A1 vs. A2 milk
July 17, 2014 7:00 PM   Subscribe

You're Drinking the Wrong Kind of Milk: "The A1/A2 debate has raged for years in Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Europe, but it is still virtually unheard of across the pond. That could soon change..."
An emerging body of research suggests that many of the 1 in 4 Americans who exhibit symptoms of lactose intolerance could instead be unable to digest A1, a protein most often found in milk from the high-producing Holstein cows favored by American and some European industrial dairies. The A1 protein is much less prevalent in milk from Jersey, Guernsey, and most Asian and African cow breeds, where, instead, the A2 protein predominates.

"We've got a huge amount of observational evidence that a lot of people can digest the A2 but not the A1," says Keith Woodford, a professor of farm management and agribusiness at New Zealand's Lincoln University who wrote the 2007 book Devil in the Milk: Illness, Health, and the Politics of A1 and A2 Milk. "More than 100 studies suggest links between the A1 protein and a whole range of health conditions"—everything from heart disease to diabetes to autism, Woodford says, though the evidence is far from conclusive.

...The difference between A1 and A2 proteins is subtle: They are different forms of beta-casein, a part of the curds (i.e., milk solids ) that make up about 30 percent of the protein content in milk. The A2 variety of beta-casein mutated into the A1 version several thousand years ago in some European dairy herds. Two genes code for beta-casein, so modern cows can either be purely A2, A1/A2 hybrids, or purely A1... The A1 milk hypothesis was devised in 1993 by Bob Elliott, a professor of child health research at the University of Auckland. Elliott believed that consumption of A1 milk could account for the unusually high incidence of type-1 diabetes among Samoan children growing up in New Zealand. He and a colleague, Corran McLachlan, later compared the per capita consumption of A1 milk to the prevalence of diabetes and heart disease in 20 countries and came up with strong correlations.
Squash Practice: The Case of the Curious Caseins – A1/A2 Milk
"It is always exciting to encounter a fresh topic that has escaped attention, yet with a little investigation, demands it. So it is with the story of A1 / A2 milk. I first became aware of the existence of this issue at a potluck dinner with health-conscious fellow diners. As it turns out, this is old news to residents of New Zealand, where a few researchers and entrepreneurs have been promoting the virtues of A2 milk for about a decade..."

*AcresUSA (Dec. 2009) - an interview with Keith Woodford, author of Devil in the Milk
The Devil in the Milk: A1 or A2? How Beta-Caseins Are Changing the Dairy Industry (links to PDF)

*Keith Woodford: all blog posts labelled "A1 and A2 milk"
*betacasein.net: Scientific Research on Beta-Caseins
*Wikipedia: A2 milk

Sydney Morning Herald - Hoping to kill off its competitor, Parmalat goes after A2 Milk
Lincoln University agribusiness professor Keith Woodford has documented the murky corporate games, favouritism and wild spin-doctoring that were rife once A2 milk took its first tentative steps into the New Zealand market. His book, Devil in the Milk, showed how the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) had misrepresented the science and deceived the public as the debate on milk types heated up... It was subsequently revealed by the New Zealand media that the NZFSA accepted advice and lobbying from dairy giant Fonterra during the review process.

It was too late for A2, and the product never took off in its home country. The company's management decided to enter the Australian market and leave the politics and lobbying of New Zealand behind them.

Unfortunately, Dairy Australia also engaged in questionable tactics during A2's early days. Fact sheets written by Dairy Australia nutritionists in 2007, just as A2 was launching, were published on its website. The sheets quoted research by Sydney academic Stewart Truswell saying there was no convincing evidence that the A1 protein had adverse effects on humans. Truswell later admitted he had been paid by Fonterra as an expert on the A1-A2 issue.
previously on MeFi: bad bad cows (2003) - Indian cow breeds face extinction (mentioned in comment thread)
posted by flex (41 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
I have lactose intolerance combined with casein intolerance. Unfortunately, my only Real option is Camel milk. I wish I had a situation where I could afford to keep camels or lived near someone who breeds camels because the cost of powdered camel milk over the course of the last couple years might have bought me a camel.
It's pure anecdata I know, but camel milk has actually helped me.
I have been trying to get other lactose intolerant friends to try it. Maybe we could get a few camels and do a herd-share locally.
Only a few have been brave enough to try. They didn't all like it.
A herd-share on a couple Indic breed mini - cows would be easier to float.
You really can only be sure of A2 with pure-bred African or Indic breeds.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 7:18 PM on July 17, 2014

I like rice milk enough but what about arsenic. Ruled out soy because phytoestrogens probably aren't so good especially for the dudes. Regular milk by itself to me usually tastes off after enjoying alternatives for a while. I mostly avoid it like the plague it hath wrought.
posted by aydeejones at 7:31 PM on July 17, 2014

Thanks for a meaty (urgh) post, flex, on a topic I'd never heard of!
posted by Jesse the K at 7:35 PM on July 17, 2014

Cue Monsanto Holstein cattle service pack 6.66
posted by aydeejones at 7:36 PM on July 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Wait, is this why Australian butter and milk taste so different from French butter and milk?
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:41 PM on July 17, 2014

Wow, I had no idea, great post.

I felt I had to post
posted by Bovine Love at 7:43 PM on July 17, 2014 [23 favorites]

Retirement plan: start an A2 dairy farm.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 7:50 PM on July 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Grumpybear69 I think the butter tastes so different because Australian butter will have been frozen at some point. I'll see if I can find some links.
posted by poxandplague at 7:53 PM on July 17, 2014

Odd that Mother Jones is promulgating this, if you did a find/replace from "A2 Milk Company" to "Monsanto" people would be claiming A2 milk is the devil itself. They hold a patent on the diagnostic test for A2? You don't say!

Huh, and looking at the Wikipedia edit page, user BlackCab seems to be very busy writing about A2, let's see what his user bio states:
In accordance with the relevant Wikipedia policies on paid editing, I disclose that I have accepted a fee for extensive work I carried out on the A2 milk article.
Small companies are no more ethical than large companies in funding research that furthers their interests.
posted by benzenedream at 8:01 PM on July 17, 2014 [9 favorites]

I am allergic to cow's milk, I am allergic to soy. I am allergic to almonds, so almond milk is out. A coworker recently asked what I put on my morning cereal and I said tears. I'm pretty sure he thought I was kidding.
posted by kate blank at 8:06 PM on July 17, 2014 [12 favorites]

I always assumed I was not lactose intolerant, because I eat dairy products all the time without any ill effect, but a few years ago I read this Wikipedia article that basically claims everyone who isn't of European descent is lactose intolerant, and my particular ethnic background (Asian) is supposed to be like 95% intolerant. But then I read that the main symptom of lactose intolerance is basically just being gassy, and I randomly have gas all the time anyway (even if I avoid dairy products), so I never really know if it's because I'm supposedly lactose intolerant or not. These days I use lactose free milk if I can get it, but otherwise eat cheese and ice cream and other dairy products.

Dairy products are becoming fairly popular in Asia and despite the entire population's supposed lactose intolerance, it is not really a "thing" there (but then again most dietary restrictions are not really a "thing" in Asia, you very rarely encounter someone who won't eat something b/c of gluten-free or veganism or picky tastes or whatever) so maybe people there just eat tons of ice cream and then have really bad gas later? But if their milk is somehow less problematic for lactose intolerant people it could explain it.
posted by pravit at 8:22 PM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

A2 milk does taste better to me than A1 milk, but I can confirm that the milk of human kindness causes me to burst into flames.
posted by um at 8:23 PM on July 17, 2014

I just bought a half gallon of whole Jersey cow milk at the farmers market last week and had a long conversation with the owner about this. I'd been under the impression that that breed was purely A2 but that isn't the case... "While each dairy herd is capable of being quite different from average, a broad characterization of the A1 or A2 genetics of breeds can be made. Northern European black-and-white breeds such as Friesian Holstein usually carry A1 and A2 alleles in equal proportion. Jersey cows and other Southern European breeds probably have about 1/3 A1 and 2/3 A2 genetics. Guernsey cows generally have about 10% A1 and 90% A2 genetics." She said because they couldn't make health claims about the differences or health advantages of pure A2 milk, it wasn't financially viable to separate the A2 cows out when milking. (Garry's Meadow Fresh Jersey milk from Lady-Lane Farm, if you're in Oregon. It's awesome and the owners are great.)
posted by Auden at 8:25 PM on July 17, 2014

This is fascinating, favoriting so I can dig into the links over the weekend. (And flex, I'm so glad you're back! Thanks for all your contributions, not only this post.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 8:33 PM on July 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

I don't want to go off on a rant, but . . .

Milk does not cause autism. The "gut" theory of autism is unproven. There is no evidence that autism is due to a shortage of antioxidants. Autism has not been proven to be an auto-immune disorder. Unpublished, non-peer-reviewed studies sponsored by a manufacturer should not be cited as evidence. Studies on cassien-free diets have been mixed at best. South Koreans consume two-thirds less dairy products per capita than U.S. citizens but one study found a rate of autism in Korea that was two times that of the U.S.

Do some science before you make a claim, Mother Jones.
posted by ITravelMontana at 8:36 PM on July 17, 2014 [38 favorites]

I read that the main symptom of lactose intolerance is basically just being gassy, and I randomly have gas all the time anyway (even if I avoid dairy products),
I'm sure it's just you.
posted by qinn at 9:31 PM on July 17, 2014

so maybe people there just eat tons of ice cream and then have really bad gas later?

Any time I'm in a part of the world without strong consumer protections I assume the "ice cream" is made from pork fat.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:39 PM on July 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

Goat's milk is entirely a2 and so delicious. I drink it nonstop! Any off flavors you get means the goat has a mineral deficiency, it's not fresh enough or was not handled cleanly. Jump on the goat bandwagon!
posted by meta87 at 10:20 PM on July 17, 2014

I'm reminded of the evening I spent reading up on the possible differences between grass-fed cows milk butter and grain-fed cows milk butter. (It's a bit tedious comparing loosely-sourced health claims for some of this stuff.)
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:37 PM on July 17, 2014

A1 is the new gluten.
posted by Long Way To Go at 10:42 PM on July 17, 2014 [9 favorites]

> A coworker recently asked what I put on my morning cereal and I said tears. I'm pretty sure he thought I was kidding.

I went to summer camp with a fellow camper who put apple juice on his cereal instead, since he had a similiar extreme allergy to dairy.

Honestly, why not?
posted by mrzarquon at 11:20 PM on July 17, 2014

I am allergic to cow's milk, I am allergic to soy. I am allergic to almonds, so almond milk is out. A coworker recently asked what I put on my morning cereal and I said tears.

If you have dairy and nut allergies there's also hemp milk, available in a couple of brands. The "Bliss" brand is from Manitoba Harvest, I think, and there's also Pacific Foods made in Oregon -- though I suspect the hemp seed is still from Canada in that case too. It's damn tasty stuff, denser and smoother than almond milk.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:45 PM on July 17, 2014

I have been told, on the down low, that moves are afoot to transition the NZ dairy herd over to A2, over the next decade. Meanwhile Fonterra will deny that there is anything in this, right up until the day it is complete.

This could be bullshit, of course, you should pardon the expression.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:47 PM on July 17, 2014

We tried A2 milk and didn't really notice any difference in flavour or how we felt. When we switched from Mega Dairy Corp milk to Local Farmers Co-op Milk, though, we noticed a massive improvement in flavour, that everyone in the family preferred. I don't really drink much milk anymore though, just in tea and coffee.

I believe Australian butter tastes different in part because dairy herds here tend to eat more grass, and French cows are alleged to eat more grain. I don't know anything about French dairying, though, it's just something I heard.
posted by thylacinthine at 11:52 PM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I always notice the difference in dairy flavour when I travel. NZ dairy is mostly grassfed and I find foreign milk and butter a bit nasty somehow.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:13 AM on July 18, 2014

When I was a kid there was milk in the grocery store dairy case that was labeled "from Jersey cows", complete with pix (drawings) of those Jersey cows. Excellent tasting milk, but I haven't seen that since, oh, the late 70's.
posted by telstar at 12:29 AM on July 18, 2014

But then I read that the main symptom of lactose intolerance is basically just being gassy, and I randomly have gas all the time anyway

From a little bit of lactose, sure. From a lot of lactose its more of the lying-on-the-floor from the intense cramping and ungodly things happening from your butt.

TMI maybe.
posted by Justinian at 12:51 AM on July 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm not sure the butter is related to the cow or what it eats. I think it's that what you find in continental Europe is a lactic type butter, and Australia is probably using the same as us Brits (and I believe the USA) - a sweet cream butter. See here for example.
posted by edd at 4:36 AM on July 18, 2014

I've been drinking a lot of almond milk lately but I recently read an article that made it sound like a really bad deal as far as nutrition and use of water goes so now I don't know what to do. I mostly only use milk for coffee and the rare bowl of cereal so the longer shelf life of almond milk is big plus. Now what?
posted by tommasz at 5:51 AM on July 18, 2014

(I'm lactose intolerant. I also cannot drink any milk, not even the lactose-free one. To this day, no doctor can explain that, and I asked a few good ones already. I even had myself tested for milk allergy (negative).

I can eat things like sour cream, ice cream, soft cheese etc. just fine with lactose pills. But lactose-free milk gives me the worst cramps.)

Interesting. Spent last Christmas at my sister's place in the UK and noticed the A2 milk in the Supermarket but in the end I did not try it.

I did, however, learn to avoid every possible dairy product in the UK, ever, because they gave me the worst cramps ever, even with lactose pills. No idea why. I can eat many things with lactose pills without issues here in Sweden (i.e. sour cream), same thing made my digestion go nuts in the UK.
posted by KTamas at 6:52 AM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the autism claim put me right off.
posted by OmieWise at 7:14 AM on July 18, 2014

i love milk. How much do these fancy milks run? I'm pulling milk down at $3/gallon or thereabouts right now.
posted by rebent at 7:46 AM on July 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I feel it's an untrue criticism to portray Mother Jones, particularly, as making any "claim" re: autism & A1 milk.

I understand why a claim like that would bother people - it's facile, and Mother Jones is not a scientific journal.

But when I vetted the piece before posting I noted it is not doing anything like that - I would not have posted it if I thought it were. Specifically:

*(in the FPP pullquote) "...the evidence is far from conclusive"
*"...a condition that other research has tied to autism. The study, underwritten in part by A2 Corp...."
*"The results suggest that drinking A2 milk instead of A1 milk could reduce the symptoms of autism, Trivedi says, but, he adds: "There's a lot more research that needs to be done to support these claims."
*"The leading explanation for why some people but not others may react poorly to A1 milk implicates leaky gut syndrome..."

I read all of that as being very careful NOT make any definitive claim, as well as being careful to point out who's funding the research - which is good journalism.

I have not read Woodford's book. He links to research & published studies, which can be found through the links in the post. I cannot say if he's definitively making that claim or not; if he is, or if anyone else is, I am personally skeptical. But I think whether or not that particular claim is being made, there's clearly many other reasons to be interested in the A1/A2 milk issue.
posted by flex at 7:48 AM on July 18, 2014

Anecdatafilter: About 8 years ago, I realized I was lactose-intolerant. Lactaid pills are a nuisance, and I've mostly removed dairy from my diet. After a while, I realized that many of my auto-immune issues have gotten a lot better. I don't care if it's a coincidence, I really enjoy have greatly reduced arthritis, to say nothing of having less gas and bloating. Milk is not required in a healthy diet. I miss cheese, yogurt, ice cream, etc., but not as much as I enjoy missing chronic pain. When I visit Ohio in August, I'll try some ice cream from Young's Jersey Dairy.
posted by theora55 at 8:31 AM on July 18, 2014

I don't know, flex. Given the level of discourse, and persistent anti-scientism, around autism, I'm not sure there are appropriate caveats that could make the claim acceptable. I get where you're coming from, but I don't think on this topic one can make a credible claim to contingency.
posted by OmieWise at 8:31 AM on July 18, 2014

i love milk. How much do these fancy milks run? I'm pulling milk down at $3/gallon or thereabouts right now.
posted by rebent at 7:46 AM on July 18 [1 favorite +] [!]

We sometimes drink insanely delicious milk. (Trickling Springs Creamery at http://www.tricklingspringscreamery.com.) I think the non-organic runs about $8/gallon. It truly feels like a luxury.
posted by semacd at 1:45 PM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

"I'm not sure the butter is related to the cow or what it eats. I think it's that what you find in continental Europe is a lactic type butter"

Cultured butter is fine. But I find North American butter tastes like wax.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:49 PM on July 18, 2014

There are a number of off-flavors in milk (garlic/onion, grain, etc.) that are due to things the cow eats, and IIRC, that's also the case for butter (source: a whole semester of dairy products judging as an undergraduate). Butter from grass-fed cows is wonderful, butter from grain-fed cows, not so much.

With respect to an early comment in the thread, Monsanto is a non-entity in the cattle breeding world. They make their money selling drugs and feed additives, not cattle, semen, or embryos.

One reason that A2 milk is not more prevalent is that the genetic test is expensive, so most farmers don't know for sure what their animals' genotypes are. All of the milk from the bulk tank on the farm goes into the same truck, so there's not really a workable way right now for large milk plants to pay a premium for A2 over A1 milk. And even if there was such a system, there currently is no consumer demand, so there is no reason for the creamery to pay more for A2 milk. My experience in the dairy industry (note: I'm a geneticist, not a milk marketer) leads me to conclude that there's really NOT an evil conspiracy afoot to suppress A2, there's simply no financial incentive to encourage a move towards it. That's particularly true as demand for dairy products is rising in China and world market prices are relatively high.

From a geneticist's point of view we have the tools we need to spread A2 more widely through the population, but it will take time. The Guernsey population is very small now, and most dairy farmers aren't willing to sacrifice production for protein composition by using Guernsey bulls on their Holstein cows. The Jersey population is much larger, but the same thing holds true. The black and white cow is extremely good at making lots and lots of milk and milk solids, and that's what our current pricing system rewards.
posted by wintermind at 4:48 PM on July 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Wintermind: there's not an evil conspiracy to suppress A2 milk

A2 milk is being promoted by the A2 milk corporation to the profit of the A2 milk corporation. They have a financial incentive to convince people that A1 milk is harmful.

Besides, the difference between A2 and A1 milk is one amino acid (three nucleotides at most). It will be easy enough to directly transfer the trait via gene editing of fertilized embryos without having to breed it in and disrupt the desirable Holstein traits.
posted by benzenedream at 8:45 AM on July 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

The article isn't totally clear but it sounds like some Holsteins already produce A2 milk; all that is required is a little testing and selective breeding. Expect that to gain traction in the States once the patent expires on the test.
posted by Mitheral at 8:01 PM on July 20, 2014

So, I went to the afore-mentioned Young's Jersey Dairy. It has grown into quite a tourist destination, but the milkshake was still thick and delicious, and did not distress my innards as milk usually does. Also, a nice older gentleman hit on me.
posted by theora55 at 7:01 AM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

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