Arm & Hammer Animal and Food Production
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What you need to know about Palm Fatty Acid Distillate in animal feeds.

Posted May 11, 2021 by Dr. Elliot Block, Research Fellow and Director of Research

Recent news and social media chatter around the inclusion of palm oil in animal feeds has raised questions about the use of palm oil and derivatives of palm oil and their impact on finished dairy products such as butter. While it is unlikely that the melting characteristics of butter have significantly changed due to the use of products developed from palm oil, it does present the opportunity to discuss the use of palm oil and its role in animal nutrition. The following information is shared as a resource for those looking for information about the subject.

To begin, the idea that the melting characteristics of butter have significantly changed due to the use of products derived from palm oil in dairy rations is a misrepresentation of simple animal biology and the amounts of oils typically added to the diets.

There are a variety of oils used in animal nutrition, typically as an energy and nutrient source. Of the fats fed, palm oil is by far the largest source of vegetable oil worldwide.


Chart Production of Vegetable Oils

Facts on the use of palm oil:

  • About 80% of palm oil is processed into palm olein and used in food manufacturing. The remaining 20%, or palm stearate, is used in a wide variety of products, including animal feed.
  • Palm fatty acid distillate (PFAD) makes up about 3 to 4% of harvested and processed palm. In livestock diets, PFAD is used to provide energy to dairy cows.

All fat sources contain palmitic acid.

It is important to note that all fat sources contain palmitic acid; therefore, it is virtually impossible to eliminate palmitic acid from dairy feed rations. Subsequently, it would be difficult to identify the source of palmitic acid when analyzed in milk from cows fed ingredients derived from PFAD.

In addition, because of the endemic nature of palmitic acid, levels of palmitic acid in milk could increase even in the absence of ingredients produced from PFAD.

Cows regulate levels of fat in dairy products.

All dairy cows have a biological regulatory system. The mammary gland regulates fatty acid delivery. Even if palm oil was fed at exceedingly high rates, the level of palmitic acid in the milk would not reflect this extra volume as the mammary gland can only transfer a finite maximum of palmitic acid to milk fat. All excess palmitic acid beyond this biological maximum would be used as energy or added to body reserves.

Compared to other livestock species, dairy cows are fed a diet with very low fat content. The basal dairy diet contains about 3 to 4% fat, and another 3% is added for additional energy, bringing the total fat content to only 6 to 7%. Even if PFAD is the only source of this 3% added fat, not all of it exists as palmitic acid. Additionally, milk contains up to 400 different nutrients, many of which are different fatty acids.


Table of Source Milk Fatty Acids

Feeding PFAD derived from palm oil refining also increases the unsaturated fatty acids in the milk and decreases others.

It is important to understand that palm oil is not fed to cows. Feed contains palm oil co-products and downstream byproducts derived from the refining process.

An example can be drawn from olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil is not refined and contains flavors (from the free fatty acids) and a greenish pigment from chlorophylls. When refined, these free fatty acids and pigments are removed, leaving a more neutral and less pigmented oil. The fatty acid distillate is the co-product, containing all the fatty acids of olive oil as free fatty acids rather than a fat (triglyceride). This is analogous to PFAD and palm oil refining.

Calcium salts of PFAD have been marketed since the 1980s and initially, were commonly fed in higher amounts (2 to 2.5% of the total diet) than they are today (1 to 1.5% of the total diet). These feed additives provide necessary nutrients to dairy cows, allowing them to maintain productivity in a healthy manner.

Please reach out to me at if you have additional questions on the use of supplements containing PFAD in dairy rations.




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About Elliot Block

Elliot Block, PhD, serves as Senior Research Fellow & Director of Technology and R&D at Arm & Hammer Animal and Food Production. His responsibilities include managing the global tech services team and using his extensive research background to provide insight on product applications across the globe.



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