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Backing for A2 Corporation puts pressure on Fonterra

By Deborah Hill Cone

Friday 24th January 2003

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The medical establishment will today come out in support of trials of A2 milk, intensifying pressure on de facto monopoly supplier Fonterra not to block distribution of the product.

A new research paper published in the New Zealand Medical Journal today presents fresh evidence on the link between A1 milk and heart disease.

But more significantly, a strongly worded editorial by Geneva-based World Health Organisation Professor Robert Beaglehole and University of Auckland epidemiology professor Rod Jackson in the journal calls for more research into the benefits of non-A1 milk.

"The attraction of the A1/A2 hypothesis is the simplicity of the potential public health intervention if the authors are proved correct. It would be reasonably straightforward to change New Zealand dairy herds to produce only A2 milk. The intervention would require no change in behaviour by New Zealanders and could be implemented with little personal difficulty for substantial health gain," Professor Beaglehole and Professor Jackson write.

The research paper by scientist Murray Laugesen and Professor Bob Elliott analysed co-relations between A1 milk and disease in 22 countries.

The authors conclude that correlations of A1 milk with heart disease raise the possibility that intensive breeding of cows over many years may have emphasised a genetic variant of milk with adverse effects in humans. "Clinical trials will be needed to determine whether A1-free milk can reduced the risk of DM-1 (type-1 diabetes) and IHD (ischaemic heart disease)," the authors conclude.

The findings support the crusade by A2 Corporation, the biotech company that owns patents for the health benefits of A2 milk.

"It's a very useful piece of research supporting our original work published in 1995," A2 Corporation chief executive Corrie McLauchlan said. "We're delighted to see Professor Beaglehole and Professor Jackson, two people with outstanding international records, supporting our research initiative."

A2 Corporation hopes the vote of support will help its case to get A2 milk into supermarkets to satisfy the public's demand for the product.

Groups of consumers, including diabetics and parents of autistic children, have been questioning why A2 milk is not yet available.

A2 Corporation has battled with de facto monopoly milk supplier Fonterra Co-operative Group as it tries to access supplies of A2 milk, with plans to get the product into supermarkets coming unstuck due to problems in signing up suppliers.

Fonterra says it does not separate out A2 milk and so is not in a position to supply it.

Marketer New Zealand Dairy Foods had signed a contract to distribute the product but backed down, citing concerns it would have harmed sales of its portfolio of A1 milk products.

As The National Business Review revealed two months ago, A2 Corporation is suing Fonterra in the High Court, claiming the dairy giant has covered up the allegedly harmful effects of A1 milk, including research showing a link between the "bad milk" and mental disorders.

Fonterra has denied the claims and described the lawsuit as frivolous.

In response to the latest research Fonterra yesterday said as the study itself pointed out "extreme caution" was needed in interpreting co-relation involving dietary factors.

"Our initial reading of it shows serious flaws in the conclusions drawn ­ for example, it shows no positive co-relation between tobacco consumption and heart disease," a Fonterra spokesman said.

The data was also selective ­ for example, it was based on deaths by heart disease rather than the incidence of heart disease, Fonterra said.

A2 Corporation shares were trading on the unlisted market at 15c this week.

Dr Laugesen and Professor Elliott's study discloses that part of their research was funded by a grant from A2 Corporation, in which Dr Laugesen is a minor shareholder. Both authors are also directors of the New Zealand Milk Institute, which owns a patent related to A1-free milk. Another patent it owned was sold by New Zealand Milk Institute to A2 Corporation.

They also thank the Fonterra Research Centre for testing milk specimens.

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