The entrance to Mr Dairy’s cowsheds in Gurugram is spectacular. Beethoven’s ‘Fifth Symphony in C Minor’ is playing in the background, and one of the 60 brown Sahiwal cows bounces over a low ledge, prancing away to an area of maize, barley, corn, wheat, and alfalfa.
In their feed, the five-month-old farm-and-office on the Gurguram-Faridabad Road incorporates hydroponically cultivated micro-greens from an organic farm in Ambala. Tushar Singh, the dairy farm’s 32-year-old founder, claims it makes his cows’ coats glisten.
Singh refers to Mr Dairy as a “start-up” despite the fact that it is a rebirth and overhaul of a nearly six-decade-old dairy firm named Nanak, which his grandfather founded in 1962. Before closing in 2001, Nanak had a daily supply of about 21 lakh gallons of milk throughout North India. Singh’s father, who was running the firm at the time, quit because “he said, ‘I don’t want to poison the public,'” which he was doing by adulterating the product to fulfill daily demand.
This is not a new issue. We’ve known for a long time that our bottled milk contains urea, detergent, starch, and formalin (a preservative known to harm the gastrointestinal system, liver, and kidney). The dairy business has been putting antibiotics into cows to improve output – the chemicals have eventually made their way into our cup of tea.
The current dilemma in the dairy industry, however, is the option between A1 and A2 milk. And Mr Dairy has succumbed to the latter argument.
The origin story
A1 and A2 are two types of beta-casein, a casein subgroup that is the biggest protein group in milk. Originally, only A2 protein would be produced by all cows. However, over millennia, a genetic mutation caused many of them to produce both A1 and A2 proteins, with others generating just A1. This mutation is “natural,” according to Dr. N Murali, Head of the Department of Animal Genetics and Breeding at Namakkal Veterinary College and Research Institute. Corran McLachlan, a New Zealand-based scientist and entrepreneur, launched A2 Corporation (later renamed as The a2 Milk Company) in 2000, armed with information regarding the claimed risks of A1 milk. He argued that the dominance of A1 beta-casein over A2 might be a public health hazard, resulting in type 1 diabetes, autism, an increased risk of heart disease, and digestive problems. The premise is that BCM-7, an opioid peptide produced during A1 digestion, has an effect on the immunological and gastrointestinal systems.
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A recent study on the effects of milk on Chinese youngsters was published in the According to the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, gastrointestinal dysfunction “may be at least partially attributed to the…release of…BCM-7 from beta-casein, rather than lactose intolerance”.Desi cow varieties such as Tharparkar, Gir, and Sahiwal have a genetic make-up that produces milk rich in A2.
“Bos indicus has a higher frequency of A2 protein,” Murali explains. However, cross-breeding with foreign breeds like as Jersey and Holstein Friesian (which produce twice as much milk per day as Holstein Friesian) has increased over time. Desi cows, although being A1-rich), for commercial purposes have simply confused the gene pool.
Et tu, A2?
Google’s Ngram tool, which traces the prevalence of a phrase in published texts, reveals that ‘A2 protein’ first appeared in the late 1960s, long before McLachlan. However, it wasn’t until the beginning of 2018 that the keyword reached a global high on Google trends. The majority of global attention has come from New Zealand, the home of McLachlan’s The a2 Milk Company. Australia is a close second, while India is a distant third.
Well-known dairy companies, such as Amul, have also begun selling what they claim to be A2 cow milk. This is despite the fact that the Food Safety and criteria Authority of India (FSSAI) has yet to set any criteria to identify amongst milks.
Save the breeds
- Pushing A2 milk usage might conserve local dairy breeds that are declining due to a lack of demand – they were historically employed for labor but are now being replaced by technology.
The Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, for example, which has authority over Murali’s institution in Namakkal, may only certify each animal as completely A1 or A2, or as having one gene dominant over the other. As if these arguments weren’t tenuous enough, A2 milk costs more than twice as much as conventional bottled milk.
Furthermore, “a few years after The a2 Milk Company’s patent, the claims that A1 causes schizophrenia, heart disease, and type 1 diabetes were reviewed [by the scientific community] and held to be unsubstantiated,” according to Dr Subhash Wangnoo, senior endocrinologist at the Apollo Centre for Obesity, Diabetes, and Endocrinology.
The European Food Safety Authority concurred in 2009 that there was no cause-and-effect link between ingesting A1 protein and the purported ailments. “There are no long-term cohort studies [studies conducted across generations to determine the cause of a disease] to say conclusively whether A1 milk is bad or A2 milk is good,” says Dr Shobna Bhatia, Head of the Department of Gastroenterology at the KEM Hospital in Mumbai.
While the terms cow’s milk and A2 are interchangeable, it is important to highlight that all buffalo milk is A2. A2 buffalo milk is available from a local dairy farmer for 50 rupees in Namakkal, where Dr Murali is situated. He further claims that buffalo milk has less “problematic cholesterol” than cow milk, despite the fact that the latter has recently gained popularity owing to its reduced fat level.
Purity over noise
Back at Mr Dairy, Singh adds another layer to the problem: whether your milk is A1 or A2, it might come with a slew of additional issues, particularly when packaged in plastic and not refrigerated below 4°C. At 160, the brand exclusively sells one-litre glass bottles. This is significant, particularly given that Singh’s parent company, Nanak, claims to have launched pouched milk in the early 1980s. “We made this whole poly-pack mess, and now we’re trying to clean it up,” he explains.
Instead of debating the A1 vs A2 dispute, indie milk startups are instead focusing on the issue of purity. Whyte Farms, a Delhi-based firm, focuses on supplying solely organic, hormone-free milk for $70 per one-litre bottle.
Happy Milk, a Bengaluru-based organic company, charges $80 per litre, although they also offer PET bottle choices.
The opposite side of the purity argument is that when milk is pasteurized, any actual goodness from the organic origin of the milk is destroyed. “By pasteurizing, we kill both disease-causing bacteria and good bacteria that help us digest milk,” explains nutritionist Manjari Chandra.
However, there are many who argue that there is no genuine need for milk. A youngster with stomach discomfort is the most prevalent patient in Dr Sarath Gopalan’s practice as a paediatric gastroenterologist and hepatologist. “Almost one in every five,” he claims. “In India, the most common cause is constipation, and children who have been exposed to milk and milk products for an extended period of time with no other foods are almost always constipated.” Furthermore, calcium from milk is not readily absorbed, according to Chandra, who adds that “it is better absorbed through freshly-set, home-made curd.”
What is your final takeaway? It’s acceptable if your youngster enjoys drinking a glass or two of milk. However, if getting out of bed every morning is a struggle, you may want to try something different, since, as Chandra points out, up to 60% of South Indians and 30 to 50% of North Indians are lactose-intolerant – and an irritated stomach will not absorb nutrition either. Although medical specialists are not yet convinced of the A1-A2 idea, organic milk from a glass bottle may be superior to what we receive from a plastic package.
Which cow gives A2 milk in India?
Tharparkar, Gir, and Sahiwal cow breeds in India have a genetic make-up that produces milk rich in A2. “All indigenous breeds, or Bos indicus, have a higher frequency of A2 protein,” Murali explains.
What breed of cow gives A2 milk?
Cows with the A2A2 gene only produce A2 milk. Jersey, Guernsey, Normande, and Brown Swiss breeds have more A2 genes than Holstein. There have been suggestions that A2 milk is simpler to digest, promotes health, and reduces the risk of certain illnesses.
What cows have the best A2 milk?
Cows carrying the A2 gene produce just A2 milk. When compared to Holstein, Jersey, Guernsey, Normande, and Brown Swiss breeds have a larger proportion of A2 genes. Some farmers have moved to A2 herds, however this might take many generations depending on your herd’s condition.
Are Indian cows A1 or A2?
Status of cattle in India
Indian native breeds of cows and buffaloes produce A2 milk and hence provide a supply of healthy milk. calves’s A1/A2 status is defined by the two beta-casein gene alleles, A1 and A2, and calves might be homozygous for one kind of protein (A1A1 or A2A2) or heterozygous (A1A2).