Milk controversy brews overseas

SALEM, Ohio – Half a world away, a dairy controversy is escalating.

Some say the “new” milk is great, some say it’s not, but the majority agrees there needs to be more research.

A corporation in New Zealand is producing milk that eliminates beta casein A1. The company claims A1 is strongly linked to heart disease and type-one diabetes and is associated with autism and schizophrenia.

Beta casein A1 has a higher correlation to heart disease than smoking, obesity, cholesterol and diet, according to A2 Corp., the company that produces and promotes the supposedly healthier A2 milk.

Not so quick. But many researchers aren’t as excited. First, they want to see the hard facts, research which A2 has not released.

The Australian Dairy Corporation maintains that they have not found “scientific evidence to link milk with the conditions alleged by the A2 Corp.”

Food Standards Australia New Zealand agrees and says there is “very limited scientific evidence available on comparative health effects of the two milks.”

‘Local’ spin. The concern is that promotion precedes science.

It’s a company trying to sell its product, said Greg Miller, a nutritionist and senior vice president of nutrition and scientific affairs at the U.S.-based Dairy Management Inc.

Miller said this issue is nothing for U.S. farmers to worry about regarding their milk being a threat to health.

Relationship. Part of A2 Corp.’s claims stem from research of countries that have higher levels of A2 in their milk and also lower rates of heart disease.

But this information isn’t enough, Miller said.

Although there’s a correlation, there is not a cause-and-effect chain, he said.

For example, the sale of popsicles increases in the summer and drownings also increase. Although Miller says there is a correlation between the two, it doesn’t mean it’s cause and effect: When popsicle consumption increases, drownings also increase.

Other research by A2 Corp. was done on laboratory animals, however it was reportedly never released.

On shelves. Despite the science and dairy communities’ lack of full support, A2 Corp. pushed ahead, getting contracts with farmers willing to develop an A2 herd and supermarkets willing to put the milk on their shelves. It first appeared at Australia grocers in March and then in New Zealand April 28.

Not only is the public happy to have a choice, but A2 Corp. said the launch was “very successful” and “resulted in demand far outstripping supply.”

In court. In claiming A1 milk causes health problems, A2 Corp. is facing a legal battle with New Zealand-based Fonterra Co-operative Group, the world’s largest exporter of dairy products.

The legal action includes A2 Corp.’s claim that Fonterra “failed to inform consumers of alleged dangers associated with consumption of milk containing A1 casein protein,” according to Fonterra.

The corporation also wants Fonterra to put warning labels on its milk, letting consumers know about the supposed risks.

Fonterra’s Chief Technology Officer Chris Mallett said there is no valid scientific evidence available to the company that proves A2 Corp.’s claims.

“Fonterra believes A2 Corp.’s claims are irresponsible because they may result in people removing normal milk from their diet to the detriment of their overall health and well being,” Mallett said in a recent Fonterra release.

Continued struggle. But the struggle between the dairy companies doesn’t end there.

A2 Corp. says it has struggled to get its milk on the market because Fonterra uses clauses in the Dairy Industry Restructuring Act 2001 to prevent or delay farmers from providing the corporation with milk.

“Many farmers are wanting to supply A2 milk, having tested and selected A2 herds. However, one clause Fonterra has used to deny supply has been a very anticompetitive clause in the act which prevents shareholding farmers from supplying any milk privileged by any patent (a specialty milk) to anybody except Fonterra,” said Corran McLachlan, founder of A2 Corp.

The farmers supplying milk to the A2 Corp. licensees either terminated their Fonterra supply contract or established a new herd.

A2 details. A2 Corp. developed a DNA test that uses hair from a cow’s tail to determine which protein she carries.

Cows produce either A1 or A2 milk or a blend of the two. The milk supply is a mixture of both beta caseins.

A2 milk is 20 cents to 30 cents more than premium brands.

(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)

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