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Goat’s milk dangerous for dairy allergy sufferers

Goat’s milk potentially dangerous for dairy allergy sufferers

Widespread claims that goat’s milk can be a suitable alternative for those allergic to cow’s milk may endanger the lives of infants and children who have cow’s milk (dairy) allergy.

Similar claims in Australia resulted in an infant having a life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a goat’s milk product after his mother read that the milk may be suitable for cow’s milk allergy sufferers.

Allergy New Zealand, a not-for-profit organisation that provides education and support to those who suffer from allergies, is concerned with this widespread belief and warns cow’s milk allergy sufferers that other animal milks can be dangerous.

“Information such as this can be misleading and could result in an infant or child suffering a life-threatening reaction. There have been no reported deaths in New Zealand from goat milk products, however it is vital that cow’ s milk allergy sufferers understand the risks from other milks such as goat’ s or sheep’s milk products,” says Allergy New Zealand’s president, Natalie Lloyd.

The issue surfaced late last year after the Dairy Goat Co-operative partly sponsored research into the digestibility and allergenicity of goat milk. The study suggested that New Zealand goat’s milk infant formula may be expected to have lower allergenicity than cow’s milk formula due to improved digestibility of one protein in goat milk.

It also came to Allergy New Zealand’s attention that claims about goat’s milk suitability for cow’s milk allergy sufferers were on labels of some goat milk products.

Auckland allergy specialists Dr Vincent St Aubyn Crump and Dr Jan Sinclair have dismissed such claims and warn that substituting goat’s milk for cow’s milk could result in a severe allergic reaction. It could also result in individuals becoming sensitised – or allergic – to milk products.

"Goat's or sheep's milk should never be recommended as a cow's milk substitute in cow's milk allergy, or as a means of preventing allergies in high-risk infants,” Dr Crump says.

Several international studies have shown that the vast majority of infants and children who are allergic to cow’s milk will also suffer an allergic reaction to goat’s or sheep’s milk, as the proteins in the milks are so similar.

“In someone with life-threatening milk allergy,” Dr Crump says, “the digestibility of the milk is a relatively insignificant factor. Some patients will even react from milk contact within the mouth, long before digestion takes place in the stomach!”

Allergy New Zealand alerted the New Zealand Food Safety Authority to the unsafe claims, and as a result the company in New Zealand has removed claims from packaging. Similar action is being taken across the Tasman. However, no public statements have been issued and no product recalls were made.

Allergy New Zealand works closely with food industry to help provide good understanding of the issues for those with severe food allergies. “Life-threatening food allergy simply cannot be taken lightly,” says Lloyd. “Too many deaths have occurred throughout the world from accidental ingestion of foods to which these people were allergic. We don’t want to be shooting food allergy into the spotlight in New Zealand as the result of a tragic accident here. We are not being over cautious – where people’s lives are at stake, no amount of caution is too great.”

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