Approval of PGP programme gives a boost to the sheep milk industry

New Zealand’s fledgling sheep milk industry has been given a significant boost today with approval of the business case for a new Primary Growth Partnership (PGP) programme between the Ministry for Primary Industries and Spring Sheep Milk Co.  The new ‘Sheep – Horizon Three’ PGP programme aims to develop a market driven, end-to-end value chain generating annual revenues of between $200 million and $700 million by 2030.

The ministry invests in cutting-edge innovation programmes through the PGP in partnership with industry.

It will be investing $12.56 million (40 per cent) into the new programme; Spring Sheep Milk Co will invest $18.83m, representing a total investment of $31.39m over its six-year life.

Spring Sheep Milk Co is a 50/50 partnership between Landcorp and a number of New Zealand investors through SLC Ventures LP.

Its co chief executive Scottie Chapman says with PGP support, sheep milk represents a unique opportunity for New Zealand to build a high-value sheep milk industry.

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Will you be in A1 shape if you switch to A2 milk? Let’s look into the science

Nicholas Fuller, a research fellow at the University of Sydney, has been looking into the science behind the claims made by the producers and marketers of “A2 milk” and issues raised during the debate about whether A2 is better for us than regular milk.

His article has been published by Sciblogs at the same time as a feud over labelling between dairy companies is litigated in the Federal Court in Australia.

Fuller starts by describing A2 milk.

Cow’s milk contains protein. The primary group of milk proteins are the caseins. A1 and A2 are the two primary types of beta-casein (beta-casein is one of the three major casein proteins) present in milk. They are simply genetic variants of one another that differ in structure by one amino acid.

The A1 protein produces beta-casomorphin-7 (BCM-7), which has been shown to alter gastrointestinal function (slowing down bowel movements from stomach to anus) and increase inflammation in the gut in animal studies.

Commonly, both A1 and A2 types of casein are expressed in cow’s milk in Europe, America, Australian and New Zealand, and hence the milk we find on our supermarket shelves.

Fuller then looks at the patenting and marketing issue.

The hype surrounding A2 milk came about after the patenting of a genetic test by the a2 Milk Company. The patent allows the company to determine what type of protein a cow produces in its milk and therefore license dairy farmers that prove their cows express only A2 protein in their milk (and not A1 protein). A2 milk is marketed by the a2 Milk Company to contain only the A2 type of beta-casein.

Initially, there were marketing claims that A1 proteins were harmful to our health, but a full review of the literature by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2009 nullified such claims. Insufficient evidence exists to suggest A1 proteins have a negative effect on our health. The EFSA found no relationship between drinking milk with the A1 protein and non-communicable diseases such as type 1 diabetes, heart disease and autism, which is the focus of much of the hype.

After these findings were released to the public, the marketing focus shifted towards the A1 protein causing digestive discomfort and symptoms usually associated with lactose intolerance (for example, bloating and flatulance).

Fuller notes that the first peer-reviewed human study was conducted with a small number of people (41). Only ten of the participants reported an intolerance to commercial cow’s milk. They compared differences after drinking milk containing only the A1 protein versus milk containing only the A2 protein (the milk on our supermarket shelves is usually a combination of the A1 and A2 milk proteins).

Interestingly, they found after drinking the milk containing A1 protein only, participants reported softer stools than when drinking the A2 milk. These results tend to go against the evidence in animal studies that the A1 protein slows down the movement of contents through the gastrointestinal system, which could be thought to bulk up stool content and hence result in harder stools.

The authors of this study suggested the softer stools might have been caused by an increase in gut inflammation caused by consumption of the A1 protein. Gut inflammation can cause malabsorption of fluids and nutrients and hence softer stools. However, the study found no difference in calprotectin (a measure of inflammation) between the two milk groups, so it failed to draw any sound conclusions.

Fuller then dips into the second study conducted in humans, which was published this year. Unlike the previous study, he notes, it did use common commercial milk that contains both the A1 and A2 milk proteins and compared this to consuming milk containing only the A2 protein.

It included only people (45 subjects) who self-reported an intolerance to cow’s milk.

Of the 45 subjects, 23 were diagnosed as lactose-intolerant. Someone who is intolerant to cow’s milk has an inability to digest lactose due to a deficiency in the lactase enzyme. But it is important to note lactose is present in both A1 milk and A2 milk.

The results showed A2 milk did not cause an increase in unpleasant digestive symptoms (for example, bloating and flatulence) usually associated with milk consumption in those who are lactose-intolerant. When cow’s milk containing both the A1 and A2 proteins was provided, there was an exacerbation of stomach upset. However, this would be expected for someone who is sensitive to dairy products, or lactose-intolerant.

The changes in inflammatory markers observed in this study need to be interpreted carefully. Despite some statistically significant changes between the two milk groups being noted, these aren’t necessarily clinically relevant and therefore do need further investigation in a much larger study with a greater sample size.

The question, then, is whether we should opt for A2 milk when we go to the supermarket and what the benefits will be.

Fuller’s advice is:

For those who do not experience any problems with milk consumption, there is no evidence to suggest any benefit in having A2 milk over the common consumed commercial milk, which contains both the A1 and A2 proteins. For less than half the price per litre, the latter would be the favoured option.

For those who self-report an intolerance to milk or are lactose-intolerant, A2 milk may be a suitable selection to prevent commonly reported stomach upset complaints, but so too is lactose-free milk. Lactose-free milk does not contain lactose, which is the naturally occurring sugar that causes the gastrointestinal problems in the lactose-intolerant. Consequently, what is needed is a study comparing the effects of lactose-free milk versus A2 milk in those who are lactose-intolerant.

Most importantly, Fuller concludes, longer-term studies with larger sample sizes are needed, because both of the studies conducted in humans so far have been conducted with small numbers over short durations.

The most important thing is that we don’t exclude milk products from the diet, as dairy is a rich source of calcium that is readily bio-available (meaning we can absorb the majority of it from this food source). Calcium is essential for the prevention of osteoporosis (brittle or weak bones) and an adult should aim forthree dairy serves per day.

Nicholas Fuller is Research Fellow, Clinical Trials Development & Analysis, University of Sydney.

The original article can be found here. 

Nick Smith to talk about water policy

Concerns raised by the contamination of Havelock North’s water supply and suspicions harboured about the part played by the Tuki Tuki River make it timely that Environment Minister Nick Smith will talk about the state of the nation’s environment at Lincoln University on August 30.

The Minister will deliver the 2016 State of the Nation’s Environment Address.

He is expected particularly to focus on freshwater issues following the public consultation in the Next Steps document  This will include identifying swimming areas and improving swimming water quality, the proposed stock exclusion regulations and good management practice for farming and other land use.

The Next Steps process is aimed at better environmental outcomes, enabling sustainable economic growth to support new jobs and exports, and improving Māori involvement in freshwater decision-making. It is part of the Government’s long-term reforms which are based on supporting communities to identify and test solutions that meet their own challenges, but within a national framework.

There will be an opportunity to ask questions after the address and to meet the Minister during drinks and nibbles in the School of Landscape Architecture foyer.

Details: 5:30pm – 7:30pm (doors open at 5:15) Tuesday 30 August, Stewart Lecture Theatre, Stewart Building, Lincoln University

Organiser: Lincoln University and Centre for Nature Conservation

Call for new organisms to be reclassified

When is a new organism no longer new?

The answer: an organism can be reclassified when it has formed a self-sustaining population and is not part of any eradication programme in New Zealand.

This rule can apply to any animal, plant, or microbe that arrived in New Zealand after the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act came into force on 29 July 1998.

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) is now seeking proposals to deregulate organisms that fit these criteria, so they can be reclassified as no longer new to New Zealand.

“The aim is to reduce the regulatory burden on anyone working with these organisms, perhaps to propagate or study them,” explains Ray McMillian, Acting General Manager of the EPA’s Hazardous Substances and New Organisms team.

“It means they won’t need to apply for approval to do that under the HSNO Act, so it makes it easier for them to do their work.

“Anyone can put forward a proposal for a ‘new’ organism to be reclassified. Examples include the Australian citrus whitefly and the bridal creeper rust.”

Proposals must be submitted by 5pm on Wednesday September 28 to the EPA’s New Organisms team.

All proposals will be evaluated by the EPA before a final decision to take the nextstep is made by the Minister for the Environment.

For more information, call 04 474 5581 or email:

Read more about deregulated new organisms [EPA website]



NZ farm sector and the Paris Agreement

A paper titled The Paris Agreement and its impact on cattle and food sectors of New Zealand is among the latest articles posted online by the New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research.

The authors are M.A.Fernandex and A.Daigneult, from the Governance and Policy Team at Landcare Research in Auckland.

The absract says:

The Paris Agreement asserts that greenhouse gas emission pathways should be consistent with holding the increase in global temperature below 1.5 °C, or 2 °C above pre-industrial levels.

The purpose of this paper is to assess the economic impact of this agreement on the cattle and food product sectors of New Zealand. We used a general equilibrium approach to evaluate the economic impacts, and the Global Timber Model to estimate forestry carbon sequestration.

We simulated eight scenarios where we allow accounting/not accounting for sequestration, pricing/not pricing agricultural emissions, and linking/not linking the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) with the European Union ETS.

We found that significant negative impacts occur if sequestration is not accounted, the ETS remains unlinked and agriculture is priced. Competitiveness, in turn, is not significantly affected if sequestration is accounted, regardless of the linking scheme of the ETS.

Entries are open for PM’s Science Prizes

Entries for the 2016 Prime Minister’s Science Prizes are open, with changes to some entry criteria.

Applications close at 5pm, September 16.

The Prime Minister’s Science Prize, $500,000

This will be awarded to an individual or team for a transformative scientific discovery or achievement, which has had a significant economic, health, social and/or environmental impact on New Zealand or internationally

The Prime Minister’s MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize, $200,000

This will be awarded to an outstanding emerging scientist who has had their PhD conferred within the past eight years (i.e. from 1 January 2008 onwards)

The Prime Minister’s Science Teacher Prize, $150,000

This will be awarded to a registered teacher who has been teaching science, mathematics, technology, pūtaiao, hangarau or pāngarau learning areas of the New Zealand curriculum to school-age children in a primary, intermediate or secondary New Zealand registered school.

The Prime Minister’s Science Communication Prize, $100,000

This will be awarded to a practising scientist who can demonstrate an interest, passion and aptitude for science communication and public engagement, or to a person who has developed expertise in public engagement with, or communication of, complex scientific or technological information to the public or science community.

The Prime Minister’s Future Scientist Prize, $50,000 tertiary scholarship

This will be awarded to a Year 12 or Year 13 student for outstanding achievement in carrying out a practical and innovative science, mathematics, technology or engineering project.

To apply or for more information go to, or contact The Prime Minister’s Science Prizes secretariat Debbie Woodhall, on 04 470 5762 or

Graduates are told of mistrust of science and the challenge posed by pseudoscience

Attention has been drawn to this address to California Institute of Technology graduates by Atul Gawande, who told them science was not a major or a career – it is “a commitment to a systematic way of thinking, an allegiance to a way of building knowledge and explaining the universe through testing and factual observation”.

But this isn’t a normal way of thinking. It is unnatural and counter-intuitive and it has to be learned.

Gawande quoted the great physicist Edwin Hubble, who said a scientist has “a healthy skepticism, suspended judgement, and disciplined imagination”—not only about other people’s ideas but also about his or her own.

Gawande went on:

The scientific orientation has proved immensely powerful. It has allowed us to nearly double our lifespan during the past century, to increase our global abundance, and to deepen our understanding of the nature of the universe. Yet scientific knowledge is not necessarily trusted. Partly, that’s because it is incomplete. But even where the knowledge provided by science is overwhelming, people often resist it—sometimes outright deny it. Many people continue to believe, for instance, despite massive evidence to the contrary, that childhood vaccines cause autism (they do not); that people are safer owning a gun (they are not); that genetically modified crops are harmful (on balance, they have been beneficial); that climate change is not happening (it is).

Gawande’s address embraced people’s rejection  of scientific claims when they clash with intuitive beliefs and a study of  1974-2010 US survey data by sociologist Gordon Gauchat who found that despite increasing education levels, the public’s trust in the scientific community has been decreasing.

Recognising the difference between claims of science and those of pseudoscience becomes challenging.

Gawande concluded by telling the graduates:

Today, you become part of the scientific community, arguably the most powerful collective enterprise in human history. In doing so, you also inherit a role in explaining it and helping it reclaim territory of trust at a time when that territory has been shrinking. In my clinic and my work in public health, I regularly encounter people who are deeply skeptical of even the most basic knowledge established by what journalists label “mainstream” science (as if the other thing is anything like science)—whether it’s facts about physiology, nutrition, disease, medicines, you name it. The doubting is usually among my most, not least, educated patients. Education may expose people to science, but it has a countervailing effect as well, leading people to be more individualistic and ideological.

The mistake, then, is to believe that the educational credentials you get today give you any special authority on truth. What you have gained is far more important: an understanding of what real truth-seeking looks like. It is the effort not of a single person but of a group of people—the bigger the better—pursuing ideas with curiosity, inquisitiveness, openness, and discipline. As scientists, in other words.

Even more than what you think, how you think matters. The stakes for understanding this could not be higher than they are today, because we are not just battling for what it means to be scientists. We are battling for what it means to be citizens.

Gawande, a surgeon and public-health researcher, became a New Yorker staff writer in 1998.



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