As It Happens

Demand for trendy Iceland Skyr yogurt could threaten country's only breed of cows

There are only 25,000 Icelandic cows, and they can't keep up with the growing international demand for Skyr, a version of yogourt. To make matters worse, Icelandic cows aren't great milk producers. Farmers don't know how to increase their country's milk production without threatening its only breed of cattle.
Cows indigenous to Iceland are used to make skyr, a unique kind of yogurt. (Photo: iStock)
Listen6:09

If you love Greek-style yogurt, you might want to try Icelandic Skyr. It's a thicker, high-protein version of yogurt, and people around the world are buying more of it every day. But then again, if you care about Icelandic cows, you may want to skip it.

There are only 25,000 Icelandic cows, and they can't keep up with the growing international demand for Skyr. To make matters worse, Icelandic cows aren't great milk producers. Farmers don't know how to increase their country's milk production without threatening its only breed of cattle.

Emma Eyþórsdóttir (Courtesy of Emma Eyþórsdóttir)

"We only have a small population of the Icelandic dairy cow," says Emma Eyþórsdóttir, associate professor in Animal Sciences at the Agricultural University of Iceland. "We cannot buy those cows anywhere else and we're not going to be able to do that ever."

Eyþórsdóttir tells As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch that Iceland imposes quotas on dairy production to serve demand within the country — and that it's unlikely the quota will be raised to respond to a food trend. 

"You cannot increase milk production all of a sudden," she continues. "Dairy farming is not like that... It takes two years to raise a cow."

As for the product itself, while it's been called a yogurt, Eyþórsdóttir explains that it's not actually one.

"Skyr is actually more of a soft cheese than anything else, even if it's being called yogurt in some countries," she says. "Traditionally, it's even chunky. So you have to stir it up, but if you buy it in the supermarket, it's more like yogurt because they've thinned it up."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.