‘whats wrong with our milk’

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In April, before I left UK, I ate with Tomy Mathew, Michael Barrett Brown and Robin, Frances and Beth Murray. As usual conversation swung backwards and forwards around food and the politics of food, our health and choices we take toward sustainable livelihoods for ourselves and our planet.

I am still a meat eater but do my best to stay organic wherever possible and have made a pretty good start on the organic dairy side, milk and yogurt anyway but stray when artisan cheeses are put my way. Tomy introduced a topic I had heard nothing of: A1 and A2 milk. We were all enthralled. Michael was quite taken and resolved to review the book Tomy had refered to (reproduced below).

Anyway, as I just started to read the labels in my first Aussie supermarket I thought you might like proof that consumers can make a difference…  the debate has already moved here. Now in my fridge is a bottle A2 milk… and selling well  in Coles, one of the mainstream supermarkets here (kind of Sainsbury positioning), alongside Organic and Guernsey milks. Perhaps this is more important than just organic certification and UK consumers should ask for a choice too?

Do read Michael’s review below even if you can’t find the book.

Keith Woodward, “Devil in the Milk: Illness, Health and Politics – A1 and A2 Milk”  Craig, Potton Publishing, New Zealand, pb.pp.238,, 2007  I must confess at the start that I have always loved milk.

I was born in March 1918, when German U boats were sinking the Atlantic grain convoys and there was a serious milk shortage. We lived in Woodbrooke, a suburb of Birmingham, and my aunt Fran had to scour the local farms to get milk for my mother and me. Thereafter, aged three,  I collected our  milk in a jug filled from a churn that came to our house in a horse-drawn cart. For sixty years or so we always had ‘Guernsey’ milk from Jersey cows, with cream on the top until all milk was homogenised and pasteurised and cartonned,  and you did not know what cows it came from.

This book is about two breeds of cows that produce different types of milk, so-called A1 and A2. Most European and American and Australasian milk is A1; most Asian and African milk A2. Human breast milk, Jersey milk and the milk from goats, Yaks, camels, and sheep is A2. The difference; lies in the different forms of casein in each milk type and the ways these are digested.  So, what is wrong with A1 milk? Woodward has chapters on heart disease, diabetes, autism and schizophrenia and some human allergies. In relation to each of these diseases, Woodward shows that there is a suspicious association of their prevalence with consumption of A1 milk, even when it is pasteurised. The evidence comes from inter-country human comparisons and from tests on rats, mice and rabbits. None of it is finally conclusive with any of the illnesses, because there are nearly always in each case other factors to take into account. But I have to say that the evidence is strong enough to convince me. I am too old to suffer now from diabetes, autism or schizophrenia, but I do have heart problems, and some skin allergies.  As a result of reading this book, I have switched to buying Jersey or goat’s milk and goat’s cheese and yoghurt. I have obviously been lucky in that I have drunk mainly Jersey milk throughout my life.

Keith Woodward is an agricultural scientist, Professor of Farm Management and Agribusiness at Lincoln University in New Zealand and has worked on agricultural development and research problems in some 20 Asian and Pacific countries. New Zealand is one of the largest dairy producing and exporting countries in the world, and most of the book is concerned with the argument in New Zealand about the two types of milk. Most of New Zealand’s milk and dairy products come from A1 cows. Switching to A2 herds would take time and prove extremely expensive. An A2 corporation was established in New Zealand and Australia, but it has struggled to survive financially. The most extraordinary part of this book lies in the chapters which reveal the extent to which the New Zealand Dairy Industry has been prepared to go to challenge the evidence about A2 milk in relation to A1 milk and even to suppress information that it holds, and obstruct A2 distribution. It is regrettably true that some scientists whose funding depended on the Dairy industry can be shown to have been complicit in some of these deceptions. It is perfectly legal to advertise  your own product, but not to vilify your competitor’s,  so that there are major expensive legal issues involved in questioning A1 milk.  This book was published in 2007, and I do not know how the argument in New Zealand has gone since then. According to the commendations on the book’s cover Keith Woodford’s argument has the support of at least two leading New Zealand professors, respectively of Medicine and Biochemistry.   I have not found comments from UK scientists.  Nearly all the milk in the UK is from A1 cows. The Google search refers to the questions raised about A1 milk affecting heart disease, diabetes, autism and schizophrenia, but offers no scientific evidence, only anecdotal  – stories from people in the UK who have switched to A2 products, with information about places where you can find A2 products. I will let everyone know the results of my switches when I have watched them for some time.

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