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Food by VICE

Breast Milk Is the Blueprint for a New Cow Milk

a2 Milk from New Zealand contains a protein that the company says is easier to digest. They're calling it “the milk that might change everything.”

by Lauren Rothman
Mar 16 2015, 6:00pm

Photo via Flickr user essjay

Food companies are not typically known to exercise restraint when devising their product slogans: Sara Lee assures us that nobody doesn't like their baked goods; Folger's purports that their coffee is the best part of waking up; and Wheaties tries to sell us on its high-fiber flakes by portraying the cereal as the breakfast of champions. But a New Zealand-based milk hitting American shores next month takes brand boasting to a whole new level, calling itself "the milk that might change everything."

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a2 Milk was launched Down Under in 2000 by a scientist, Dr. Corran McLachlan, whose research suggests that A2—a milk protein referenced in the product's name—is more easily digestible than A1, a protein also produced by some dairy cows. According to an article in today's Food Safety News, in earlier times, dairy cows produced milk that only contained A2. But about 10,000 years ago, a natural mutation occurred in European dairy cows that caused them to produce milk that also contained A1. Over time, this trait was consolidated in big, productive breeds like Holsteins, meaning that most of the milk we buy contains not just A2—the "original" milk protein—but A1, as well. And according to a2 Milk's producers, that's trouble.

a2Milk_USA_packshots_edit

Photo courtesy of a2 Milk

Peter Nathan, CEO of A2 Dairy Products Australia, told Food Safety News that McLachlan's research has shown that the A1 protein is associated with much of the discomfort people feel when they drink milk, and that it could be responsible for symptoms such as bloating, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea that together make up the syndrome known as dairy intolerance. Nathan noted that dairy intolerance is not the same thing as lactose intolerance, which is an allergy to milk sugars that affects about 5 percent of milk drinkers. Dairy intolerance, according to Nathan, affects a much larger segment of the population: 23 percent.

"Clearly dairy intolerance and lactose intolerance are not necessarily the same thing," he told FSN. "We believe that it is likely that the rest are reacting to the impact of the A1 protein, as many people who have a perceived intolerance can drink a2 Milk without the discomfort."

According to a2's website, more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers support the company's claims about A2 protein's digestibility. A human trial funded by A2 Dairy last year tested 41 subjects' responses to a diet of both A1 and A2 milk, and found that participants reported less discomfort when drinking A2 milk, and a study conducted on mice produced similar results, with the mouses' guts becoming less inflamed when fed the A2 protein. a2 Milk's producers claim that these results make sense given that human breast milk contains only A2 protein, which could mean that we really aren't genetically suited to consuming A1.

a2 Milk has proven to be quite popular in Australia, where, according to FSN, it's sold in all major grocery stores and accounts for about 9 percent of all the milk sold in the country. Next month, a2 will launch in major California supermarkets including Safeway, Krogers, and Whole Foods, and will be backed by a $20 million, three-year campaign to spread the product throughout the US.

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"We believe we're bringing a pure and natural product to the many millions of Americans who would otherwise have to restrict or avoid the goodness and taste of fresh milk," Jim Smith, a2 Milk's US marketing director, told FSN. "Independent research tells us that a2 Milk brings a digestive advantage to all. It is, after all, the original milk."

a2's producers hope the milk will appeal to consumers who have sought out raw milk for its digestibility—without the associated risks. According to CDC statistics, the consumption of raw milk caused 979 illnesses and 79 hospitalizations between 2007 and 2012. Because a2 Milk is pasteurized, it wouldn't pose the same threat to human health.

Still, in spite of the studies suggesting that A2 protein is easier to digest, the jury's still out on whether or not that's categorically true.

"Through the years, some studies extolling A2 milk have been refuted, and the general agreement is that some have been inconclusive and more research needs to be done," the FSN article notes. "Interest in the topic continues to drive research."

So if you're part of the population that has trouble with good ol' cows' milk, it might be best to stick with the vast range of dairy substitutes on the market today—or else hit Craigslist for a pouch of breast milk.