Anyone who cares about health, nutrition or agriculture would do well to take note of Keith Woodford’s new book “Devil in the Milk”. According to the research he quotes, a genetic factor in dairy cows determines which variant of beta casein protein (A1 or A2) will be in the milk. A1 beta casein has been connected with increased incidence of autism, schizophrenia, diabetes and heart disease while the A2 variant of beta casein seems to be free of these associations. Apparently A1 milk, when digested by humans, leads to the formation of an opiate substance (similar in function to opium), which can find its way into the bloodstream through a leaky gut.
Historically African and Asian cattle breeds have been A2, as have goats. The milk of Guernseys is also often predominantly A2. But the most common European and North American cow, the Holstein, is associated with a predominance of A1 milk — the kind that’s implicated, albeit largely though epidemiological research, with these diseases. The good news is that A2 is a characteristic that can be easily bred for. The simplest approach is to select only A2 bulls for artificial insemination, while a more intensive approach would be to also test, select and cull cows from the existing herd based on their A1 A2 status. The A2 corporation in New Zealand has patented a process for testing the A1 A2 status of cattle.
Genetically speaking, a cow can be A1 A1, A1 A2, or A2 A2. An A1 A1 cow will give milk that is all A1, while an A2 A2 cow will give milk that is all A2, and an A1 A2 cow will give milk that is a mixture of both. In an intensive herd improvement program, A1 A1 cows would likely be culled, while A1 A2 cows would still have breeding potential. So far, only in New Zealand and Australia is the A1 A2 status of AI bulls tested and made public. Interestingly it turns out that the bulls which are most desireable for other characteristics (in New Zealand at least) are also A2 A2 bulls. Even Holstein herds can be bred to be fully A2. Complete changeover of a herd to A2 takes about 10 years. Many farmers in New Zealand have been working to improve the A2 status of their herds, perhaps because they’ve studied the issue and feel it’s the right thing to do, from both a moral and an economic standpoint. New Zealand’s dairy exports account for more than 30% of world trade in dairy products.
A2 milk has been marketed in New Zealand, Australia and parts of the United States. Progress has been slow, particularly in North American, in part because entrenched interests have worked to limit the use of health claims to promote A2 milk. In fact the history of A2 milk, as outlined in Keith’s book, is a fascinating study in how scientific truth can be customized to serve commercial interests. It’s a bit like the story of cigarettes all over again.
Even while the book goes in some detail through all the various scientific studies that have been published around the A1 A2 issue, Keith’s writing remains highly readable, engaging and clear. You don’t need to be a scientist to follow what’s being discussed or the issues involved. Clearly, with so much at stake for human health, you’d think more people would be taking up this information and running with it instead of trying to find ways to avoid facing up to the results of this research. This book is certainly part of the solution to that “problem”. Here’s hoping it gets the attention it deserves. Author Keith Woodford is a professor of agriculture at Lincoln College in New Zealand.
Just to be clear, this book is dealing with pasteurized milk. However, there seems to be no indication that these problems would not also be present in raw milk, and this A1 A2 research help explain why in some cases it’s not enough just to drink your milk raw.
Dr. Thomas Cowan, who wrote the introduction for this book, had this to say about it in his newsletter.
Here is the website for the A2 corporation.
Full Disclosure: The Bovine received a free copy of the book for review purposes. Thank you to Keith’s publishers for carrying this particular torch. Read more about the book here. Amazon.ca has it here.