What I found out when I looked up a brand of milk sold in Singapore: Cowhead.
As you probably know from reading my previous post, I have been poring over milk labels. A fortnight ago on our weekly grocery run, I chanced upon Cowhead milk, which had some seriously sexy claims on its package.
So, the label read (verbatim):
Our farmers take great pride in raising free range dairy cows. Grazing on lush green pastures of Australia, our dairy cows producing the all natural goodness of Cowhead 100% Fresh Milk.
Grammar and spelling errors notwithstanding, the claims sounded pretty promising, so we bought a pack. Its price was decent too, at about S$3.50 a litre. When I got home, I did some online digging. Curious? Here are the facts I unearthed.
About the brand
1. Cowhead is not an Australian brand although the milk is sourced from Australia. Cowhead is in fact a Singapore brand owned by Singapore-based company Ben Foods, a subsidiary of QAF Limited. Ben Foods also owns Farmland, another well-known food brand sold locally.
2. Cowhead milk comes from a dairy cooperative from Western Australia called Challenge Australia Dairy. QAF owns 51 per cent of the cooperative.
About the claims
1. So what on earth are permeates? According to Nutrition Australia, “permeates is the collective term for the milk-sugar (lactose), vitamins and minerals components of milk and is a valuable part of fresh milk. The addition of milk permeate to milk is one way of standardising the protein and fat content to a constant value throughout the year.”
The site also states that permeates are not waste products. Some consumers are concerned about the addition of permeates to milk as they perceive it as “watering down”, but nutrition experts say this is incorrect.
2. What are Singapore’s food safety regulations concerning antibiotics and hormones? According to the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore’s food regulations, “no person shall import, sell, advertise, manufacture, consign or deliver, any milk, meat and meat products, or any article of food intended for human consumption which contains detectable antibiotic residues or their degradation products.”
Approved antibiotics are only permitted for use to treat diseases and prevent infections but not for growth promotion in food-producing animals. Farmers are required to comply with the specific antibiotic’s withdrawal period to ensure that no antibiotic residues or only trace levels below the Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) are left in the meat and meat products when they are produced for supply to Singapore consumers.
Hormones are banned from use in growing cattle and sheep in many countries including Singapore. However, all meat and poultry, and their products contain small amounts of hormones even if the animal is untreated because all animals produce hormones naturally essential for their normal development and growth.
In this respect, the use of claims such as “Antibiotic/Hormone free”, “Raised without antibiotics/hormones”, “Antibiotic/hormone free feed” or claims that imply similar meaning are redundant.
Another question was, Should consumers buy food carrying claims like “Antibiotic/Hormone free”, “Raised without antibiotics/hormones”, “Antibiotic/hormone free feed”? The AVA answers:
Meat and meat products that bear these claims are not any safer than those products available in the Singapore that do not carry such claims. All meat and meat products are equally safe for consumption regardless of whether they carry such claims. Consumers are advised not to be misled by these marketing claims.
I left a query on AVA’s recent Facebook post to confirm that milk fell under the category of meat products, but did not get a response.
3. What about Genetically Modified Organisms? This is a bit of a grey area, I think. In Singapore, GM foods are currently not labelled. Local and international experts maintain that there is “no scientific evidence associating GMOs with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms”. I have not managed to find out whether the cows raised by Challenge Australia Dairy feed on any genetically modified crops.
Treatment of dairy cows and bobby calves
1. Free-range cows? I couldn’t locate information on the web about how dairy cows and bobby calves are treated at the farms of Challenge Dairy Cooperative. As such, I’m unable to verify their claims that the milk is from free-ranging cows. (I don’t think the AVA checks this.)
2. How do typical dairy farms in Australia work? This report on Dairy Cows by Voiceless, an animal protection organisation in Australia, explains common commercial farming practices in Australia, such as forced insemination of dairy cows to continue milk production, disposal of bobby calves, and so on. (Related: See this ABC Australia news report on how some farmers in New South Wales responded to the Voiceless report.)
3. How are bobby calves of dairy cows supposed to be treated in Australia? Dairy Australia offers some information and official guidelines concerning bobby calf welfare here. This is what RSPCA Australia advocates.
I think I might have hit a wall as far as online research on Cowhead milk goes. The milk tasted nice, in case you were wondering.
On to other brands! (I still haven’t visited Dairy Folks, the local dairy farm, btw.)
For extra reading:
Australia Milk Buying Guide