Beyond Alternative Solutions
Beyond Alternative Solutions
Emerging reports suggest that the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) has not only falsified Professor Swinburn's report on the health benefits of A2 milk, but has systematically mislead the public of New Zealand into believing that Swinburn concluded that A1 milk is safe.
"The Government's Food Safety Authority appears to have falsified the recently released A2 Milk report and mislead the public of New Zealand in its media spin regarding safety of milk," says Ron Law [09-832 4773, email@example.com], Principal of Beyond Alternative Solutions, an evidence-based risk and policy analyst consultancy.
The NZFSA should immediately release the original unaltered version of Professor Swinburn's original report and explain why the public of New Zealand has been deceived into believing that A1 milk is proven safe when Swinburn's report reaches no such conclusion.
"In order to restore the public's confidence in the risk management of New Zealand's food supply, a formal independent inquiry is also required," says Ron Law. "Falsifying reports and misleading the public about matters with such important potential health implications is totally unacceptable in a government department -- especially one that is supposed to be a guardian of public health."
In a press release to the New Zealand Stock Exchange, A2 Corporation, the proprietors of A2 identifying technology, referred to a "Lay Summary" in Professor Swinburn's report. It would appear that A2 Corporation had an original copy of the report, and rightly so.
And yet no such Lay Summary exists in the report available on the Food Safety Authority's website which refers that, "The report, Beta casein A1 and A2 milk and human health, AVAILABLE IN FULL [emphasis added] from the NZFSA web site".
The August 11 edition of Farmers Weekly has an important article buried on page 11 that alleges that Professor Swinburn was not aware, until told by a Lincoln University academic, that his report had been altered by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority prior to release.
It appears that the Food Safety Authority has altered the "Full" report by deleting a Lay Summary and has then included a Table of Content [not included in the original report], altered the formatting of the original document in order to maintain the original pagination, and kept the original "Revised Final" date of 13 July 2004.
It also emerges from emails obtained under the Official Information Act that the Food Safety Authority had previously advised Professor Swinburn that he should not use the term "Precautionary Principle" in his report because, "this term has all sorts of baggage associated with it..."
According to the Commerce Commission 12 August 2004 press release warning about making absolute statements, "A consumer should be able to make an informed decision based on factual information. Anything else could amount to a breach the Fair Trading Act, which can attract fines of up to $200,000."
The term 'Available in full' is an absolute statement and is absolutely untrue. The censored version, not the full report is available on the Food Safety Authority's website.
The Food Safety Authority has not provided the public of New Zealand with factual information and has in fact mislead consumers, politicians, farmers and the like by censoring the original report and then claiming it to be not only the full Monty, but also falsely claiming that there "is no food safety issue..."
In its 3 August press release the Food Safety Authority says, "...there is no food safety issue with either type of milk..." This is patently false and is not supported by Professor Swinburn's report.
The report spends 43 pages discussing such safety issues and essentially says that there is a smoking gun, but the jury needs more research to establish causality with certainty.
The fact that Swinburn included a "Lay Summary" as well as an Executive Summary in his uncensored report suggests that he was wanting to ensure that health officials didn't put a false spin on his report -- he clearly understood the political, public health and economic issues at stake if the A1/A2 hypothesis proves correct. He clearly found enough evidence of harm associated with A1 milk consumption to warrant further . Lay Summaries are becoming increasingly common as scientists endeavour to bypass spin doctors and communicate their research directly to "an audience of reasonable intelligence" but with no specific knowledge of the research.
In the censored Lay Summary Swinburn said things like, "The evidence to support the hypothesis that the A1/A2 composition of milk is a causative or protective factor in these diseases is reviewed in the report... The strongest evidence is for type 1 diabetes and heart disease... The relationship was very strong indeed, but these types of comparisons between countries can be difficult to interpret... Further research, especially involving human trials, is needed before it can be said with confidence that the A1/A2 composition of milk is important in human health.... The A1/A2hypothesis 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... "
Rather than the appropriate government agencies exercising their responsibility to communicate the current state of evidence to the public, including the uncertainty about the evidence, it appears that they have chosen to falsely state that there is no evidence of harm from A1 milk.
If the term, "Precautionary Principle" has "all sorts of baggage associated with it," as stated by the Food Safety Authority, it is because officials don't understand its implications.
Simply, the precautionary principle should be exercised when, having undertaken an evidence-based risk assessment, as Professor Swinburn has done, there is sufficient uncertainty that warrants risk managers, in this case the Food Safety Authority, to err on the side of caution.
In this case there are two risk management issues that both warrant a precautionary approach.
Swinburn's report states, "Changing dairy herds to 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."
In other words, Swinburn sees the link between the strategic and commercial realities of changing farm practices and public health. Current knowledge suggests that if a precautionary risk management option was being considered then the Dairy industry would be supporting a move to A2 milk - just in case it proves to be beneficial. If the A1/A2 hypothesis proves correct, then there are major economic implications for both the dairy industry and New Zealand's economy as a whole.
To ensure that farmers don't miss out on the commercial benefits of producing A2 milk now or in the future they should be taking a precautionary approach [ie applying the precautionary principle] and seriously considering switching their herds to A2 producing cows. Apart from initial costs, there is no down side if the hypothesis fails, and considerable potential upside. It seems that converting herds to A2 production makes good sense indeed from a risk management perspective as if the New Zealand industry does not embrace A2 milk then it stands to be consigned to a comodity product with significant health hazards -- at what cost to individual farmers or New Zealand economy as a whole?
Swinburn also says, "As a matter of individual choice, people may wish to reduce or remove A1 -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 substantial uncertainty about the benefits of such an approach."
In other words, Swinburn believes that there is sufficient evidence for the precautionary principle to be applied by consumers informed of the facts -- including the uncertainties.
Why has the Food Safety Authority failed to communicate that simple, but important message as recommended in the report? If individuals then choose to make lifestyle choices involving A1/A2 milk products they do so knowing that they have nothing to lose, but much [potentially] to gain.
On TV3 News on 4 August 2004, a Food Safety Spokesperson stated, "Our interest was clearly food safety issues around milk consumption and this report confirms our advice that it's very safe to drink any milk that's in the market place, A1 or A2."
The Report does not confirm that, "it's very safe to drink any milk." In fact the 43 page Report does not use the word "safe" at all; not once.
As for the benefits of A2 milk production to New Zealand as a whole? If the A1/A2 hypothesis proves correct, then hundreds of millions of dollars are at risk both commercially and public health wise if we accept the Food Safety Authority's false spin. As a nation, can we afford to take that gamble? The precautionary principle says not and backs Swinburn's advice regarding further research, switching herd production, and consumers choice.
Having read both the report, and significant other science not included in the Report, an informed consumer would switch to A2 milk which has no known hazards associated with its consumption, but considerable potential benefits. If I was a dairy farmer, I'd be having a serious chat with my advisors about switching to A2 milk production... the AI season looms.
What faith can the public of New Zealand have in Food Safety Authority risk management decisions?