West Coast dairy company Westland Milk wants farmers to start using ‘A2’ bulls so that its whole milking herd can be converted to producing A2 milk over the next decade.
Westland’s acting chief executive, Hugh Little, said that the company was staying out of the scientific arguments over whether A2 milk was healthier than milk containing the A1 protein.
Most of the nation’s milk contains A1.
Little acknowledged the company, the nation’s second-biggest dairy cooperative after Fonterra, was effectively “future-proofing” itself against any perception that A1 milk can damage the health of some people.
Lincoln University Professor, Keith Woodford, published the book, ‘Devil in the Milk’ last year. The book claims that the general milk supply in most western countries carries an A1 beta-casein, releasing a protein fragment which is a powerful opioid and should be avoided.
A2 milk does not have the protein fragment.
The book collated research which Proffesor Woodford linked to theories that A1 milk was a factor in the incidence of type-1 diabetes and some heart disease, and might be implicated in a range of other illnesses, including autism and schizophrenia.
The New Zealand Food Safety Authority has said ordinary milk — whether or not it contains A1 beta-casein protein — is safe.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is reviewing the science of A1 and A2 milks and its report is due to be completed in December.
Fonterra group technology director, Jeremy Hill, said last year there was no compelling evidence of a need to switch the company’s dairy herds to A2 cows.
The EFSA has researched epidemiological linkages between adverse health effects in humans and their consumption of milk rich in A1 beta-casein.
Conventional milk companies face a commercial risk that if this analysis of scientific literature rings enough alarm bells, the European agency may seek a formal risk assessment of milk high in A1 beta-casein.
In that situation Westland would have a jump on any of the rest of the world’s dairy companies.
One expert has said that it could theoretically complete the changeover in less than six years if necessary.
“One of our advantages as a small company is that we are nimble and can make changes quickly,” said Little.
“There has been growing market interest and demand for A2 milk and it may create a niche for our business.”
The company’s 390 farmers between Fox Glacier and Karamea will produce about 76,000 tonnes of dairy products this season, and Little said about 60% of its milkflow was already A2 milk.
He said the cooperative would require farmers to use A2 bull semen from the start of the next mating season, and that the conversion of the West Coast herds might be complete between 2016 and 2018.
Little said while the conversion was underway, the cooperative could look at how A2 branding might be used.