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Milk Controversy Churns On

Delighted Australian consumers, rather than New Zealanders, are the first to benefit from a new milk using technology licensed from Auckland-based company, A2 Corporation.

“Jersey Gold A2 milk” is being marketed in New South Wales from today by Fairbrae Milk, but New Zealand consumers are being forced to wait for the product.

A2 milk is free of the controversial protein called beta casein A1, which has been linked with the development of coronary heart disease, childhood diabetes and also implicated with autism and schizophrenia. Beta casein A1 is found in all types of cows’ milk currently available on New Zealand supermarket shelves.

“New products like A2 can only improve the health of our kids” said Chris Wilkie, headmaster of Bentley’s Manifold Primary School in New South Wales, which will be offering A2 milk on the school’s canteen menu.

Dr. Corran McLachlan, Chief Executive of A2 Corporation, said that A2 milk should have been on the New Zealand market by now, but Fonterra has made use of the Dairy Industry Restructuring Act (2001) to prevent its farmers from supplying the milk to A2 Corporation licensees.

“We’re working hard to put it on the market,” said Dr. McLachlan. “Farmers seem very concerned about compromising their current position.” Between 20-45% of dairy cows in national herds already produce A2 milk quite naturally, with the remainder producing either pure A1 milk or a mix of A1 and A2. A2 Corporation offers farmers a method of identifying their A1 and A2 dairy cows.

Although some New Zealand dairy farmers are already choosing to produce A2 milk, it is being mixed with A1 milk for the New Zealand and overseas markets.

New Zealand is missing a “huge marketing opportunity”, according to Dr. McLachlan. “We’ve had requests from supermarkets from Wellington through to South East Asia wishing to purchase A2 milk. Order enquiries we’ve had from overseas show there is an enormous demand for pure A2 products.”

A consumer survey done for A2 Corporation by Colman Brunton showed that consumers would be willing to pay a premium for the perceived health benefits of A2 milk, and would even shop at different supermarkets to obtain it.

Recent independent research, commissioned by A2 Corporation, was carried out on rabbits by Professor Julie Campbell, one of Australia’s leading heart disease scientists, at the Wesley Research Institute in Brisbane.

The research “demonstrates for the first time a direct link between the consumption of beta casein A1 and heart disease in an animal” said Dr. McLachlan.

Professor Campbell’s report recommends that further research be carried out to clarify exactly how consumption of beta casein A1 causes damage to arteries, and also stated that “The public could be offered the healthier choice of pure A2 milk which would be particularly important for the children of persons with known cardiovascular disease.”

However it appears Fonterra has no plans to market A2 milk. A media statement by Fonterra last year urges consumers to be “cautious about the recently announced research findings reported in the media possibly linking A1 milk consumption with heart disease in rabbits.”

Dr Chris Mallet, Director of Fonterra’s Corporate Research and Development, said in the statement: “The science behind this research is complex – the recent announcement that A1 milk is linked with heart disease in rabbits needs careful consideration and review by experts in the field.”

The New Zealand Medical Journal cautiously entered the debate in January this year with an editorial about one of the papers published that particular issue. “The attraction of the A1/A2 hypothesis is that the simplicity of the potential public health intervention, if the authors are proved correct. It would be reasonably straightforward to change New Zealand dairy herds to produce only A2 milk”

While the controversy continues in New Zealand, Fairbrae Milk and A2 dairy farmers like Jan Denniston in New South Wales and the Bentley community are excited about the launch of the new milk in Australia.

“It’s great to see these new developments as we find out more about our foods” said Bentley resident Leanne Walters, who can now buy A2 milk.

A2 Corporation is optimistic about offering New Zealanders a taste of the action as soon as possible. “We’re hopeful that we’ll overcome all the obstacles that have been thrown in our path,” said Dr. McLachlan.

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