Camel milk simultaneously expresses the values of health for consumers, animal welfare and production resilience. The prospects for sustainable and extensive camel breeding are concrete and promising also in the Mediterranean and in Europe. (1)
Camel Milk – the research project co-funded by PRIMA (Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean Area), with the participation of our FARE team (2) – has contributed to the development of virtuous supply chains, from France to Turkey and Algeria, where an international conference on the subject has just concluded. (3)
However, these precious opportunities for sustainable development and the evolution of the relationship between man and animals, as well as animal husbandry, are threatened in the EU by delusional national measures. Like that of the Dutch government, which would like to ban camel farms without any justification, in violation of the law.
Camels and dromedaries they are the only large mammals capable of surviving in desert areas and adapting to various latitudes and microclimates. From the scorching Sahel and Maghreb, Ethiopia and Somalia, the Middle East and Asia Minor, India and Pakistan, to harsh Mongolia and Australia.
European researchers have begun to study the traditional use of camels in recent decades. Focusing on the production of milk (as well as wool and meat). (4) Thus the first farms of Camelus Bactrianus and Camelus Dromedarius were established in Europe and North America.
2) Sustainable development, animal welfare
The environmental footprint of camelids is extraordinarily lower than that of cattle. Water consumption is about 20%, ammonia emissions 10-15% (even lower if the urine is collected separately), methane emissions are also much lower.
Animal welfare of camelids is in turn ecological and economical. There is no need to set up the stables with air conditioning or dewatering systems for vaporizing the water to refresh the fleeces. And the milk production, comparable in Arabia and northern Europe, demonstrates their ability to adapt.
2.1) Extensive breeding
The camels they are very intelligent and have a simple primary need, to move freely. Their farms are therefore extensive, without borders in areas with little anthropization. They travel up to 20 km every day and perform, among other things, ecosystem services, such as controlling the spread of brambles, thistles and nettles in the soil.
They return in the evening, in their 'house' set up by human beings. They offer them water and any food supplements (cereals in general). In addition to milking the lactating camels, who appreciate this service well as it reduces pressure and discomfort on their mammary glands. In fact, puppies begin to eat grass already after the first month of life and thus their hunger for milk is reduced.
2.2) Ancestral wisdom and good practices
The relationship between man and camels it has ancestral traditions. Above all in the Arab countries, where the camelids are a source of family pride and are transferred, from generation to generation, as the most valuable of goods. Respect for animals is an essential part of this culture.
Isolated attempts of intensification of farms are cited in the literature as failed experiments, not to be repeated. Camels confined to stalls rapidly gain weight and lose the ability to reproduce, milk production plummeting.
Good practices to leave the camelids ample freedom of movement have thus consolidated and should be integrated into the prescriptions to guarantee animal welfare. Also in order to prevent what happened on cattle farms instead.
Genetic diversity it is fundamental and must be maintained in its breadth. In Europe, passionate researchers and breeders are therefore creating a database of camels. Indispensable, bearing in mind that:
– regulatory, even more than logistical, obstacles to the importation of camels and the lack of herd books in Europe have already caused inbreeding (and impoverishment of genetic diversity),
– an intensive selection of species aimed at exacerbating productivity levels must be avoided, as has already occurred in the dairy cattle sector.
Il camel milk it has always been recognized, in the countries where its production takes place, as a precious food for health. Research conducted in recent decades has confirmed the nutritional and health benefits of camel milk. With different levels of scientific evidence and variability of micronutrient contents, in the following terms.
3.1) Nutritional properties
Source of protein of high biological value and easy assimilation.
Prevalence of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), with appreciable Omega 3 contents (which vary in relation to the grazing areas),
Wealth in vitamins C and D, iron, calcium, zinc.
High digestibility and suitability for consumption also by lactose intolerant subjects.
3.2) Health virtues
The probiotic action of the LABs (Lactic acid bacteria) detected in camel milk has effects of:
– stimulation of the immune system, thanks also to the presence of immunoglobulins, (5)
– anti-inflammatory, gastroprotective, hepatoprotective functions,
– contribution to the reduction of blood cholesterol,
– contribution to intestinal eubiosis,
Il camel milk (o lait de chameau) stands out above all for its ability to contribute to the prevention and treatment of diabetes, also thanks to a protein similar to insulin. (6)
The consumption di camel milk they have traditionally been relegated to production areas, due to the difficulty of storing fresh milk in remote areas of low- and middle-income countries.
During the years, the luckiest farmers have been able to purchase generators and refrigerators to preserve the milk after milking.
Some they also managed to organize small pasteurization and packaging plants, to ensure the microbiological safety of the milk and its distribution in different markets.
4.1) Growth opportunities
Cognition The widespread value of camel milk has favored the growth of demand in urban contexts, although its price is markedly higher than that of cow's milk (see par. 4.3). The technologies adopted by some companies have favored the extension of the range of products. UHT milk and powdered milk, also very popular in China. But also ice cream, chocolate, baby food and cheese. As well as cosmetics and soaps.
FAO estimates that the global production of camel milk has increased, +8%, between 2009 and 2019. And the real data could be much higher, where the census of camels in Chad revealed their presence in four times the number of FAO estimates. Growth forecasts are much more significant, +8% annually in the next five years according to FAO, thanks to the wider variety of references and the driving force of distribution online.
4.1) Production costs
The highest cost of camel's milk compared to cow's milk is linked to the physiology of a frugal being who consumes little and produces what is necessary, about 6-7 liters instead of the 30-40 of the cows selected for this alone.
Lactation of camelids, moreover, it lasts 10-12 months (after 13 months of pregnancy) and it is possible to draw the milk only after the puppy in the vicinity is almost full.
Attention to health and the well-being of camelids is also maximum because if the mother does not accept the calf, or if it dies, lactation stops. All the more reason to treat animals with great care.
4.2) Sales formats
Consumption of camel milk, due to the selling price and its nature superfoods, lends itself to sales formats in limited quantities. A nutritious and valuable food, truly natural, to be purchased in bottles that rarely exceed 250 or 500 ml.
5) Holland, ban on dromedaries
The European Commission – as has been repeatedly denounced, also by the European Court of Auditors in 2018 (7,8) - is seriously late in the proposal for the systemic reform of the rules for the protection of animal welfare. Is in the vacuum legislation, several Member States are developing mandatory national lists of pets and companion animals authorized for breeding and sale, as such activities do not pose a substantial risk to animal welfare and human safety.
In the Netherlands, the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality published a list of mammals allowed for breeding, on 6.7.22, which includes camels but not dromedaries. This means that from January 2024, if the law is not changed, dromedaries will be banned from Dutch soil and their farms will have to cease their activities. A previous decision had been made in 2015 and reversed in 2017 since Trade and Industry Appeals Tribunal (NL) for violation of EU rules and lack of reasoning.
5.1) Dutch delirium
Following the censorship judicial review of the previous attempt to ban the breeding of dromedaries, the Dutch government has hired a 'commission of experts'. However, in reaffirming the delirium of the phantasmagorical 'dangerousness' of the dromedary, they ignore the 4.000-year history of its domestication, completely analogous to that of the Bactrian 'cousin' camel.
A systematic review science to be published on Animals (Smits et al., 2022) – whose authors include one of the leading experts on camelids, his friend Bernard Faye – therefore offers a critical review of the theorems deduced by the commission of (in)experts (on camelids) enlisted by the government of Amsterdam. (12) Highlighting how the millennial history of domestication reflects not only the friendly character of Camel dromedarius but also its genetic evolution. With the support of the review of 527 scientific studies published in peer-review.
5.2) Legal notes
The producers di camel milk and its derivatives, in the European Union, follow the same food hygiene and safety rules as for cow's milk. The same is true for the only non-European dairy industry (Camelicious, Dubai, United Arab Emirates) authorized since 2013 to import camel milk and products containing it into the EU.
The protocols developed by camelid experts to guarantee animal welfare, they meet standards that are objectively higher than those still in use for cattle farms. And it is inadmissible, as well as contrary to EU law, to hypothesize national bans that could hinder a sustainable supply chain promoted by Europe itself in research projects such as Camel Milk.
6) Provisional conclusions
Research development science will allow to validate the health benefits of camel milk which already now – on the basis of its nutritional and physiological properties – can be classified as superfoods o functional food (albeit in the absence of scientific consensus on a definition that can include the great variety of foods beneficial to the human body).
Synergy between human beings and camelids, it is moreover an example of an evolution of zootechnics, rigorously cage-free. Just as 1,4 million European citizens have requested the Commission, through the initiative 'End the Cage Era'. (10) The inclusion of dromedaries and camels in agricultural and agritourism enterprises will contribute to the flowering, also in Europe, of a young and promising market.
(1) Dario Dongo, Andrea Adelmo Della Penna. Milk of camelids, Mediterranean perspective. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 8.9.21
(2) Dario Dongo. Camel Milk, superfood. Mediterranean research project. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 2.6.19
(3) Camel milk overview in the Mediterranean basin. international conference. El Oued University, BEFORE. El Oued, Algeria, 22.11.22. https://fb.watch/g_qhEkwlg8/
(4) Marta Strinati. Milk from camels and goats to improve climate resilience, the study in Nature Food. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 19.8.22
(5) Dario Dongo, Andrea Adelmo Della Penna. World Milk Day, a toast to Camel Milk. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 1.6.20
(6) Dario Dongo, Andrea Adelmo Della Penna. Camel milk, a supply of probiotics that are health allies. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 24.6.21
(7) Dario Dongo, Marina De Nobili. Animal welfare, ad maiora. The role of ConsumerActors. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 10.7.20
(8) Marta Strinati, Dario Dongo. Animal welfare, open to public consultation to change EU legislation. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 20.10.21
(9) Marcel Smits, Han Joosten, Bernard Faye, Pamela A. Burger. (2022). The flourishing camel milk market and its consequences for animal welfare and legislation. Animals 2022,12. x: https://doi.org/10.3390/xxxxx. www.mdpi.com/journal/animals
(10) Marta Strinati, Dario Dongo. End the Cage Age, 1,4 million signatures delivered to the European Commission. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade)... 6.10.20