Brief History of Milk Production in Uruguay

Cheese making in Uruguay started with European immigration. From 1881, the first Swiss settlers began to locate in Nueva Helvecia, Department of Colonia (Fig. 4.1). They brought their traditional practices: agriculture, animal domesticating for milk production, milking, cheese making and products marketing. Their main customers came from Montevideo (Borbonet 2001). Swiss immigration has been characterized by an appreciation of quality. This new way of doing things is also evident in the social organization, based on a strong sense of the community participation. Today, the city of Nueva Helvecia (Department of Colonia) is cleaner and more orderly than other cities and it is the regional epicenter for artisan cheese production (Arocena 2009). The cheese region was subsequently spread to Ecilda Paullier (Department of San Jose), Puntas del Rosario, Colla, Quevedo and Tarariras (Department of Colonia) (Fig. 4.1).

Distribution of commercial milk production in Uruguay

FIGURE 4.1 Distribution of commercial milk production in Uruguay (2010-2011). A) The image shows the Uruguayan politic map, divided into departments (wide black traces). B) Enlargement of remarked part in A. The numbers indicate the department names in which the main concentration of producers is located. 1-Montevideo, 2-Canelones, 3-San Jose, 4-Colonia, 5-Soriano, 6-Flores, 7-Florida. Each point represent two producers (DIEA 2014).

During those years there was immigration of other European origins: Spanish, Italian, etc. allowing the establishment of different types of cheese production (Borbonet 2001).

Cheese making regions have expanded to the South-West Coast and there institutions linked to milk and cheese have been created. For example, in 1930, the Society of Rural Development of Colonia Suiza founded the Colonia Suiza Dairy School, which nowadays instructs technicians for dairy industries. Today, in this region, there are other educational institutions: Faculty of Veterinary, University of the Republic (UdelaR) and Technologic University (UTEC Institute Tertiary Superior, created in 2011), both involved in teaching of dairy and dairy products at degree level.

Until 1910, the sanitary veterinarian control services of meat and milk for consumption depended on the Experimental Institute of Hygiene of Montevideo. With relation to human health, the main problem was bovine tuberculosis, due to poor hygiene practices in the place where cows were milked and milk distribution (Bertino and Tajam 2000).

In April 1910, the law about sanitary conditions of animals was created, and policed by the Livestock Division of the Ministry of Industry, Employment

and Public Instruction. The law stated the obligation of owners and veterinarians to report the existence of sick animals. The government, could then declare the property, department area or corresponding department infected, and isolate, vaccinate etc., the animals in the infected zone, as well as prohibit the transport of these animals and animal fairs, disinfect the properties and euthanise animals in certain cases, within the established indemnifications (Bertino and Tajam 2000).

In 1911, the Uruguayan government created regulation rules linked to dairy production, which included considerations about animal welfare, building regulations and milk quality concept (Casaux 2005).

In the years 1911 and 1915 milk sale in the capital city was regulated, sales could only be conducted in tanks with faucets, closed with sealed tops, and sale was prohibited in open containers. The maximum price of milk then was established daily by the Supply Direction and Tablada (Bertino and Tajam 2000).

In 1922, the first milk processing companies were established in Montevideo. In 1925 the first pasteurizing company, the Central Dairy Uruguayan Kasdorf S.A. was set up, and in 1927, the activity was regulated. Later, in 1930, the Cooperative Milk S.A. was founded when pasteurization became obligatory. In April 1932, the Dairy Cooperative Melo (COLEME) was founded and in December 1936, the commerce of pasteurized milk started. However, on 25 April 1933 was stated that only in the city of Montevideo pasteurization needs to be effectuated immediately and this process started from 1 of January 1934. In 1934, apart from the previously mentioned companies, there were others in nearby Montevideo: “Mercado Cooperativo S.A”, “La Palma S.A”, “Alianza de tam- beros y Lecheros de la Union” and “La Nena” (Bertino and Tajam 2000; Borbonet 2001).

In 1935, during the dairy crisis, CONAPROLE (National Cooperative of Milk Producers) started operations. Interesting, the creation of cooperatives was supported by State and established by law (law n° 9526), as a way to overcome the dairy crisis. This was a key contribution to further develop a strong dairy industry in Uruguay The main purpose of CONAPROLE was to organize the marketing, processing and distribution of milk in the city of Montevideo. Most industrial plants had to transfer their activity to CONAPROLE (Bertino and Tajam 2000; Casaux 2005; Marti 2013; Viera et al. 2013).

With the creation of CONAPROLE, the state fixed the price of milk: to the producers, to the consumers and for intermediate stages of commercialization (Bertino and Tajam 2000). Thus, differentiated prices for the raw materials were regulated, stipulating the amount of liters of milk (quota) devoted to consumption. In the case of CONAPROLE, the milk “quota” was an average of the volume the company accepted from each of the producers. This average was calculated based on the quantity of milk sent during the winter months, where milk that was not going to be sold for consumption was proportionally deduced. This function required a continuous acquisition of milk throughout the year and ended in an instrumentation of a double system of prices, named “quota” and “industry”. The price of “quota” milk was fixed with the objective of warranting milk supply (and for this reason it was always higher), and compensating the producer for the higher costs of production during the winter. The “industry” milk was devoted to the production of dairy products (cheese, yogurt, etc.).

Milk to the consumers is fixed with the objective of warranting its availability and accessibility. However, in the middle of the 70s the price of “industry” milk was set free and at the beginning of the year 2008 the price of “quota” milk as well was set free. Today, the price of milk for consumers is the only one still regulated (Viera et al. 2013).

CONAPROLE has been the most important industry of Uruguay. In addition to this, it has been the largest dairy company in the country along its entire existence, and the main exporter of the country for long periods (Viera et al. 2013).

From 1935 to 1950, milk production increased further towards self-sufficiency in Uruguay. In the period 1950-1975, milk production was stable without significant changes. Since the early 70's our country was self-sufficient in milk production and became a strong exporter as well to the extent that approximately 60% of the milk industries are entering international market today, reaching 65 markets across the continents in 2011 (CINVE 1987; Uruguay XXI 2012).

Local dairy areas developed around the most populated cities, many with pasteurizing plants. There was a geographical expansion of watersheds while a technological renewal occurred, resulting in an increased referral of industrial plants during 1975-1985. All of which would lead for a greater impact into foreign markets by Uruguayan milk (CINVE 1987).

Viera et al. (2013) states that since 1975 to the present day, there has been a new spread of milk production which is based mainly on the technological transformation of the places where cows are milked.

The dairy industry as a result of its strong export profile has achieved internationally accepted quality standards and subsequently a presence in world markets. Taking into account the national market, the main market for milk is the capital city of Montevideo, where more than half of the population of the country live. For this reason, an important milk catchment area has been developed which has the production concentrated in Departments (administrative division of Uruguay) Colonia, San Jose, Soriano and Florida (Fig. 4.1) (DIEA 2014b).

On the other hand, in relation to the quality of milk in Uruguay, the first actions were taken in 1963 for qualified milk, taking into account only animal sanitation and the infrastructure of the cowsheds where they were milked. In 1976, another important step was taken by the Departments; who paid an addition of 10% for milk to be tested for redutase and lactofiltration; this incentive resulted in radically decreased the bacteria count. For over twenty years the Department continued to pay for the mentioned tests. It was not until 1993 that studies were started to pay to measure for the hygienic quality of the milk (Mesa Tecnologica de la Cadena Lactea 2005). In this context, the industry instrumented registration and classification of milk through parameters, as total aerobic mesophilic bacteria count in milk to evaluate its hygienic quality; somatic cells count (SCC) with the objective of verifying the sanity of the mammary gland and the detection of antibiotic residues (Ibarra 1997).

The characterization of milk through certain parameters of raw milk quality made it possible for the National System of Quality Milk to improve the quality of milk sent to dairy plants; this was implemented by decree in 1995 (MGAP 1995).

At the same time based on this decree, the Ministry of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries (MGAP) made a resolution which put the Veterinary Laboratories Division (DiLaVe-MGAP) in charge of the training the private laboratories to determine the milk quality parameters (MGAP 2001).

Milk quality has been improved immensely since the implementation of the National Quality System (1997), which classifies milk into categories according the bacteria and the somatic cells count, to the extent that the fixed limits designated at the beginning have been modified as part of the quality improvement (MGAP 1995; MGAP 2013).

According to data from MGAP, in Uruguay the averages of total aerobic mesophilic bacteria count decreases immensely (almost 90%) since the setting up of The National Quality System until 2003 (DIEA 2003). With the new system, in which the total bacteria count and the SCC taking into account, a fundamental stage in the improvement of milk quality (milk to be processed in dairy plants) was accomplished.

As a consequence, almost 90% of milk sent to dairies by producers has less than 50,000 UFC/mL of somatic cells and nearly the 80% of milk sent to dairies plants fulfills the international standard of having less than 400,000 somatic cells/mL (INALE 2015). At the same time, a technological revolution and management of herds occurred, which has consequently generated an improvement in the quality of raw milk. With the addition of the legislation, an important boost in quality was added to an industry already looking for quality.

In fact, the Uruguayan government has recently approved Decree 359/13 (MGAP 2013) which has 14 articles, the sixth article established the maximum total bacterial count and how it will be adjusted in future years (Table 4.1) (MGAP 2013).

TABLE 4.1 Maximum values accepted for bacteria and somatic cells count according to Decree 359/13 (MGAP 2013)


Bacteria Count (UFC/mL)

Somatic Cell (cells/mL)

November 2013



November 2014



November 2016



Finally, it is important to consider that during the last decade of the 21st century, the milk sector suffered a series of setbacks for milk production, such as strong variations in climate conditions and prices for milk producing. However, the growth that characterized milk industry since the first half of the 20th century was maintained (Zorrilla de San Martin 2013).

Nowadays, 70% of produced milk is exported to multiple markets and the technology and organization of the primary production model is one of the most efficient at the world level.

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