There has been ongoing debate over the health implications of proteins such as beta-casein A1 and A2, which are the most common proteins in cow’s milk, involving major dairy groups including the New Zealand-based cooperative Fonterra.
Now the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has completed its review of available scientific literature that addressed the possible health effects of beta-casein and related peptides in milk and other foods, such as autism, cardiovascular diseases and type I diabetes.
It concluded that “a cause and effect relationship is not established between the dietary intake of BCM7 (beta-casomorphin-7), related peptides or their possible protein precursors and non-communicable diseases”.
As a result, a formal EFSA risk assessment is not recommended.
The review has far-reaching implications as, when it was launched a year ago, New Zealand’s Food Safety Minister, Lianne Dalziel, said the outcome would resolve the current debate around the science of A1 and A2 milks.
He also said at the time that it meant that it was no longer necessary for New Zealand Food Safety Authority to stage its own review designed to allay consumer fears related to claims made in a book by Lincoln University professor Keith Woodford that the A1 protein may be damaging to health.
A1 versus A2
Fonterra, which supplies milk containing A1, has been at loggerheads with the New Zealand-based A2 Corporation, which produces milk containing A2 and claims this offers improved reduction in health risks that is not the case with A1.
According to reports on 3news.co.nz, Fonterra welcomed the EFSA review - which canvassed claims that milk containing A2 was less likely to cause health problems than milk containing A1 – and said it reinforced a need for health-related claims to be proven before they are widely publicised.
Fonterra spokesman Jeremy Hill reportedly said: "The review showed that different types of cow's milk are safe to drink and no one type of milk is safer than another."
Dr Clarke, A2 Corporation chief strategic and scientific officer, said that A2 Corporation also welcomed the review.
However it was pleased that EFSA had “clearly identified that BCM-7 (yielded from A1 beta casein) can act as an opioid that can have ‘different effects in the lumen and intestinal mucosa, such as regulatory effects on gastro-intestinal motility and on gastric and pancreatic secretions’.”
Dr Clarke claimed this meant there was “strong potential for the protein fragment in question, BCM-7, to have wide ranging effects on the digestive system”.
A2 milk was launched in New Zealand and Australia in 2003, and has also seen interest in the UK, South Korea and the USA.