Indian origin scientist’s research helps make milk products healthier

By Neena Bhandari, IANS

Sydney : An Indian-origin Australian scientist is helping make our glass of milk healthier by reducing fat content and the level of saturated fatty acids in it.

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Sydney University scientist Suresh Gulati, who migrated to Australia from Delhi 35 years ago, first devised a way for India’s 11 million dairy farmers to improve milk production and now his research is making milk healthier in a country where coronary heart disease is set to soar.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 60 per cent of the world’s cardiac patients will be Indian by 2010.

Dr Gulati, who received the 2007 Endeavour Executive Fellowship awarded by Australia’s Department of Education, Science and Training, has been working in Kadodra village of Gujarat, where the local dairy farmers mostly have Jaffarabadi buffaloes that have exceptionally high milk fat content of eight per cent.

“By feeding the buffaloes ‘fats’ in the form of protected conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) supplements, we were able to reduce milk fat content by as much as 30 per cent and increase the levels of healthier fatty acids,” Gulati told IANS.

“There is a world-wide demand for dairy products, infant formula, toddler milk and functional foods with higher levels of good fats such as omega-3 and CLA which are associated with health benefits,” he adds.

Earlier, Gulati has worked with dairy farmers who own just one or two cows or buffaloes to improve milk yield. In India, with humans and fauna vying for space and produce, dairy cattle are often fed a diet of just straw and stubble. “This sort of diet lacks nutrients and energy necessary for optimal milk production,” says Gulati.

He devised a system of turning low cost oil seed by-products such as sunflower and canola meals into feed supplements for cattle and buffalo. Gulati says, “This increased milk production by a litre of milk a day per animal is a tremendous proposition for India’s rural dairy farmers.”

“We have done trials to demonstrate the practical effects of increasing milk production in a very cost effective way, to increase profitability which in turn assists in improving access to education, health, food and improving the living standards in rural India,” he says.

A graduate in chemistry from Punjab University, Chandigarh, Gulati came to Australia in 1968. Despite the years, Gulati feels a strong sense of belonging to his country of birth. “I do feel a strong pull towards India. And because I speak the language, it makes the work that much easier.”

“Two commercial by-pass protein plants were built in India at Vadodara and Godhra as part of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) collaborative project with the National Dairy Development Board of India and a third plant in Rajkot will be commissioned by February 2008. A plant for Karnataka is currently being fabricated, while plants in various other states are also being designed,” informs Gulati.

Gulati obtained his Ph.D in biotechnology from the University of New South Wales in 1991 and has worked in the Australian food industry and at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) livestock industries. He is currently a Research Fellow at the Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney.

Gulati and two other former CSIRO researchers, Dr Trevor Scott and Mr Ken Bedding, have developed the rumen-protected lipid feed supplement, by encapsulating the fat in a matrix of inert protein, an advanced feeding technology that enables cows to produce naturally enhanced milk that is rich in Omega-3 oils.

The technology has the potential to add great value to niche products including an Omega-3 enriched milk that contains 25 percent less saturated fat, a natural spreadable butter, a children’s dairy cheese snack, and a toddler’s milk that contains a fatty acid profile similar to that of human breast milk or an ingredient for the manufacture of infant formula.

Gulati says, “The technology will play an important role in India by enhancing the nutritional composition to provide healthier dairy products for consumers.”

(Neena Bhandari can be contacted at [email protected])