Updated: Dec 28, 2022
The term "A2 milk" must have grabbed your attention by now and your health-conscious mind must have considered making the purchase at a premium price. But is it worthy enough of your hard-earned money? Over the years, India's urban dairy market is being flooded with these terms but the consumer is left with nothing but fear and confusion while making a decision on buying it. Here is an explainer of EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW.
WHAT IS A2 MILK AND HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM NORMAL MILK? Unlike the common belief that- "Milk rendered from desi cow (Indian cow) means A2." The fact remains too far. Milk of a foreign breed can also be A2 & milk of an Indigenous cow may not. It is not just the breed of the cattle, but the polymorphism in protein chains that decides the type of milk. To go into more detail, Milk has 2 types of proteins- Casein & Whey Protein. Casein- a major part of the protein is made up of a long chain of 212 amino acids. In the process of digestion, this long molecule is broken into multiple small chains known as Peptides. The key difference between A1& A2 Type milk lies at the 67th amino acid in this long-chained protein. In the A2 type of milk, the 67th position is occupied by an amino acid- Prolein whereas, in the A1 type of milk, the 67th position is replaced by another amino acid- Histidien, which forms a relatively weaker linkage at position 67. The presence of Histidein makes the enzymatic cleavage at the 67th position forming a 7-unit peptide (BCM7 or β-casomorphin-7) instead of a 9-unit peptide (BCM9 or β-casomorphin-9). This BCM7 is the root of the entire A1/A2 debate which is said to be potentially harmful for human consumption; However, no research/ clinical observation to date has been successful in demonstrating the claims to be evidently true.
As we have well established and understood that the presence of BCM7 or BCM9 defines whether the milk in A1 or A2, it is not always only one type of BCM molecule will be found in a milk sample. Sometimes it is BC7, sometimes BCM9, and sometimes the combination of both in a varied proportion.
What factors decide the presence of BCM7 or BCM9? Histidine at the crucial 67th position mainly appears from polymorphosis of Casein. Several studies suggest that over the years of rearing cattle for dairying, multiple cycles of outbreeding might have resulted in the genesis of such polymorphous compounds in milk. What remains most important for us as a consumer to understand is- NOT ALL INDIGENOUS (DESI) COW MILK IS A2 & NOT ALL FOREIGN COWS GIVE A1 TYPE MILK. A desi- Geer/ Sahiwal cow can give you A1 milk and a foreign breed like Jersey/Holstein Friesian can give A2 type milk. Although the government and all the stakeholder agencies involved in the industry are taking conscious efforts in maintaining genetic records of the cattle, selective breeding through new technologies viz: Sexed semen, embryo transplant; Today, we can not deny the fact that Indian dairy cattle have been outbreeding for several generations for high yielding breeding which has resulted into diminishing all the boundaries of pure A2 milking breeds unless a generational record is maintained.
The marketing gimmick and way forward for the consumer... If you are living in a metropolitan city, there's a high chance you have come across one or the other vendor selling milk under "A2 milk" label at a 30-40% premium price. Unless the dairy farm has a generational record of its cattle and reports certifying the milk to be A2, gone are the days we can be assured about its authenticity just from the breed being indigenous or foreign.
It has come down to being as senseless to pay the premium cost out of your hard-earned money as it is to defame the other standardized dairy brands that look after ensuring a healthy and nutritious supply of milk for the billion people.
FUN FACT: AMUL A2 MILK
India's largest milk producer and pioneer of the success story of the Indian Dairy Industry- Gujarat Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF)- Amul has come up with 1st standardized milk packet with assured A2 milk. How Amul is ensuring authenticity? you might think and ask. Here's a catch- Amul is selling Buffalo Milk under the label of A2. As the bovine species of Buffalo is only found in the Indian Subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Afghanistan)- the sub-tropical region, there is no chance of cross-breeding (outbreeding) in buffalos and subsequently no chance for occurrence of A1 type milk composition in Buffalo milk.
The gap in consumer outreach from the scientific community and the dairy fraternity has left the consumer at the mercy of those who have been spreading baseless interpretations, undue fears, and several hypotheses like fear of carcinogens, and several other potent opioids. The confusion is not only leaving many in unnecessary fear, but it is also making them pay the premium on their own fears. Many are running their social/ economic agendas under this blanket and many others are encashing health-conscious consumers' fear into multiples of profit. The true test of a smart consumer has only remained in understanding what they are being served and whether it is being authentically sourced and rightly labeled.
B. Tech (Dairy Technology) LinkedIn