PNG images: Milk

Milk is a white liquid produced by the mammary glands of mammals. It is the primary source of nutrition for infant mammals (including humans who breastfeed) before they are able to digest other types of food. Early-lactation milk contains colostrum, which carries the mother's antibodies to its young and can reduce the risk of many diseases. It contains many other nutrients including protein and lactose.

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As an agricultural product, milk is extracted from non-human mammals during or soon after pregnancy. Dairy farms produced about 730 million tonnes of milk in 2011, from 260 million dairy cows. India is the world's largest producer of milk, and is the leading exporter of skimmed milk powder, yet it exports few other milk products. The ever increasing rise in domestic demand for dairy products and a large demand-supply gap could lead to India being a net importer of dairy products in the future. The United States, India, China and Brazil are the world's largest exporters of milk and milk products. China and Russia were the world's largest importers of milk and milk products until 2016 when both countries became self-sufficient, contributing to a worldwide glut of milk.

Throughout the world, there are more than six billion consumers of milk and milk products. Over 750 million people live in dairy farming households.

In almost all mammals, milk is fed to infants through breastfeeding, either directly or by expressing the milk to be stored and consumed later. The early milk from mammals is called colostrum. Colostrum contains antibodies that provide protection to the newborn baby as well as nutrients and growth factors. The makeup of the colostrum and the period of secretion varies from species to species.

For humans, the World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months and breastfeeding in addition to other food for at least two years. In some cultures it is common to breastfeed children for three to five years, and the period may be longer.

Fresh goats' milk is sometimes substituted for breast milk. This introduces the risk of the child developing electrolyte imbalances, metabolic acidosis, megaloblastic anemia, and a host of allergic reactions.

In many cultures of the world, especially the West, humans continue to consume milk beyond infancy, using the milk of other animals (especially cattle, goats and sheep) as a food product. Initially, the ability to digest milk was limited to children as adults did not produce lactase, an enzyme necessary for digesting the lactose in milk. Milk was therefore converted to curd, cheese and other products to reduce the levels of lactose. Thousands of years ago, a chance mutation spread in human populations in Europe that enabled the production of lactase in adulthood. This allowed milk to be used as a new source of nutrition which could sustain populations when other food sources failed. Milk is processed into a variety of dairy products such as cream, butter, yogurt, kefir, ice cream, and cheese. Modern industrial processes use milk to produce casein, whey protein, lactose, condensed milk, powdered milk, and many other food-additives and industrial products.

Whole milk, butter and cream have high levels of saturated fat. The sugar lactose is found only in milk, forsythia flowers, and a few tropical shrubs. The enzyme needed to digest lactose, lactase, reaches its highest levels in the small intestine after birth and then begins a slow decline unless milk is consumed regularly. Those groups who do continue to tolerate milk, however, often have exercised great creativity in using the milk of domesticatedungulates, not only of cattle, but also sheep, goats, yaks, water buffalo, horses, reindeer and camels. The largest producer and consumer of cattle and buffalo milk in the world is India.