Thursday, November 5, 2009

All milk is created equal - or is it?

I have posted a few times about the value of raw milk, for our health and for our taste buds.  If you have been following my blog, then you know my views on grass fed versus grain fed animals as well.  This is probably not a taste thing, but definitely a health thing, grass fed dairy products having four to five times as much CLA in them.  Since CLAs support our immune system in particular to help prevent cancer, heart disease and diabetes, that is a very good thing.

So let's look at this from the top down.  I'm going to assume all of my readers understand the value of organic products, so we will also assume that I am talking about organic milk for all of these various steps. 
  • At the top level, you choose between raw and pasteurized.  If you do buy pasteurized milk, you can get what is called "cream line" milk, which means that it has not been homogenized, and that is one tick better than pasteurized homogenized milk.  I will address that in a later post.
  • Next, if you have chosen raw milk, you can choose between milk from grass fed or conventionally fed cows.  It is very hard to find raw milk from grass fed herds, because if the farmer is not selling 100% of the milk to private shareholders and is depending on the commercial market for the sale of most of the milk, then the farmer cannot really afford to have a grass fed herd.  It reduces production by about 30%, and even though the shareholders might be willing to pay a higher price for that milk, the commercial market puts absolutely NO value on grass fed.  Really, if you said "CLAs" to producers, processors and consumers, 99.9% of them would have a pretty blank look on their faces!  Odds are, you will have a hard time finding grass fed raw milk even if that is your choice.  You have to find a crazy farmer like me who thinks quality should come ahead of quantity.
  • Finally, you have found a few sources for grass fed raw milk.  Good news!  Can you look any further?  Well, yes.  Are the cows producing A1 or A2 milk?  Say what?  There's more??
If you are a farmer who wants to get into the grass fed raw milk business, you can take any old herd and convert them.  It does take awhile, because cows that are used to grain will take a year or two to adapt to grass and hay diet only, but it can be done.  If the herd isn't organic, then you can put them into transition.  After nine months, their milk is organic, and any calves born to them are organic.  The cow will always remain a transitional cow, which means that if butchered, the meat may not be called organic.  But the milk is organic.  Pretty easy, huh?

However, no matter what you do, you cannot make an A1 cow into an A2.  It is genetic, and it goes with the cow and its milk (and half the genetic components of its offspring) until death.

Let's talk about why you as a consumer might wish for an A2 herd.  At some point in the evolution of the domesticated dairy cow, a gene that is part of the genetic makeup of casein mutated.  Casein constitutes 25% to 30% of cows' milk proteins.  The A1 varient of this gene has been implicated as a potential factor in Type 1 diabetes, heart disease, schizophrenia and autism.  The A2 variant has not been implicated in these diseases.

But implicated by whom?  This remains a hypothesis, still to be proven by any of the tests conducted to date.  One of the problems is the economic implications involved.  If it were to be proven that A1 milk is detrimental to our health, then the large commercial dairies will be in big trouble.  Holsteins are about 95% A1 milkers.  Holsteins are heavy producers, and so the breed of choice for factory farms.  The cost to convert from Holsteins to Jerseys, Guernseys and other heritage breed cows is tremendous.  Then add to that the lowered production, and the cost is staggering - to the consumer as well, because the retail cost of milk will surely rise.  Large, rich factory farms have the money to conduct tests of their own, and of course, these tests show that there is nothing in this hypothesis.  The consumer will be ready to agree because they don't want more expensive milk.  (I am saving a future post for the high cost of cheap food.)   On the other end of the spectrum, the tests that show the health benefits of A2 milk were conducted by a company that holds a patent on equipment used to check whether milk protein is A1 or A2, so they too have a financial interest in the outcome of the tests. 

Right now, the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) is in process of reviewing the allegations from both sides.  Hopefully they can remain independent.

I am not ready to implicate A1 milk as a culprit that is causing many of our health issues, especially since it might lead people to substitute milk in their diets with less healthy drinks, or even soy milk, which I cannot even term "less healthy," as it implies there is some value in soy milk.  Soy milk needs to be avoided at all costs.  If you must eliminate cow's milk, then try rice milk or almond milk.  As you have read in my earlier posts, soy blocks the absorption of iron, calcium and zinc. 

In the meantime, I tend to think that we have corrupted much of what Mother Nature gives us, at the end of the line with manufactured "food," and at the very beginning with hybrids, genetically modified grain and produce, and cloned animals.  My instinct is to stick with the old breeds and wait until the jury is in.  Our herd here is composed of all heritage breed cows.  With the exception of Brown Swiss, heritage breeds are predominantly A2 cows.  We have Milking Shorthorns, Dutch Belteds, Jerseys and Normandies here.  In addition, I bought a Guernsey bull.  Guernseys are at the top of the heap, with a whopping 95% of them giving A2 milk. 

My recommendation to you when you are buying milk is to get raw milk from an organic grass fed heritage breed herd, of course.  In order of what you might have to give up,start with heritage breeds, then give up organic (yes, less important than grass fed), then grass fed, then raw, then cream line.  Now you are buying in the store, and if you are doing that, then at least go back to organic.  You then have the assurance that they are not filled with antibiotics, bovine growth hormones and genetically altered grains.

Good luck!

1 comment:

  1. "I am saving a future post for the high cost of cheap food."

    My daughter and I were JUST having a conversation about this very subject last night. Looking forward to your thoughts and perspective on this topic.

    Thanks Susie!