Tonight the usually high standards of journalism displayed by the ABCs 7:30 report failed dismally when they aired a story about regular cows milk causing all manner of diseases from schizophrenia, heart disease, diabetes to impaired neurological development and autism.

It was a purely appalling piece, (watch it here) containing red flags for pseudoscience at every turn. Run as the lead story (making it appear to be important) it was peppered with testimonials, anecdotes and some very dodgy looking science.

I thought I must have stood on the remote and switched over to A Current Affair or Today Tonight when they showed footage of a woman saying switching from regular milk cured her hives and deep tissue swelling in only four weeks.

Then there was the story of the farmer’s daughter who was cured from diarrhea and vomiting overnight (or somesuch) after switching to magic milk.

Of note, scant evidence for regular milk causing these conditions was presented, or maybe I blinked and missed it. Instead there were statements about countries where more regular milk is consumed displaying higher levels of obesity and other diseases, but correlation does not equal causation. And these studies need to be interpreted with caution.

“They had someone who had a kid with eczema and the eczema had gone away, someone who didn’t get migraines anymore, someone who didn’t get stomach upsets anymore – those types of issues. All the stories can’t be wrong. I just believe there’s got to be something in it.”

So what is this magic milk of which they speak?

Cows give one of three types of milk. There’s milk with A1 casein (a type of protein), milk with A2 and some cows give milk with a combination of both. A theory, which apparently started in New Zealand in 2000, is that A2 milk is much better for your health than A1 milk.

The type of protein a cow produces depends on genetics, so A2 cows must be bred.

But what is even more interesting when I was researching this story I found out this is not the first time the A2 milk story has been covered by the ABC.

After the theory was first proposed in the year 2000 in New Zealand, the ABC covered it on Four Corners in 2003 and then on Landline in 2006.

The transcripts are available on-line and appear to be quite similar.

Just look at this for an example.

Four Corners, First Published 31/03/2003. Reporter Ticky Fullerton:

Nevertheless, a possible mechanism for how A1 milk might cause disease was now proposed. Protein molecules of A1 and A2 milk are both chains of amino acids. But in the A1 molecule, one amino acid is different, a weak link. A2 researchers believe this causes the chain to break, creating a small piece called Beta Casomorphin 7. And this piece is able move through the gut wall, into the blood, triggering disease.

Landline First Published: 06/08/2006. Reporter Pip Courtney:

A possible mechanism for how A1 milk might cause disease was now proposed. Protein molecules of A1 and A2 milk are both chains of amino acids, but in the A1 molecule, one amino acid is different – a weak link. A2 researchers believe this causes the chain to break creating a small piece called Beta Casomorphin 7 and this piece is able to move through the gut wall into the blood, triggering disease.

7:30 Report, 07/04/2010 (attributed to Four Corners 2003)

They claim that trigger is found in a weak link in A1 milks chain of amino acids causing the chain to break and creating a small piece called BCM7. They say that piece moves through the gut wall into the blood stream causing disease

But being that today’s date is 07/04/2010, it seems this story might be on a cycle of every 3 – 4 years. Slow news day 7:30 Report?

Here are some more similarities:

Four Corners, First Published 31/03/2003. Reporter Ticky Fullerton:

Milk has long been blamed for health problems – heart disease, diabetes and even autism. But in the new hypothesis, it’s not fats or sugar but protein, something you can’t even taste, under the microscope. A2 milk’s backers claim A1 triggers these diseases.

Landline First Published: 06/08/2006. Reporter Pip Courtney:

Milk has long been blamed for health problems – heart disease, diabetes and even autism. But in the new hypothesis, it’s not fats or sugar but protein, something you can’t even taste, under the microscope. A2 milk’s backers claim A1 triggers these diseases.

Oh Aunty, really?

And they even spoke to many of the same people.

Landline First Published: 06/08/2006. Reporter Pip Courtney:

Well, in 2004, the New Zealand Food Safety Authority asked Professor Boyd Swinburn from Deakin University to evaluate the research.

Four Corners, First Published 31/03/2003. Reporter Ticky Fullerton:

PROFESSOR BOYD SWINBURN, SCHOOL OF HEALTH SCIENCES, DEAKIN UNIVERISTY

After re-watching tonight’s story on-line, I’m not sure what prompted them to run it again. You might guess some significant new scientific breakthroughs, or advances in the understanding of how regular milk might cause such diseases. But sadly no.

I only saw one piece of new science in this version of the story, a paper from Russian researchers claiming developmental delays in babies fed A1 formula, which correlated with high levels of circulating BCM7.

But Professor Peter Clifton had this to say;

“I’ve certainly read that paper and I don’t think it’s groundbreaking and significant. In fact, if I had been editing that journal I wouldn’t have accepted that paper for many many reasons, essentially I don’t think they’ve actually measured what they claim to measure”.

There’s more

Landline First Published: 06/08/2006. Reporter Pip Courtney:

In 2004, the Queensland Health Department fined A2 milk marketers $15,000 for making false and misleading claims about the health benefits of A2 milk. Dairy Australia says the company broke the rules.

7:30 Report, 07/04/2010

It’s wary about the way it promotes the product. Mindful that back in 2004 another A2 milk marketer was convicted of making false and misleading health claims.

And finally:

Four Corners, First Published 31/03/2003. Reporter Ticky Fullerton:

TICKY FULLERTON: Just how plausible do you think it is that one factor, a protein in A1 milk, could contribute to diabetes, heart disease, autism and schizophrenia?

7:30 Report, 07/04/2010

Reporter Lisa Whitehead: Why don’t you go as far as claiming that A1 milk can cause heart disease, juvenile diabetes, even autism

The answer was a piece of unsubstantiated scaremongering from an A2 supporter:

“We’ve really left that topic to the scientists to talk about, there are many eminent scientists who would support that. Ummm, we would certainly say that yes, there’s some evidence, we don’t certainly talk avidly about that evidence but we believe yes consumers should make up their own minds about that.”

A2 milk is big business and much money can be made if either side can convince consumers that their milk is healthy and the other causes autism. I know, I’ve seen the reports detailing the ins-and-outs three times now (go read the transcripts if you want to know more). But this debate is really about the politics, and the money, not the science.

Well done to the 7:30 Report for contributing to the scaremongering by A2 producers and potentially lining their pockets, for the third time, along the way.

What a disgrace ABC.


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  • OMG

    did you know that the most dangerous substance on earth is water? Did you know that we share an enormous amount of DNA with a jellyfish?
    SFW?

  • Manuel Fernandez

    let’s remind oneself that those tablets are taking with meals please. Biostrath is taken before meals.

  • Manuel Fernandez

    I’ve got an email from a friend in which she shares a website that claims that “magic milk” cn cure eczema in “three minutes”. A certain Dr. Wright, I guess. “Whatever” , before throwing the baby and the bath water out the window, I wonder what makes those incessant bandwagons of “eternal” healing concerns and recipes pop out non-stop. Nowadays, stopping Hydrocortisone 2.5% and 1% ( after five weeks) has been the best way out of ( managing) eczema in a more grounded way, and it is working:

    virgin coconut oil as a daily moisturizer ( after a quick, warm shower ( never ever hot). Daily application ( at times twice at day, one before going to bed, after a pad dry shower) of a great calendula-chickweed-pantlain etc ointment made in the region where I live plus internal moisturizer- Green Pastures’ tablets of ( fermented) Blue Ice ( trademark) cod fish oil – must be kept in the fridge…There is red clover tea and violet leaf tea ( a teaspoon of each, mix it, drop boiling water on it – let it sit for to minutes, strain…and drink it). It keeps to reduce and heal the (inner-outer inflammation).

    There is rutin (or eat buckwheat which is full of rutin), and bingo kibola tablets – aways with meal and, before meal, that Swiss made wonder called Bio-Strath, tow tables before meal, eventually, after three weeks one can downgrade to one…). There also other things to explore: common sense, the reality of one’s pocket and environment, ask questions if one is interested. One’s body don’t like certain things that one’s mind got used to crave …I found out, through the Vega test ( which has nothing to do with vegan by the way …) that it is better to keep away from wheat, tomatos, oranges and lemon and alcohool, the rest is just fine, according to my reality – not yours…

    I’m allowed to consume 2% milk, and 2% yogurt. To consume chicken, meat ( which I don’t anyway), eggs etc. Each person needs to find out what is necessary, and be lucky if one has found knowledgeable, compassionate people either in the mainstream and alternative medicine who are open to a multidimensional approach to skin disorders for instance. Certain dermatologists are off the wall, and it might be that certain alternative people, are too …I’m lucky to explore such a path without being a prey of hydro cortisone galore ( it can be helpful for a short while though…then…move on to “greener pastures.”

  • Pingback: experts unconvinced about A2 milk benefits « the new ussr illustrated()

  • Himagain

    As on who originally trained as a Dairy Bacteriologist and Dairy chemist and tester, may I add a few odd points?
    .
    1. Long retired I have no axe to grind.
    .
    2. The actual purpose of pasteurization in the milk industry was to prolong shelf life. Pasteurisation ( a process named after an ignorant thief) is rather like hitting someone over the head to keep them quiet for a while.
    .
    It buys the milk industry a bit more shelf life before the aging becomes very evident.
    .
    3. Just as with honey, the heating of the product destroys the value of the product completely.
    .
    4. Humans should not be drinking any type of animal milk that is not predigested. It becomes what we call “cheese” then or earlier, clabbed milk, if you let the wogs eat it first…..
    .
    5. The synthetic chemical concentrations in any form of commercial milk product today, make them both dangerous and valueless to humans.
    .

    6. HINT: The word “BIODYNAMIC” on milk does make it much less dangerous.
    .
    7. HINT: Child got asthma? Excessive mucous production? Try eliminating all forms of dairy product not pre-digested as per above.
    .
    NOTE THIS IS NOT MEDICAL ADVICE IN ANY CONTEXT. Merely science.
    .

    Oh, A2 milk? VERY clever marketing, that’s all a bit like cosmetics.

  • Speak for yourself.

  • @scep dick wrote “We are the only species to continue drinking milk after we have been weaned.”
    .

    We’re also the only species to wear pants.

  • I’m at the exercise and sports science + sports dietitians annual conference and there is an A2 milk stand at the trade exhibition, will study this post and quiz them tomorrow!

  • Scep dick – that depends on the individual – if you cannot tolerate or digest milk products then obviously the answer is zero consumption. For others it might be just enough to add the nutritional value that dairy products have without overloading the daily calorific intake. For myself I would rarely exceed 200ml of whole milk in any one day and more often I will use skim or hi-lo (fat reduced) milk as I am overweight and in the process of reducing my calorie intake to shed the excess.
    .

    In short, the ‘ideal’ for you is up to you, not me. My point was that just because milk may be bad for you – it is not bad for everyone. Just because it is ‘good’ for some does not make it an ideal food for others either.
    .

    It is a fairly basic concept, no?

  • Ilijasx

    @ oh please
    .

    so far you haven’t provided one shred of genuine evidence that we can debate about.
    .

    Please show us at least one genuine study that meets the quality standards and we can have a proper discourse. Remember, you’ve made the claim : the burden of proof is on you.
    .

    Gracias

    ilijasx

  • @ oh Please – well you make a silly statement “I’ve searched but I have yet to find any information on the millions of people that must have died worldwide prior to the introduction of dead milk.”
    .

    You cannot have looked hard and you introduced the ‘Big Biz’ conspiracy – as if Louis Pasteur had the dairy industries interests in mind when he developed the process we know know as Pasteurization.
    .

    To be frank, while the sins of big business are many – and the big dairy companies are included in that, food safety – including the pasteurization process are not some evil plot.

    ./

    Does raw milk taste better – well dammit yes, in my opinion. Is it safer – most certainly not as a consumer product. Pasteurization is about reducing the risk of illness and death – Raw milk can contain Campylobacter, Escherichia coli, Listeria, Salmonella, Yersinia, and Brucella and yes, people have died in the past from these pathogens. At the time that Louis Pasteur started his work the records and known causes of death were not as robust as todays, but if you could not find the appropriate information about mortality and illness relating to the bacteria above in raw milk then I think you may have taken only a shallow trawl in the interwebs.
    .

    The CDC in the United States discourages the drinking of raw milk but does provide guidelines to reduce the risk if raw milk is consumed – their general comment on the subject of raw milk is:
    .

    “Raw milk is a well-documented cause of enteric infections and was first recognized as one approximately 100 years ago (6). Pathogens that infect humans, including E. coli O157:H7, are shed in the feces of cows and can contaminate milk during the milking process. Using standard hygiene practices during milking (e.g., washing hands, keeping equipment clean, and keeping the milking area separated from other areas) can reduce but not eliminate the risk for milk contamination. Pasteurization decreases the number of pathogenic organisms, prevents transmission of pathogens, and has been determined to improve the safety of raw milk more than other measures, including certification of raw milk (8). Because raw milk certification has failed to prevent many raw-milk–associated infections in the past, consumers should not assume that certified raw milk is free of pathogens (9). To prevent E. coli O157:H7 and other infections, consumers should not drink raw milk.”
    .

    http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5608a3.htm?s_cid=mm5608a3_e

  • scep dick

    @Grendel
    “For most of us the problem is not consumption of milk but over-consumption of milk.”
    What do you consider to be the ‘ideal’ amount to consume then?

  • oh please!

    Ok last post then bye:
    .

    Ilijasx says I sound alot like Meryl
    .

    Maggie says Ive been reading Mercola.
    .

    Ilijasx says that Ive been pulling a lot of pseudoscience straight out of the proverbial, and using the “big xxxx” conspiracy flag.
    .

    These are your responses to my comments on raw milk.
    .

    lol
    .

    as someone famous once said: “when you look behing the insults, you find ignorance”

  • @Scep dick – we consume a lot of things that are beyond what we consumed as we evolved. The simple fact is that as omnivores humans are adapted to consume a wide range of foods and while there is a range of tolerance for dairy in some, and a lack of the same tolerance in others, it seems rather foolish to rule out any source of nutrition just because ‘it worked for me’.
    .

    For most of us the problem is not consumption of milk but over-consumption of milk.

    .
    Balance, a wonderful thing.

  • scep dick

    God I love when anti-mainstream beliefs get challenged on TV. Makes me so happy! I suppose people who want to know more can do their own reading. I just wish someone had got up there and said ‘All milk is rubbish’. Its a start I suppose.
    .

    We are the only species to continue drinking milk after we have been weaned. And that of another species to boot! Cows milk is desined to make a 50kg calf into a 500kg bull in the shortest time possible. It’s designed for an animal with four stomachs to digest it. What on earth makes us think its a good idea to drink it!? Anyway, anyone wanting to clear up your skin, loose a few kilos and clear their head and throat should definately quit the white stuff. Worked for me.
    .

    “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain

  • I had not seen that article but I had heard about the billboards and I was furious. It is one thing to be concerned about the ethical treatment of animals but to make spurious claims does not bolster ones credibility.

  • @grendel, have you seen this?
    .

    http://www.wrongplanet.net/article377.html

  • @Maggie – advice followed although I feel your post is somewhat more authoritative than mine!

  • @james, head over to Grendel’s post for more info, she is way ahead of me!

    http://cafe-grendel.blogspot.com/2009/07/a2-milk.html

  • James – if you read my blog post you will see that I do not dismiss the hypothesis at all – As Maggie did in this post I just point out that the evidence at present does not yet substantiate what are quite remarkable claims. In some cases there is substantial evidence against some of the claims – for example the claim that the A1 protein ’causes’ autism.
    .
    This claim is related to the theory that autism is related to gut problems and the evidence chain here leads us right back to Andrew Wakefield – hardly a reliable source. I agree with Maggie that A2 milk may indeed have some benefits. I would support a hypothesis that suggests that there may be people who can digest one milk protein easier than another – I would like to see more research on that aspect.

  • Ilijasx

    @ oh please is also pulling a lot of pseudoscience straight out of the proverbial, and using the “big xxxx” conspiracy flag.

  • @oh please has also been reading Mercola.

  • Ilijasx

    @ oh please

    You’re sounding a lot like Meryl!

  • oh please!

    And meanwhile the main problem with milk is overlooked. Raw (unpasteurised)milk contains enzymes required to help the body process the milk. It is, of course, illegal to sell raw milk in Australia for consumption. Big Biz saw to that: it’s so much more profitable to sell heat treated milk which lasts so much longer.
    I’ve searched but I have yet to find any information on the millions of people that must have died worldwide prior to the introduction of dead milk.

  • Hi James,

    I haven’t read the science of the benefits of A2 or the evidence that A1 causes autism (this sounds like an extraordinary claim to me however) and other illnesses. I plan to do this at some point, but that is not really the point of this post. It is about a respectable news agency recycling the story three times without any new angles or offering new evidence, or even disputing the claims of the A2 promoters.
    .
    This is the point I am trying to make, that the reporting was credulous enough for viewers to assume that drinking regular milk will make them sick, so switch to our expensive but healthier milk today! It was more like a free ride for A2 producers, where claims about autism, heart disease and juvenile diabetes were hardly questioned.
    .
    There was barely any evidence presented for “the dangers of A1 milk” except the Russian study reporting impaired development correlating with high BCM7 levels. There might be some science to these claims – I don’t know because it was certainly not shown in this report. It was tabloid journalism, the likes of what we would expect from commercial television, not the respectable government funded ABC.
    .
    To reiterate, I’m not dismissing the idea that A2 might have some health benefits, I’m dismissing this report as credulous and irresponsible.

  • James

    You should read the science before dismissing the idea. Do you think it is impossible that the peptides in the proteins you consume can influence your body (in the case of A1 by producing BCM7). Did you know that human milk is more like A2 than A1 milk? Goats milk and Buffalo milk are also A2 like not A1 like.
    It’s a good thing to be sceptical but a bad thing to dismiss an idea becasue it has been published before!

  • @Grendel, I have sent a note and my blog to Media Watch. Perhaps you might like to do the same. http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/tipoffs.htm

  • I don’t drink carton milk anyway. All natural for me. We have our own milking cow – fed on butterflies, fairy wings and unicorn poo. It’s cheaper and we don’t have the goodness stripped out of it by Big Dairy.

  • I tackled A2 milk in July last year as it was gaining a certain cachet in specialty coffee and I felt the claims needed to be addressed.
    .

    http://cafe-grendel.blogspot.com/2009/07/a2-milk.html
    .

    I followed it up with some further examinations of milk in general and there was nothing in the literature that supported the claims made by the promoters of A2 milk. Eliminating a dietary protein will NOT change a diagnosis of autism. Autism is a developmental delay and the behaviours of the child will change over time – particularly if that child is within the group typically described as ‘high functioning’.

    I’m appalled to see the ABC deal with it so unquestioningly and the claim about autism is perhaps the most ridiculous of all. If there is one way to raise my ire – that is it.

  • Val

    I had read (researched) about this A1 A2 thing a couple months ago. Had seen that not much had been followed up with since the initial reporting and hoopla about A2 milk being available at HyVee and other stores. That was with regard to articles dated at least several years back. The only thing that was of interest to me was the fact that the old articles mentioned that A1 milk was a more current type of (protein) milk for our more current times, and A2 was what most had been drinking before the shift to predominantly A1. Additionally I had read a case about a mom whose child had been diagnosed autistic, but since she was a nurse she scrutinized the situation for her child and eliminated dairy and the child became better – not autism, severe allergy to dairy (this did not address the issue of types of protein in milk though). It might be that some people would be helped by eliminating A1 protein from their diet…especially if some have already done so and seen positive results from the elimination of A1.

  • Fuzztwin

    Nice one, Dr Rachie. Aunty is getting lazy in her old age, and perhaps even a bit senile.

  • If it were Today Tonight or ACA I could shrug it off. After all, they have form. But to see a story like this on the ABC – on the ABC’s flagship current affairs program, no less – was truly and sadly disappointing. I and I believe the rest of Australia expect a certain degree of journalistic integrity from the 7:30 report, so this is a real letdown.