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DUBAI (Reuters) - Hard on the hooves of cow's and goat's milk, European grocery shelves may soon be invaded by milk from that proverbial ship of the desert, the camel.
An animal famous for bad breath and ill humor might seem an unlikely source of liquid to lubricate a bowl of breakfast cereal or froth up a latte, but promoters from the United Arab Emirates say it is healthy -- and almost like mother's own.
"People with lactose intolerance can drink it with no problem, unlike cow's milk, it doesn't cause protein allergies, and it's high in insulin," said Ulrich Wernery, the scientific director of Dubai's Center for Veterinary Research Laboratory.
Similar in taste and appearance to cow's milk, he said camel milk is closer in composition to human milk, making it a healthier option than cow milk.
Camel milk also is high in vitamin C, which Wernery said explains its importance to Bedouins, Arab desert nomads, who historically lacked fruits or vegetables in their diet and have been drinking camel milk for generations.
The European Commission recently approved plans for screening camel milk, and will send an EU panel to inspect the UAE's two dairy farms producing camel milk -- Al Ain Dairy, with "Camelait," and the Emirates Industry for Camel Milk and Products' "Camelicious," found in most UAE grocery stores.
Wernery expected EU permission to export, which if granted could have the UAE shipping camel dairy next year, to open doors to U.S. and Canadian markets as well as China and Hong Kong.
But camel milk comes at a price. In the UAE, its costs about 4 dirhams ($1.09) more per liter than cow's milk.
"Cows produce more milk than our camels -- about 50 liters daily, while our camels make 10-15 liters," Wernery, who is affiliated with Camelicious, said.
"But they developed good dairy cows over many years. We are trying to breed good (camel) milking stock, but it will take some time."
Camelicious produces 5,000 liters a day, far less than even one percent of daily European milk consumption. For now, he said, UAE farms can target only specialty health stores.
If the milk does hit Europe's dairy aisle, he said, consumers would also find camel chocolate, cheese, and ice cream.
Editing by Jason Benham and Michael Roddy