Milk permeate – the unfiltered truth

From Foodwatch July 2012

What is permeate?

Milk permeate is produced during a process called ultrafiltration. This process separates the lactose, vitamins and minerals from the milk protein. Permeate consists mainly of lactose (between 65% to 85%) and used to be regarded as “waste”.  However, “waste” is very emotive term. It sounds like something we shouldn’t be putting into our bodies at all. But permeate is not waste, it’s a by-product of cheese-making and it’s perfectly safe to consume.

What is it used for?

For a while now some milk manufacturers have been diluting their milk with permeate which is much cheaper than whole milk and so represents a huge cost-saving, especially when the two big supermarkets are pushing prices down with their own milk brands.

The composition of milk is regulated by the Food Standards Code and milk manufacturers may alter the composition of milk as long as it stays within the Code’s limits.

Milk composition is altered for a variety of legitimate reasons such as producing low fat, no fat, fat-modified, calcium-boost or high-protein varieties. It is also used to “standardise” the milk. The quality of milk changes through the seasons. When we were kids we used love the spring milk which was rich and extra creamy due to the increased lushness of the pastures. Manufacturers, however, want a standardised product  and they told Choice when they investigated permeate use that “standardisation ensures all milk has a consistent composition”. And that’s why they use permeate to dilute the milk.

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