Permeate when will it go away? Clover Hill Dairies on Talk Back Radio

Earlier this week I had an email from ABC Radio’s Dan Glover producer of ABC Radio Overnights which again highlighted the confusion around the label PERMEATE FREE in huge letters on a number drinking milk products

Dan said “We were thinking that milk plays a role in most of our lives and yet most people understand so little about it. We’re hoping to learn more about the dairy industry and the milk production process as well as issues like proteins and fat content, permeate, diet and seasonal variation in milk, milk additives and intolerances”.

The show is in talk back format and I jumped at this great chance to have an extended chat and two way conversations with listeners all over the country.

So this morning I was proud to be interviewed on the ABC by host Rod Quinn who gave me an hour to share my understanding of the topics.

If you would like to listen to the interview you can find it here 

I did quite a bit of research consulting the experts at Dairy Australia, milk nutraceuticals guru Jo Davey and our farm consultant Dr Neil Moss.


Michael and I did a bit of research tasting product ourselves. Look what he bought home last night as a treat. The Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough is my favourite  and its goes without saying Michael is a Chocolate Fudge Brownie man.  

I didn’t get a chance to share everything I learnt on the radio this morning so I am now taking the opportunity to share my research findings with my blog readers

Lets start with the one that is probably most unfamiliar to my readers – Nutraceuticals .


Milk is is full of all sorts of goodies which is one of the key reasons processors separate it into its components and of course part of this process results in the by product known as permeate

The nutraceutical milk market segment accounts for 18% of the world market of dairy proteins. This demand is constantly increasing especially in Europe, with a growing demand from consumers for improved health, and at the same time, an increasing awareness of the link between nutrition and health.

This explains in part the rapid growth in the markets for healthy foods; functional yogurts, enriched cereals and milk, nutritional supplements and sports drinks have all laid the groundwork for the development of a large and global nutraceuticals market.


This image shows you just how many healthy goodies are in milk and the opportunities to value add at the processing level by extracting these components from milk

Cow’s milk Allergy

A food allergy is a condition where the body’s immune system mistakenly identifies a food ingredient, usually a protein as harmful to the body. Thinking that the body is under attack, the immune system triggers an allergic reaction and such symptoms as hives and swelling around the mouth, vomiting or diarrhoea, difficulty breathing, collapsing, or anaphylaxis (a very severe allergic reaction). Total avoidance of the problem food is the only solution to a food allergy.


Whilst all the language used in this diagram is pretty complex I think it gives you a good idea of the allergic pathway

Food allergy is most commonly seen in early childhood, and occurs in around 5% of children. Food allergy is usually ‘outgrown’ during childhood, except for allergies to nuts, seeds and seafood.  About 1% of adults have a food allergy

People who are allergic to cow’s milk react to the protein components of the milk. In Australia, the true prevalence of cow’s milk allergy is hard to ascertain.

It is believed that less than 2% of children younger than 2 years of age are truly allergic to cow’s milk with cow’s milk allergy much rarer in adults.

Fortunately, most children grow out of cow’s milk allergy by the age of four years. It is very rare to develop a true cow’s milk allergy as an adult.

It is also extremely uncommon for cow’s milk allergy to cause asthma and any one who says it does is just spreading an urban myth.

If you think you have an allergy ALWAYS CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR

Lactose intolerance

Lactose a natural component of both human and cow’s milk. Another name for lactose is milk sugar. Lactose breaks down in your body to provide an energy source. To digest lactose your body contains the enzyme lactase. Some people don’t produce enough of the lactase enzyme to break down all of the lactose. The undigested lactose ends up in the colon where natural bacteria ferment the lactose and produce acids and gas. This combination of events can cause the symptoms of lactose intolerance, which may include abdominal pain, bloating or diarrhoea.

lactose-intolerance-mapLactose intolerance tends to be higher in countries where milk consumption is not a readily available  The green shading indicates very low levels of lactose intolerance and red as high levels.

Lots of dairy foods don’t contain large amounts of lactose – cheese for example and yogurt has its own bacteria which break down the lactose

Tips for people with lactose intolerance that will allow you to get your 3 serves of dairy every day:

  • Drink milk with other foods and not on an empty stomach
  • Regular fat milk may be better tolerated than low fat or skim milk. Fat slows the passage of lactose through your digestive system giving you more time to digest it
  • Yogurt is often better tolerated than milk; and
  • Cheese is low in lactose and is well tolerated.

Remember although the symptoms can be similar to a food allergy being food intolerant such as lactose intolerance is not an allergy. It is a separate condition where the body is not able to completely digest the food


Bit of fun

A2 Milk

Milk is a powerhouse of nutrients for growing kids and adults. There are a variety of milks available for people to choose from and please remember they are all nutritious.

A2 is essentially niche market milk. There are a number of different proteins in milk including the A2 and A1 Beta Casein. In regular milk , the milk protein ratio is approximately 60 per cent A2 and 40 per cent A1. However, this can vary between the different breeds of dairy cattle.


Diagram of A1 and A2 beta-casein proteins showing the amino acid difference at position 67. This difference can be detected easily by a non-invasive DNA test which indicates accurately which beta-casein genes a cow carries.

There is no convincing scientific evidence to indicate that milk containing only A2 protein is better for health than regular milk (milk containing both A1 and A2-beta casein).

Variation in fat and protein content of milk throughout the seasons. 

Australia has a very diverse geography and climate and innovative dairy farmers adapt their farm production systems to the resource base they have to work with

The fat and protein percentage content of milk is a direct reflection of the type of pastures and grasses and grains et al the cows are fed and their genetic makeup e.g. Jersey cows tend to have higher fat and protein levels than Holstein cows

The types of pastures that are available depends on the time of year, soil type, the weather, how steep the farm is, was there a flood or a drought when you were trying to plant the winter or summers pastures – its very complex as you can see.

As a general rule the amount of milk the farm produces tends to peak late winter/ early spring and start to drop off in November

Fat tends to decline in early winter through to August with increased energy levels in pasture resulting in increased volume of milk

Butter fat levels tend to rise into summer as we get higher levels of fibre in the pasture

Protein tends to increase in autumn and winter and fall in spring as milk volumes rise

Another thing that tends to affect the protein percentages in milk for example is the weather.  Very hot weather can cause heat stress for cows and they usually eat less and this will drop protein % levels

Milk Protein Nad Fat percentages by state

This table show the variation in fat and protein over a calendar year and highlights the differences in the calendar year between NSW and Victoria 

NSW vs. Vic and why farms in the two states supply different milk markets 

NSW East Coasthas good summer/ autumn rain and reasonably reliable rain in spring leading to good pasture growth all year round. This means cows can produce milk all year round – good for drinking milk market

Victoria and Tasmania and parts of South Australia has a more Mediterranean climate with  late autumn/spring rain which means farmers can utilise a low cost pasture production system with large volumes of milk being produced in spring . This model suits a manufactured milk market where you have the opportunity to make longer life dairy products like cheese and skim milk


Under the Food Code the standard for packaged whole milk requires that it contain at least 3.2% of fat and 3.0% of protein.

The Code allows manufacturers to add or withdraw milk components to standardise the composition of milk sourced from dairy farms, as required, to produce nutritionally consistent and safe products.

Why the new labelling? With  A Current Affair and Today Tonight turning permeate into a dirty word food controversy story and don’t forget they have an agenda here as food controversy stories are great for ratings. Permeate then became a point of difference to small boutique processor who standardise their milk by putting cream in or taking it out .

As the branded milks lost market share the big processors where looking for a point of difference and they decided to stop standardising their milk with permeate and undertake huge marketing campaigns to tell everybody and that really threw a spanner in the works and put milk front and centre in the controversy food isles –

History now shows this strategy was not well thought out and not smart marketing at all as consumers have become very confused and I don’t blame them.

As an aside however branded milk sales have clawed back 1% of the market in recent months.  I personally think this is consumer outrage at Coles $1 a litre milk  loss leader “down down down” campaign of milk and consumers voting with their wallets

What is permeate

Milk is made up of lots of nutritious goodies as I showed earlier in the post. When you push something through a filter like you do milk when you want to extract fat and protein. The fat and protein get left in the filter and they call that retenate

Permeate is just a term that describes what passes through the filter and note permeate is not a term specific to milk. Anything that is pushed through filter can be called permeate. As an example  a short black coffee could be called permeate as it is a result of water and coffee beans being pushed through a very fine filter

This little animation shows the process for milk in pictures

In the case of milk the permeate contains  water, lactose and minerals and some very special water soluble proteins

Lets look at some of these milk components that come together and get labelled permeate

Calcium is one of the important minerals in permeate and we all know how important calcium is to bone health

Lactose The growing trend of standardising milk powders using lactose has boosted trade and supported global lactose prices. In fact lactose prices have increased around 50% in the last 12 months

Water soluble proteins like lactoferrin, and lactoperoxidase

Water soluble proteins like lactoferrin, and lactoperoxidase have antiviral and antimicrobial properties These two water soluble proteins are found in high levels in human breast milk so they are very valuable to extract for use in baby formula

Future of the Industry

There is no denying the industry is in crisis but the industry does have significant support from the NSW state government and key stakeholders but unless Coles stops selling milk at $/litre a lot of dairy farms and I mean a lot of NSW and QLD dairy farms will shut down

How could they not –  right across NSW farmers are supplying from 0% to 95% of their milk to their processer Lion and being paid as low as 10c/litre.

From a consumer perspective think of it like this

You are currently being paid for 38hrs per week @$30/hr and you have based your living expenses budget around this for day to day necessities such as paying the loan on your house and car as well as y our ability to educate your kids and feed your family and pay electricity and all those other things you need to survive.

Then one day your employer comes to you and says. “I am going to pay you for 20 hrs a week @ $30/hr.  You can still work the other 18 hrs but I am only going to pay u $10/hr for those hours and remember your contract says you cant go and work for someone else and this includes the 18 hours I am paying you $10/hr . And it doesn’t stop there on top of this I am going to back date it.

The milk processor Lion (formerly National Foods) has been doing something similar to this to their milk suppliers for the last 3 years and they are blaming this strategy on the milk price wars

Parmalat on the other hand have a different model that reflects the biology of the industry and acknowledges that both farmers and cows are living breathing things. They set their peak milk intake on a spring business plan that means they buy milk in winter if they need it and pay a blended milk price across the board and you can grow and shrink your business as long as you give them notice you wish to to do this

Lion on the other hand expect their farmers and their cows to operate like machines. They give you the supply curve they want and you have to fit into the box they give you and you get punished severely if you don’t. This is because Lion base their milk intake model around the amount of milk they need in the autumn and have no capacity to manage any excess in spring. Their good dairy farmers can’t grow their business and realistically for long term survival and cow health they can’t afford to shrink their  business. A no win situation for farmers now and consumers long term.

I think Coles has a lot to answer for.

Watch Coles executive John Durkan squirm in this interview with Pip Courtney

What can you do 

Please vote with your signatures on Lisa Claessen’s petition here. It needs 8,000 more signatures to have an impact on the Coles board

Lisa Petition Coles

You can also follow me on twitter @chdairies

Author: Lynne Strong

I am a 6th generation farmer who loves surrounding myself with optimistic, courageous people who believe in inclusion, diversity and equality and embrace the power of collaboration. I am the founder of Picture You in Agriculture. Our team design and deliver programs that inspire pride in Australian agriculture and support young people to thrive in business and life

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