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‘Misleading’ spin on A1 and A2 milk review

Food Safety Authority puts ‘misleading’ spin on A1 and A2 milk review

By Keith Woodford Professor of Farm Management & Agribusiness Lincoln University

The New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) claim to have released in full the Swinburn Report on A1 and A2 milk report. However, they omitted Professor Boyd Swinburn’s Lay Summary.

I have subsequently obtained the Lay Summary under Official Information Act Disclosure. Carol Barnao, Director of Dairy and Plant Products at NZFSA states in a covering note that “it was not included in the final report, which is available on our website, as we feel that the tone is inconsistent with the substantive report”.

How can NZFSA claim to have released a report in full when they exclude material because they do not like the ‘tone’? Having omitted the Lay Summary they then reformatted the Executive Summary so that it took up more pages and this kept the total page numbers of the report unchanged.

The NZFSA have then made misleading statements in releases to the media. According to the NZFSA Press Release ‘there are no safety issues with either type of milk’. Carole Inkster of NZFSA also said (Channel 3 News, 6pm, 4 August) “this report confirms our advice that it is very safe to drink any milk that’s in the market place, A1 or A2”

Nowhere in the 43 page report did Professor Swinburn, who is from Australia, use the word ‘safe’. In fact, what Professor Swinburn had to say in this regard was quite different:

The A1/A2 hypothesis is both intriguing and potentially very important for population health if it is proved correct. It should be taken seriously and further research is needed. In addition, the appropriate government agencies have a responsibility to communicate the current state of evidence to the public, including the uncertainty about the evidence. (Lay Summary)

Changing dairy herds to produce more A2 producing cows may significantly improve public health, if the A1/A2 hypothesis is proved correct, and it is highly unlikely to do harm. (p6)

As a matter of individual choice, people may wish to reduce or remove A1beta casein from their diet (or their children’s diet) as a precautionary measure. This may be particularly relevant for those individuals who have or are at risk of the diseases mentioned (type 1 diabetes, coronary heart disease, autism and schizophrenia). However, they should do so knowing that there is considerable uncertainty about the benefits of such an approach. (p6)

The overwhelming message from his report is that there is no certainty at this
stage. The other big message of the report is that more research is needed, and that government has a responsibility in this regard.

Professor Swinburn has advised me that he was not aware (until I told him) that the Lay Summary had been deleted. He has also said to me that if he were in a high risk category then he would himself probably drink A2 milk because there is nothing to lose and potentially something to gain.

Disclosures under the Official Information Act also show that Carole Inkster of NZFSA stated to Professor Swinburn in April 2003, when he was undertaking the report, that “In relation to the precautionary principle our preference would be not to discuss it as the ‘precautionary principle’ –this term has all sorts of baggage associated with it”. This ‘guidance’ would seem inconsistent with NZFSA playing with a ‘straight bat’.

It is notable that the report was released at a time when Professor Swinburn was unavailable for comment, when NZFSA were aware that he would be available in New Zealand, with time available for media interviews, less than one week later. Given that 13 months had elapsed from the time of the draft report to the final release it is difficult to see that one more week would have mattered.

Several steps now need to be taken. The first is that there is need of an independent inquiry as to the behaviours of the NZFSA. Quite simply, by their actions they are not fulfilling their statutory duties to play the game in relation to food safety matters with a ‘straight bat’.

The second step is that Professor Swinburn’s Lay Summary should be publicly released and the Food Safety Authority be required to act on the recommendation ‘that the appropriate government agencies have a responsibility to communicate the current state of evidence to the public, including the uncertainty about the evidence’.

The third step relates to deficiencies in Professor Swinburn’s Report. It is apparent that Professor Swinburn was not aware of a lot of the published evidence. There are at least another 40 papers (for which citations have been provided to Professor Swinburn this week), and arguably quite a lot more that need to be reviewed, in addition to the 38 that Professor Swinburn reviewed. In particular, Professor Swinburn has not taken into account a considerable amount of evidence relating to autism and schizophrenia and this has clearly influenced his findings.

Arguably the two most important missing bodies of work are the autism literature associated with Professor Cade and his group at University of Florida, plus the scientific literature in relation to beta-casomorphin-7. This latter literature is not directly about A1 or A2 milk, but is extremely important because of the widespread evidence that beta-casomorphin-7, which is an opioid, is derived only from A1 milk.

It is therefore extremely important that Professor Swinburn (or another acknowledged and clearly independent expert from a pre-eminent institution such as Harvard University) be contracted to review this evidence.

It is essential that New Zealanders are provided with the best evidence available in relation to A1 and A2 milk so that they can make their own decisions.

Why is the issue of A2 milk of such interest to me as a professor of farm management and agribusiness? The answer is that it is not only health officials who have to worry about risk management in relation to A2 milk. It is a crucial issue for every NZ farmer and also the NZ economy. Although it is not difficult to convert NZ herds to production of A2 milk, it will take about 10 years for this to occur. Hence, farmers need good and early information on which to make their breeding decisions. It will be an absolute disaster for the NZ dairy industry if farmers do nothing (because of NZFSA spin that it is a non-issue) and then they (and all New Zealanders) get caught out if or when the final proof rolls in.

Disclosure of interest statement: Keith Woodford has family members who have a share portfolio that includes A2 Corporation shares, although he does not personally own A2 Corporation shares. Keith has no consulting relationship with any company in relation to matters surrounding A1 and A2 milk.


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