Milk Day, celebrating milk as a source of human nutrition

Today, according to various food blogs and holiday sites, is Milk Day. Rumour has it that this day is celebrated as Milk Day because milk was first delivered in bottles on this day, 11 January, way back in 1878. I did some searching to confirm this, but was unable to do so – it seems there was a patent for a milk container issued in 1878, but the exact issue date for that patent was 29 January.

While I cannot confirm the milk bottle fact, I don’t see any reason why we should not celebrate Milk Day. Internationally, milk is an important source of human nutrition, and in New Zealand in particular, the milk industry forms the backbone of our country’s economy.

A hanging milker device used in a rotary milking parlor.(© All Rights Reserved)
A hanging milker device used in a rotary milking parlor.
(© All Rights Reserved)

The New Zealand milk industry was started nearly two centuries ago in 1814 when the first cows arrived in New Zealand after being imported by early European settlers. New Zealand milk exports started in 1846, and in 1871 the first dairy co-operative was created in the Otago region. From these early initiatives, the New Zealand dairy industry has grown in leaps and bounds. In 2001, the Fonterra company was formed from an amalgamation of existing co-ops, representing the majority of the country’s dairy farmers. Wholly owned by the more than 10 000 farmers who supply milk to it, Fonterra is currently the world’s largest dairy exporter, exporting to more than 100 countries. It is responsible for about 30% of the world’s dairy exports with revenue of close to NZ$ 20 billion (approx US$ 16.8 billion).

While New Zealand leads world milk exports, India is the biggest producer and consumer of milk. India does not, however, import or export milk – it solely produces milk for domestic consumption.

Beyond being a direct source of human nutrition, milk is also processed into a wide range of dairy products – cheese, yoghurt, cream, butter, ice cream, chocolate and more. While the majority of the milk consumed by humans come from cows, the milk from buffalo (esp in India), goats and sheep are also consumed in significant volumes, especially in processed form.

Over the years, human consumption of animal milk has been linked to a variety of health benefits and risks. On the positive side, milk has been found to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, and it promotes muscle growth and post-exercise recovery. Other reported benefits include improved immune function and relief of hypertension. On the negative side, there has been reports of the casein in milk causing autism spectrum disorders, and excessive consumption of milk has been linked to an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, and potentially prostate cancer.

While there will probably forever be debates about the benefits and risks of milk consumption, as a source of fat, protein, carbohydrates, salts, minerals and vitamins, it continues to hold significant promise in addressing malnutrition and poverty, particularly as livestock management improves in the developing world.

United Nations Day and the need for coordinated action

Today the United Nations celebrate two special observances – World Development Information Day and UN Day. Both of these focus in some sense on the work done by the UN since it’s establishment in 1945, with World Development Information Day focusing specifically on the sharing of development information among UN member states.

Given the dire conditions millions of people are living in, and the massive challenges facing the world in terms of getting even close to realising the Millennium Development Goals of 2015, the UN has a critical role to play around coordination of activities and initiatives across the globe and among its members.

Maternal health and child health are among the topics addressed by Millennium Development Goals set forth by the UN.
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The UN is active on many fronts – peace, development, human rights, the environment and the empowerment of women and children. In the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “The United Nations is not just a meeting place for diplomats. The United Nations is a peacekeeper disarming fighters, a health worker distributing medicine, a relief team aiding refugees, a human rights expert helping deliver justice.”

The eradication of poverty and hunger – another of the themes of the Millennium Development Goals.
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In pursuing these initiatives, the UN depends on countless groups and organisations – NGOs, researchers, philanthropists, champions from the business world, religious leaders and academics. Beyond these there’s the contribution everyday citizens can make – individually, we may not be able to achieve the stretching targets set forth to better the world, but if actions are coordinated and everyone pulls in the same direction, miracles are possible.

Getting the message out on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty

17 October is the date selected by the United Nations for the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

The day dates back to 1987, when more than a hundred thousand people gathered in Trocadéro in Paris (where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948), to honour and acknowledge the millions of people around the world who are victims of extreme poverty. At this event, extreme poverty (currently defined as living on less than US$1.25 per day) was proclaimed a basic violation of human rights, and the urgent need to combat this violation was reaffirmed. Through the establishment of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, the UN formalised the commitments of the 1987 gathering, urging governmental and civil organisations to take action in addressing the problems of extreme poverty.

People living in extreme poverty are forced into desperate living conditions.
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Think about it for a minute – US$1.25 a day. Or US$37.50 a month… Convert that to your local currency, and imagine that being the grand total amount of money you have to live on. Not just for basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing, heat and sanitation, but for all your living expenses including medical care, education and transport.

That is not poverty – it is extreme poverty. The number is incomprehensibly small.

And now think about this: 920 million people. That is the amount of people that will still live under the international poverty line of $1.25 per day in 2015 in the best case scenario if the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the United Nations is reached. In 1990 that number was almost 2 billion, and the stretching target set by the UN MDGs is to halve the 1990 extreme poverty rate by 2015.

At the moment, there’s still significantly more than 1 billion people living in extreme poverty. The number is incomprehensibly large.

And despite a general positive trend in the eradication of poverty, there are some severe setbacks that can derail the progress towards reaching the above goals. In 2010 alone, for example, it is estimated that the global economic crisis pushed an additional 64 million people into extreme poverty.

At the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, held in June of this year, leaders from around the world declared that poverty eradication is “the greatest global challenge facing the world today.”

The UN Fact Sheet on poverty eradication details some very positive programmes that have worked well in different regions of the world – subsidy programmes in Malawi and Ghana, investments in agricultural research in Vietnam, innovative finance schemes in Nigeria and Bangladesh, employment programmes in Argentina. In addition to these, the UN is currently coordinating many additional initiatives across the world focused on agriculture, rural employment, food provision, local cooperatives and more.

Community feeding schemes helping those living in extreme poverty, need all the support they can get.
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While the global eradication of poverty feels like one of those vague, hazy ideals that we fully agree is important, but really have no idea what to do about as individuals, there are things we can do. Simply sharing the message and creating awareness among your peers of the various initiatives that are currently running to address the problem, can already help. The UN “End Poverty 2015 – we are the generation that can end poverty” awareness campaign makes it easy to identify and share specific messages related to the challenges that remain in the fight against poverty.

Go on – go to “#endpoverty”, find those initiatives that are close to your heart, educate yourself about them and start sharing with a simple click of a button. Knowledge is power, and sharing that knowledge is half the battle won.

World Rhino Day and the atrocity of rhino poaching

Today, 22 September 2012, marks the third annual World Rhino Day. Individuals and organisations across the globe, including the WWF, will join with citizens in rhinoceros range countries in standing up against the atrocity of rhino poaching.

An extensive range of activities are planned to celebrate the event, including skydives, cycling competitions, fun walks and runs, music concerts and even sandcastle building contests, all to raise funds and awareness for the plight of these majestic animals.

An awareness bracelet, sold in South Africa to collect funds to support the fight against rhino poaching.
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Rhino poaching has reached shocking levels. In South Africa, one of the worst hit countries in the world, almost 1400 rhinos have been lost since 2008, and despite attempts at curbing the problem, the numbers are increasing daily. According to the latest statistics 388 rhinos have already been killed in 2012 alone. Policing the crime is extremely difficult, as it involves patrolling vast areas of land, and dealing with criminals that are ruthless, mobile and flexible, and that can strike at any time. To stand any chance of addressing the problem, focus needs to fall on infiltrating and cracking poaching syndicates, and building up reliable informant networks. Unfortunately the challenge doesn’t stop there – there have been numerous reports of game wardens and law enforcers being part of the poaching syndicates, thus counter-acting and nullifying the efforts spent on intelligence building.

Are we the last generation who will have the privilege of seeing scenes like this in the African wild?
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Continued poaching is a symptom of larger societal problems such as unemployment and poverty, and a long as these remain, and there remains a lucrative market for rhino horns, stopping the poaching is nigh impossible. Sadly there is a growing demand for rhino horn in Asia, where it is used as traditional medicine.  As Dr Morne du Plessis, CEO of WWF South Africa, has pointed out, “Asian and African governments must work together to disrupt trade chains and to bring wildlife criminals to justice. Demand for rhino horn and elephant ivory is threatening to destroy a large part of Africa’s natural heritage. We want to see illegal markets for these products in Asia shut down for good.”

According to Dr. Joseph Okori, WWF’s African Rhino Programme Manager, “Rangers are putting their lives on the line to protect these animals from poachers and traders who are motivated only by greed. We salute all those working tirelessly to secure a future for rhinos, and we call on government leaders in Vietnam and China to do their part.”

Rhino poaching is one of the truly horrific crimes against nature committed by man, and it is shocking that it is continuing at such levels in this day and age. One can only hope that somehow, somewhere authorities will be able to find a solution if there is to be any hope of these proud animals being saved for future generations.