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#WorldMilkDay: Healthy Cows, Healthy People, Healthy Planet
This story appears in the 2016 Global Agricultural Productivity Report® (GAP Report®) chapter on Embracing Science-based and Information Technology.
Milk and dairy products are nutrient-dense foods supplying energy and significant amounts of protein and micronutrients, especially for vulnerable populations such as women and children.
Milk is also an important commodity for farmers of all scales. In many resource-poor communities, dairy cows are women’s most important asset, providing an essential source of nutritious food for the family, as well as income.
When cows are healthy, it is possible to improve their milk productivity.
Yet one-fifth of livestock around the world are lost to disease, leading to widespread animal suffering and reduced farmer profitability.  It is perhaps the greatest untold story of food waste today.
Innovation improves animal health and productivity
Mastitis, an infection of the dairy cow udder, is one example of the link between animal disease and food waste. Almost all cows experience a weakened immune system right before and after they give birth, putting them at risk for mastitis.
Despite continued improvements in animal care, nutrition, housing and comfort, one in four cattle in the U.S. gets mastitis, which makes them restless and causes significant discomfort. In addition, the cow’s level of milk production will likely fall below her potential as she is more susceptible to contracting mastitis on a recurring basis.
Mastitis is the leading cause for the use of shared-class antibiotics, those used to treat both human and livestock diseases. Health regulations prohibit the sale of milk containing antibiotic residue. As a result, 1.2 billion servings of milk are lost annually as farmers literally pour milk down the drain during the time period that the cows receive antibiotic treatment.
Science-based innovation is reducing the reliance on shared-class antibiotics to improve animal health, reduce milk waste and prevent the rise of antibiotic resistance in humans.
Elanco Animal Health, has developed Imrestor™, a first-of-its kind immune restorative. Imrestor™ is not an antibiotic, vaccine or hormone. It is similar to a naturally occurring protein that helps restore the cow’s immune system, reducing the chances she will get mastitis.
Clinical tests of Imrestor™ have proven a reduction in the incidence of mastitis in calving cows by 28 percent in the U.S. and 26 percent in the EU in the 30 days post calving — thereby decreasing the need for antibiotics and other treatments, along with reducing the amount of milk discarded during the treatment cycle.
Reducing the carbon “hoofprint” of milk production
Improving animal health and productivity also decreases methane emissions from cattle, reducing the carbon “hoofprint” of milk production.
Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin (rbST) allows cows to use the nutrients in their feed to produce milk more efficiently. Some consumer groups have pressured food companies to remove milk from rbST-treated cows from their products. This will have a profound impact on the environmental sustainability of milk production.
In a recent article in Farm Journal’s Milk Business, Tina Gaines of Elanco Animal Health said, “Research shows that rbST helps cows produce more milk – about a gallon more per cow per day – which means farmers can produce the same amount of milk with six cows instead of seven. The use of rbST also reduces the carbon footprint of a gallon of milk by nine percent. The collective impact of this increased productivity each year in the US alone saves 95.6 billion gallons of water, reduces land needed for dairy farms by 1,023 square miles, and eliminates 2.9 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses.”
 Bernard Vallat, “Feeding the World Better By Controlling Animal Diseases,” editorial from Director General, World Organization for Animal Health Online, (September 8, 2015).