When a new food trend presents itself a considerable amount of the success or failure in consumer uptake relates back to the way the product was introduced to the marketplace. Drinking milk is by no means a “new” marketing trend but with the acknowledged trend toward healthier eating and better diet choices, the entry into the marketplace of a “new and better” milk drink is making ripples in milk glasses around the world. Milk has certainly seen its share of positive and negative marketing. Everyone relates to and has positive feelings about the “milk moustache” campaign. But mothers worldwide deal with the issues of “lactose intolerance” and “mother’s milk versus cow’s milk”. Every dairy producer faces the arguments of natural, unnatural or pasteurized. And even with the acceptance or more flavored milks, the health issues have not been truly answered. What does this “new” milk mean to dairy producers?
Something Exceptional? Or Exceptional Marketing?
An Australia based firm – A2 Corp. – has been selling a brand of A2 milk in New Zealand and Australia for the past 10 years and is poised to launch into the North American market. Their growing body of research suggests that A2 milk may provide the answer for the 1 in 4 Americans who suffer from lactose intolerance. The A2 Company hypothesizes that the problem is that they are unable to digest A1, a protein most often found in milk from high producing Holstein Cows. They propose that the A2 protein which predominates in milk from Jersey, Guernsey and most Asian and African cow breeds is more easily digested.
It’s about Leaky Gut Syndrome.
As with many health food trends, evidence shows they often get the first foot hold in the alternative medicine field. From that perspective, the leading explanation for why some people can’t tolerate A1 milk is attributed to leaky gut syndrome. The idea that loose connections in the gut, “like tears in a coffee filter, allows proteins to enter the body and run wild. In response the body sends immune cells to fight the autoimmune invaders and the result is swelling and pain from the resulting inflammation. These symptoms are associated with arthritis, diabetes and autism.
What’s wrong with A1?
The real fiend in A1 milk according to A2 proponents is that, when digested, A1 beta-casein releases beta-casomorphin7 (BCM7), an oploid with a morphine-like structure. Numerous recent tests report higher-than-average levels of BCM7 in blood from people with autism and schizophrenia. Furthermore, a recent study that is currently under review in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry reports on cell cultures research by Richard Deth and Malav Trivedi, both in the Pharmacology Department at Northeastern University in Boston, that shows similar high amounts of BCM7 in gut cells causes a chain reaction that creates a shortage of antioxidants in neural cells. This is a condition that other research has tied to autism.
Where’s the SCIENCE?
As for leaky gut, this is a condition that many adults may suffer from. However, the condition is normal in babies under a year of age, who naturally have semi-permeable intestines. Therefore, when they’re fed typical cow-milk formula, problems arise with digestion. “A 2009 study documented that formula-fed infants developed muscle tone and psychomotor skills more slowly than infants that were fed A2-only breast milk. Researchers in Russia, Poland and the Czech Republic have suggested links between BCM7 in cow milk and childhood health issues. Another more recent study implicates BCM7 in sudden infant death syndrome, reporting that some “near-miss SIDS” infants had blood serum containing more BCM7 than the blood of healthy infants of the same age.” Research is ongoing to support these claims.
Partners on the Frontier
Bob Elliott, Professor of Child Health Research at the University of Auckland opened up discussions about A1 milk and diabetes in Samoan Children. In a 1997 study published by the International Dairy Federation, Elliott showed A1 beta-casein caused mice to develop diabetes. In 2000 he partnered with entrepreneur Howard Paterson, then regarded as the wealthiest man on New Zealand’s South Island, to found the A2 Corporation.
False and Misleading?
Those charged with responsibility for public health and safety are feeling the pressure from this new product. In 2009 the European Food Safety Authority reported that they found no link between consumption of A1 milk and health and digestive problems. To date, much of the supporting research has come from the A2 Corp., which holds a patent for the only genetic test that can separate A1 from A2 cows. Some fear a conflict of interest arises here. In 2004, the same year that A2 Corp. went public on the New Zealand Stock Exchange, Australia’s Queensland Health Department fined A2 marketers $15,000 for making false and misleading claims about the health benefits of its milk and, at least for New Zealand’s Food Safety Minister, the debate was resolved.
The Door is Open to Welcome New Milk
Debate over or not, the A2 Corporation moved forward to market its a2 brand milk in New Zealand and Australia, where its currently accounts for about 8 percent of dairy product sales Down Under. In 2012, A2 expanded distribution through the Tesco chain into Great Britain. Currently a two-liter bottle sells at an 18 percent premium over conventional milk. Building on consumer acceptance in these locations, A2 is poised to re-launch into the U.S. market where they feel, unlike on their previous entry, there are now enough American consumers willing to pay a premium for A2 milk. The good news appears to be that A1 is not the causative agent for diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Ready for Research
In building the A2 hypothesis, it becomes necessary to compare its benefits to the problems of A1 milk. In 1993 Elliott proposed that consumption of A1 milk could account for the unusually high incidence of type-1 diabetes among Samoan children growing up in New Zealand. A colleague, Corran McLaclan, later found strong correlations between per capita consumption of A2 milk and the prevalence of diabetes and heart disease in 20 countries. Critics explain the relationships away by other factors such as diet, lifestyle and exposure to Vitamin D as suggested by research published by Elliott and in the book written by Keith Woodford,(Devil in the Milk: Illness, Health and the Politics of A1 and A2 Milk.). The time is ripe for responsible research to resolve these issues.
Coming to A Grocery Store Near You
A2 Corporation is understandably cautious about suggesting that consuming its products is a solution to preventing serious diseases. Their marketing emphasizes instead the digestive benefits of its fluid milk, fresh cream and infant formula products. Regardless of your current position in this “Battle of the Milks”, when it comes to the health of the next generation, we all need to take a stand. Worldwide A2 Corporation is into several years of expansion into the UK, Ireland and China.
A2 From the Farm to the Table
Along with being exposed to new dairy products, today’s consumer wants verification for what they are being sold. A2 Corp. explains that the company’s farmer-suppliers use DNA analysis of tail hair from each cow to certify she is producing A2 milk, which is kept segregated through processing. They also report that it is now possible to convert a herd of A1-producing cows to A2- producing cows. They are working with selected dairies that are making this conversion and test-marketing A2 milk in a number of U.S. states.
A1, A2 and AI
AI companies are well aware of the A1/A2 debate and are taking steps to stay up on new developments. Many US and Canadian AI companies keep records of the A1/A2 genetics of their genetic offerings. The development of A2 producing Holsteins is gaining momentum and breeders with long term vision are phasing out A1 cows and are confident they can maintain high production throughout the transition. At the leading edge are those who seek niche markets using the A2 dominant breeds such as Jersey, Guernsey and Normande.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
As with any other health claim, there will be early adopters and those who wait until the facts are all in. I can’t help but ask, “When was the last time, you were absolutely certain of the nutritional science behind all the food you eat?” Having said that, it isn’t difficult to accept the proposition that there are certain people in the population, particularly babies, who react severely to the A1 protein. Four fifths of our family can dine delightfully on shellfish without incident. Our baby risks anaphylactic shock from merely sniffing some on a buffet. So back to A1 and A2. Is the market big enough for both? Is one right? The other one wrong? The spotlight is on milk in a positive way. Sometimes we spend so much time defending the tradition that we miss the opportunity of bringing a whole new consumer into the dairy aisle.