The papers presented at this Conference have highlighted the many exciting and challenging developments occurring in relation to milk composition within the production, processing and retail sectors. Historically, review papers considering future issues in relation to milk composition have focussed on opportunities to manipulate milk constituent composition. However, the overriding issue at present, in relation to milk composition in the broadest sense, concerns consumer perception of milk and dairy products. This is particularly the case with respect to : food safety; human health and; the naturalness and wholesomeness of milk and milk products. Food safety has become a key issue for consumers given current concerns over BSE, Escherichia coli 0157, antibiotic residues and dioxin contamination. Consequently, quality assurance schemes and traceability of supply from “farm to plate” have, or will become, essential features of the liquid milk/dairy product sector.
Consumer concerns regarding effects of consumption of milk/dairy products on human health have historically centred on the highly publicised link between fat consumption, particularly saturated fat, and coronary heart disease. However, more recently the less well publicised beneficial effects of milk/dairy product consumption on human health are now being recognised. These include the importance of milk and cheese as calcium sources for bone growth, which can reduce the risk of osteoporosis in later life, the positive effect of milk consumption on dental health (particularly when substituted for high–sugar soft drinks in young children) and anticarcinogenic and antiatherogenic effects mediated through the conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), butyric acid and sphingomyelin components within milk and dairy products. Increased emphasis on generic advertising of milk is essential to highlight these positive features to opinion–formers and consumers, especially when contrasted with the advertising budgets associated with competing products.
Development of niche markets for tailor–made milks and milk products (including organic produce), achieved through dietary manipulation, will require increased vertical integration between animal feed suppliers, milk producers, milk processors and food retailers. Increasing consideration in the future will also have to be given to the potential change in milk composition/processing characteristics mediated through changes in production systems, such as seasonality of calving, use of extended lactations and adoption of new milking systems e.g. robotic milking. Finally, the concept of naturalness and wholesomeness of milk and dairy products is also a major consideration for the consumer. We must be careful in adopting new technologies, whether at the level of on farm production e.g. animal breeding and feeding, or at the processing level e.g. food irradiation and high pressure processing, to ensure that the attributes of naturalness and wholesomeness of milk and milk products are retained.