The reason I struggle with the addition of permeate is not the permeate itself – if you drink cow milk then you want the lactose, vitamins and minerals – it’s all the meddling. The fact that the product is taken, stripped bare, then rebuilt to meet consumer trends and marketers ideas, the ones that sell you things like “Trim” or “Low Fat” or “Calci added”. It means they can basically add water and dilute the product as they like.  That in my opinion takes a whole food and makes it a null and void-food.

If you want to opt out of the ‘added permeate’ debate (and the marketing war), then there are options for you as a consumer:

  1. Avoid cow milk and substitute it with nuts like Hazelnuts, which use less water than almonds and offer the same nutritional value, plus they grow well in New Zealand. You can grow and make your own or support the pros, like Hazelz. 
  2. Look for real milk producers, like Jersey Girls Organic milk from the Vosper family who have been farming at Cleavedale for five generations; winners of this year’s Outstanding Food Producer awards. They don’t meddle with messages or marketing: they sell creamy Jersey Milk just the way it should be made and direct from their farm gate. Can’t find where to buy it? Then add it to your OOOOBY delivery box and get it delivered to your door like the real milk man used to.

Emily King

New Zealand Food System Expert

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