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VistaMilk A2-milk MasterClass

The VistaMilk SFI Research Centre kicked off its MasterClass series last week in great style covering the sometimes contentious topic of A2-milk. At total of 114 VistaMilk participants attended the day-long session in the Paddy O’Keeffe building at Teagasc, Moorepark

The VistaMilk SFI Research Centre kicked off its MasterClass series last week in great style covering the sometimes contentious topic of A2-milk. At total of 114 VistaMilk participants attended the day-long session in the Paddy O’Keeffe building at Teagasc, Moorepark. Speaking after the event, VistaMilk education and public engagement manager, Eimear Ferguson, said: “This was the first of our VistaMilk MasterClass sessions where we invited international scientific and commercial experts to inform the VistaMilk Centre on a focused topic. The topics chosen are informed by the VistaMilk industry partners.”

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. The question posed to the speakers was if 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. 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.

Following a survey of the participants, the Teagasc VistaMilk site manager, Liz Walsh, who is leading the MasterClass initiative, announced that the next MasterClass will be on blockchain technology with relevance to Agri-Food, to be held in Galway in April 2020. Liz Walsh said; “The bar has been set very high with the quality, attendance rate, and interaction at our inaugural MasterClass, but we are fully confident we can maintain, if not surpass, all these metrics in April”.

The VistaMilk SFI Research Centre is funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) and represents a unique collaboration between Agri-Food and information communications technology (ICT) research institutes and leading Irish/multinational food and ICT companies.