What is A2 Milk and Why does Canada Not Market it?

I am a bit biased when it comes to milk and Dairy production as I am fortunate enough to have Dairy Farmers on both sides of my family. I get to see first-hand the realities of dairy production and just how spoiled these cows are. Interestingly enough, I get to see two different breeds of dairy cattle as well. The one side runs Holstein cattle while the other side runs Jersey cattle. Not only do I love these farmers, farms, and cattle, but I also love them enough to have purchased some Holstein x Angus cows and some Jersey x Angus cows to add to my beef herd. These cows make great mothers and know how to raise some high-quality beef calves.

The reason I am getting into the subject of dairy cows is to talk about dairy consumption. There are many reasons an individual will not consume dairy products, but the most important reason for not consuming dairy (biased opinion) is a dairy sensitivity. I love eating dairy. I always make sure to look for the blue cow on all my products, and I eat cheese, yogurt, ice cream and I certainly drink lots of milk. Recently I had a baby, and she is dairy sensitive. Breastfeeding became very difficult as I had to avoid all dairy products. I found a few options, a couple of these options I wasn’t a fan of as I don’t like the taste of soy products. There is something about soy milk that just isn’t right. With further research, I found the New Zealand-based A2 Milk Company which is doing amazing things with their dairy herds in New Zealand.

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According to Carrie Dennett, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Menu for Change and Northwest Natural Health, the culprit to your lactose intolerance could be a specific protein in your milk called A1 beta-casein. Dennett explains, “Casein is the main protein in cows’ milk. Beta-casein, one type of casein, comes in two forms, A1 and A2, which are almost identical — but not quite. Some scientists say this slight variation might cause certain people to digest them differently.”

Previously, dairy cows only carried one beta-casein gene, which was the A1 form. As centuries went by, a mutation occurred that produced a second gene, the A2. Today you can have dairy cows that have purely A1, purely A2 or an A1/A2 hybrid.

The New Zealand-based A2 milk company slowly started to change their herds over to the A2 cows by breeding A2 bulls to purely A2 cows or A1/A2 hybrids. It has taken more than ten years to successfully change full herds into all A2 cows.

They now have a market in Australia and China. They also sell A2 infant formula for those dairy sensitive babies.

Although this seems quick and easy to accomplish, there is more to this than just breeding for the A2 trait. Lynsay Beavers, Industry Liaison Coordinator and Brian Van Doormaal, General Manager, of Canadian Dairy Network explain, “Breeding cattle to produce exclusively A2 milk will take time. An aggressive approach could include propagating only progeny from females tested to be A2A2. A more passive approach could include only selecting A2A2 mating sires. If the latter were used, the frequency of A1 beta casein in milk would halve with each generation or about every five years.” They also stress, “Both of these options would imply a substantial genetic sacrifice in terms of genetic diversity and genetic progress for production, health, fertility and conformation traits since many superior sires and females that carry the A1 allele would not be permitted to contribute to future generations.”

Beavers and Van Doormaal have the health of the public as utmost importance, but they are not willing to make rash quick decisions when it comes to their animals either. Health claims about A2 milk have not been fully substantiated, and there is not enough research out there claiming this milk is more beneficial.

For now, it sounds like there will not be a huge movement or push moving to A2 milk until there is more concrete evidence showing health benefits. Beavers and Van Doormaal do not oppose farmers choosing A2 sires over A1 sires if, “the sires are comparable for all other traits important to your breeding goals.” This will slowly lead to the steady increase in A2 milk over time without sacrificing critical genetic traits in the breed.

Although I wish dairy-sensitive individuals could have easy access to A2 milk, there are other options out there until this becomes a reality for Canada. You have to commend the Canadian Dairy Network for taking animal husbandry very seriously and not jumping on the latest health fad and sacrificing important dairy genetics and dairy health.

Until further research is done, I will sadly be chewing on tofu cheese.    

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