Enjoyed by more than six billion people worldwide, milk consumption continues to grow apace. As a fresh product from many different animal sources and geographies, milk and milk products require careful handling, processing, and packaging to ensure that they are safe to drink and contaminant-free when they reach consumers.
Milk production is a global enterprise, but a small number of countries/regions dominate the marketplace. The top 10 producers in the 2013 market year and their total milk production in millions of pounds were: European Union–306,659,860; U.S.–201,597,442; India–126,764,500; China–76,058,700; Brazil–71,384,948; Russia–69,224,440; New Zealand–43,382,119; Argentina–26,005,462; Mexico–24,845,842; and Ukraine–24,603,336.
Data collected in 2013 highlights vast differences in production levels per dairy cow among countries. In the U.S., the world’s second largest milk producer, a farmer can expect to achieve 21,865 pounds of milk per animal. That is almost 65 percent more than cows in the European Union (13,303 pounds per cow) and an astonishing 840 percent more than India, the world’s third largest milk producing country at just 2,627 pounds per cow.
The disparity between yields in the U.S. and the rest of the world can be explained by several factors. Dairy farmers in North America prefer the high yielding Holstein cows, which have been bred to maximize milk production. The European Friesian cows favored in Europe and other markets typically have lower yields. Farming methods too have evolved differently in North America, where it is more common for dairy farmers to use milk production hormones; milk cows three times daily, rather than the twice-daily regime popular in other countries, and use total mixed ration feeding systems and large, loose-housing operations.
In the U.S., cows raised in intensive production systems produce most of the milk.
Per capita, milk consumption is higher in developed countries: 100 kilograms (kg) per person per year in the U.S. and 70 kg in Europe, compared to less than 40 kg per person in developing countries. Globally, changing consumer habits and population growth have resulted in increasing demand for milk and milk products.
Healthy import and export markets demonstrate the scale of the market and the growing demand for milk and milk products in both developed and developing countries. Rising incomes, population growth, urbanization, and changes in diets are driving the increasing demand for dairy products in developing markets. Global milk production has increased by 50 percent since 1982, from 482 million tons to 754 million tons in 2012. However, the consumption of milk has not risen as fast as that of other livestock products. Meat consumption more than tripled and egg consumption increased 500 percent in the same period.
Milk provides essential nutrients and is an important source of energy, high-quality proteins, and fats. Rich in nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, selenium, riboflavin, vitamin B12, and pantothenic acid, milk is an effective way to add diversity to plant-based diets.
Globally, a wide range of dairy animals produce milk, including traditional herds of dairy cows, but also buffalo, camel, sheep, goats, and yaks as well as horses and donkeys. Each plays an important role in the diets of children and adults and has its own unique composition and balance of nutrients.
The age, breed, farming methods, environment, and season influence the color, flavor, and composition of milk and allow the production of a variety of milk products, including liquid milk, fermented milk, cheese, butter and ghee, condensed milk, evaporated milk, dry milk, or milk powder, cream, whey products, and casein.
Quality Management and Testing
Milk testing and quality control should be carried out at all stages of the food supply chain. Good quality raw milk has to be of normal composition and acidity, free of debris and sediment, free of off-flavors, and free of abnormal colors and odors.