BISMARCK, ND (AP)--Feeding dairy cattle a diet of canola seed might, sometime in the future, result in milk that helps prevent breast cancer, a researcher says.
Dairy farmers say they would have to have a monetary incentive to feed canola seed to their cattle.
"It would depend on what kind of money (a farmer) is getting for his end product and what other feedstuffs are available, and the costs of those feedstuffs," said Gary Hoffman of Ashley, a spokesman for the St. Paul, MN-based Midwest Dairy Association.
Chung Park, a dairy nutritionist at North Dakota State University, is starting feeding trials to find out if canola seed in a cow's diet will produce milk higher in compounds that suppress the development of cancer, particularly in female mammary glands.
In theory, a cow's stomach will convert fatty acids in canola seed into conjugated linoleic acid, a nutritional supplement researchers say already has potential for melting fat, building muscle and reducing heart disease in humans.
"It has strong implications for canola producers in the state, and human health," Park said.
George Abbott, a spokesman for the American Cancer Society regional office in Denver, said people should be cautious about getting their hopes up.
"With any research program, if it is in the beginning stages, it is sort of wait-and-see," he said. "There is a lot of steps that have to be followed."
Many farmers already feed their cattle canola meal--a byproduct of the crushing process to extract edible oil from the canola seed. The research project, which also involves George Marx, an animal science professor at the University of Minnesota-Crookston, deals strictly with the canola seed, which will be crushed and fed to cattle.
If the research proves what Park suspects, the benefit to canola farmers would be a potential new market, said Barry Coleman, executive director of the Northern Canola Growers Association. The growers group is contributing $15,000 to the $40,000 study.
"If there is another market created for crushed seed for dairy cows...that will certainly increase prices people will receive for their canola," Coleman said.
"It all depends on what the research shows," he said. "And if it shows what we hope, it depends on how much of an importance people place in having an increased CLA content in milk, and what kind of premium the dairy farmer would get for increasing the CLA content in the milk."
Doug Dukart, a Manning dairy farmer and president of the Milk Producers Association of North Dakota, has been feeding canola meal to his cows for three years. Dukart said he would consider feeding canola seed if it was reasonably priced and if he could get a better price for milk with a high CLA content.
"There definitely would have to be proof that it is economically feasible," he said.
Canola farmers get about $30 per ton more for seed than they get for canola meal, Coleman said.
Dukart said research also is needed on the overall health benefits of canola seed for cattle. Park said part of his study will focus on whether dairy cattle can handle a canola seed diet.