The inaugural VistaMilk SFI Research Centre kicked off its MasterClass series last week, with discussions centred around A2-milk.
International scientific and commercial experts addressed 114 VistaMilk participants Paddy O’Keeffe building at Teagasc, Moorepark.
Attendees heard that approximately 25-30% of cow’s milk is made up of beta-casein of which there are several types.
The most common types are A1 and A2 with only a tiny genetic difference in the DNA of the cow giving rise to either type.
A2 milk currently commands twice the price of regular milk in the southern hemisphere, and this milk type is now migrating onto European and United States shelves.
Those who attended questioned if a A2 milk is the next trend in dairy and what, if any, is the scientific evidence underpinning its uptake.
The audience heard that a variety of hypotheses have surrounded the A2 milk story, most notably, that A1 milk has a greater potential to release an opioid peptide β-casomorphin-7 (BCM-7), which contains activity of a pro-inflammatory and immunomodulatory nature during digestion.
It has been suggested that this BCM-7 results in an increased risk of certain pathologies including Type 1 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, alterations of the digestive functions, and autism or schizophrenia. Discussions on the day concluded that the scientific evidence to support most of these hypothesise is, at best, weak.
Migrate to an A2 herd
Professor Ian Givens from the University of Reading, presented results from published studies using animal models to examine the impact of A2 or A1 on a variety of pathologies such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and neurological disorders.
For each of these pathologies, differences between A1 and A2 milk were not observed, or far from conclusive, while evidence that A1 beta-Casein is related to schizophrenia is very scant.
Professor Daniel Tomé, INRA, also concluded in his talk that studies concerning an alteration of the digestive functions were sometimes difficult to properly interpret since the subjects are often self-declared as intolerant to lactose and this may create biases.
It is notable from the available literature that possible alterations to the digestive properties may only impact a certain demographic of subjects, the mechanisms around which are still unclear.
Aside from any health or digestive-related outcomes from the consumption of milk of the A1 or A2 variants, Professor Henk Bovenhuis, Wageningen University, demonstrated that selection of cows for the A2 variant has been associated with favourable impacts on milk fat and protein yield, but a reduction in k-casein content of these milk was also observed which can have significant repercussions on the renneting characteristics of milks.
Such results highlight there may be downstream processing considerations should an industry decide to migrate to an A2 herd.
Dr Sinead McParland, Teagasc and VistaMilk, revealed that 40.5% of Irish cows produce A2-milk which was consistent with the frequencies presented by Professor Lotte Bach Larsen in Denmark.
Dr Marianne Walsh from the Irish National Dairy Council demonstrated that market research on A2 milk in Ireland is limited. Therefore, it is plausible to assume that the Irish consumer is relatively unaware of A2 milk, but that its production could fill a niche.
The conclusion from the A2 MasterClass was that there is limited robust scientific evidence to support any claims related to the consumption of A2 milk.
Such claims in the past have been paramount in the innovation and formulation of new dairy products.
Dr. Mark Fenelon, Head of the Teagasc Food Research Programme, outlined the VistaMilk and Teagasc plan to carry out research to address some of the unknowns and ambiguity around A2 milk to enable farmers, processors and consumers to make more informed decisions in the future.