Is science tying itself in knots over ‘proof’

Or: how opinion is able to masquerade as truth

by Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Let me come totally clean. I am biased. I am biased toward believing that our food resources have been manipulated in the interests of bigger profits. I believe that pesticides and climate change (not necessarily independently) are harming the world as we knew it. However, I am also concerned that science on both sides of various arguments so hung up on double-blind testing that their research stalls on tit-for-tat bickering.

Take this recent report in The Press, Christchurch, from Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014.

The article, by Tim Hunter, describes a “new study into A1 and A2 milk could have profound implications for human health research, says one of its authors, after results suggested A! milk slowed digestion in rates.”


Above: Typical Friesian dairy herd in New Zealand.

I gave up drinking milk when a number of digestive complaints identified for me that the white liquid was affecting several members of my family. The article attracted my attention because our local milk is bought from a farm running only A2 cows and operated on organic principles, although not registered as an organic farm. I was all prepared to find joy in this report as locals swear by the taste and efficacy of the milk, partly because it’s sold raw at Village Milk.

Bit of background here:

Cows producing A1 beta-casein in their milk are of European origin. They began to be bred into herds about the middle of last century (as I understand) increasing the numbers of dairy cows that carried the mutant gene. “Milks that are free of A1 beta casein include all goat milk, all sheep milk, all pure Asian cattle, and all ‘A2 milk’ from cattle. Human milk is also free of A1 beta-casein.” according to Keith Woodford is Professor of Farm Management and Agribusiness at Lincoln University in New Zealand.

“A recent paper published in the European Journal of Nutrition provides particularly strong evidence that A1 beta-casein causes gut inflammation and associated immune effects relative to A2 beta-casein. The trials were conducted with rats and, using normal scientific criteria, the results are sufficiently strong that the differences under these research conditions can be described as ‘conclusive’,” Woodford wrote in his Blog: Posts from Keith Woodford.

The new research

The research published in March by scientists from Ag Research, Massey and Lincoln Universities, New Zealand’s highly respected agricultural research universities, compared rats fed on A1 and A2 milk. The scientists found that the A! milk slowed down the digestion of the rats drinking A2 milk.

Woodford, a co-author of the study said the result for A1-fed rats was consistent with “existing observational evidence that A1 is associated with digestive discomfort, bloating, and constipation relative to A2.” He went on to stay that A2 milk could be a useful tool in managing diabetes.

Now I do have Type 2 diabetes but the thought of trying A2 milk as a drink is not one I can entertain. Perhaps I could make it into yoghurt or cheese?

My milk is better than your milk – bollocks

But here we get into into the “they did, they didn’t” arguing of researchers. While Woodward urges that human trials should be set up to see if the rat results are repeatable in humans, Isobel MacNeill, of Dairy Australia, an industry funded organisation working on dairy investment and research projects said the NZ study was not significant. She was quoted by Tim Hunter, as saying:”It’s not indicative of anything that would come out of a human trial. Overall its a weak study with not a great methodology.” Hmm, I wonder where the impartiality of that comment rests? Can you imagine if A1 milk was proved to be bad for you?

But when I read on I find that the A2 study was funded by the New Zealand Government and A2 Milk, an NZX listed company which owns intellectual property rights around A2 milk research and marketing! Oh, so there are suspects both ways. Where’s the independence?

How opinion is able to masquerade as truth

Which brings me back to the title of this Blog: Is science tying itself in knots over ‘proof’?

Must we have winners and losers in such research? Is science getting so hung up on there being only one answer, only one ‘right’ product or one ‘right’ way? How far are commercial interests steering the questions that are researched, and does that mean we get to hear only half the truth?

Some of us are affected by A1 milk, and some of us aren’t. Let those who are affected have easy access to A2 and stop the bickering about what is scientifically-proven research. After all, A2 milk is not going to kill us. How much A2 milk was in the Fonterra shipment to China?

by Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author