NAD refers a2 Milk ads to FTC after NMPF challenges ‘easier on digestion’ claims

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

a2 Milk Co: 'We were disappointed, but not surprised, to learn that the challenge was filed by a federation of our conventional milk competitors...'
a2 Milk Co: 'We were disappointed, but not surprised, to learn that the challenge was filed by a federation of our conventional milk competitors...'

Related tags: A2 milk

Ad watchdog* the National Advertising Division has referred claims from The a2 Milk Company (a2MC) that its milk is ‘easier on digestion’ and ‘may help some avoid discomfort’ to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for further review.

The claims at issue were initially challenged by the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), which argued that a2MC ​also disparages conventional milk in its advertising.

According to the NMPF, the research underlying a2MC’s claims “contains numerous errors in study design, methodology, and population selection and is unreliable and clinically insignificant​.”

NMPF CEO Jim Mulhern added that he was "disappointed that the A2 Company chose not to participate in this important review​," but said FTC scrutiny would help shed light on the veracity of the company's claims:

"Our concern is that A2 is relying on a thin patchwork of studies that rely on results found only in animals or unrepresentative human samples, and thus the science doesn’t substantiate the product’s purported benefits.”

a2MC, which declined to participate in the NAD proceeding​ (which always results in a referral to the FTC), noted that its claims had already been extensively scrutinized by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Milk and Dairy Food Safety Branch (CDFA), which found that its label claims complied with Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations and the California Food and Agriculture Code.

a2MC also alleged that the NMPF “selectively presented incomplete and outdated research and observations made without the benefit of recent research, including irrelevant references to foreign regulatory review of prior unrelated claims."

a2 Milk Co: 'Disappointed, but not surprised' by NMPF challenge

Am a2MC spokesperson told FoodNavigator-USA: "We were disappointed, but not surprised, to learn that the challenge was filed by a federation of our conventional milk competitors.

"There is no finding of any wrongdoing in the NAD decision. As more fully stated in the advertiser’s position section of the decision, we felt that the challenge was unfounded. While the company supports industry self-regulation, the primary issues in the challenge had previously undergone extensive regulatory review. The company believes in truthful advertising and will continue to market its products accordingly.”

Reception from wider dairy industry has been ‘lukewarm at best’

The a2 Milk Company- which has already achieved a 10% share of the Australian liquid milk market and is hoping to emulate that success in the US - has developed a genetic test to identify cows that only produce A2 beta casein protein (most milk contains A1 and​​​ A2), so their milk can be segregated and marketed as a more ‘gut-friendly’ option.

Around 30% of cows produce just A1, and 30% just A2, with the rest producing both, according to a2MC. However, as milk from all of these cows goes into the same pool, ‘regular’ milk typically contains A1 and A2, says a2MC, which claims that A1 may be responsible for digestive discomfort experienced by milk drinkers that cannot be attributed to lactose intolerance or milk allergy (both of which can be determined via diagnostic tests).

A2-milk-chocolate-2018

a2 Milk – which contains only A2 beta casein protein – is now available at more than 6,000 retailers in the US including Walmart, Wegmans, Stop & Shop, Giant Carlisle, Giant Landover, Whole Foods, Market Basket, Sprouts, Safeway, King Soopers, Target, Ralphs, Publix, ShopRite and The Fresh Market.

In what some might see as a validation of the concept, Nestlé has recently launched an A2 infant formula product in China and is planning a roll out in Australia and New Zealand this year​. 

According to Nestlé: "NAN A2 Stage 1 contains a unique blend of whey and casein, where the A2 β-casein protein comes from milk of special cows, selected to exclusively contain the A2 β-casein protein."

'We’re providing consumers with a way to come back to dairy...'

Three human clinical trials on a2 milk have been published in peer-reviewed journals over the past four years that lend credence to the company’s claims that many consumers who believe they can’t tolerate lactose (milk sugar) should really be blaming their digestive discomfort on the A1 beta casein protein in milk.

However, the reception from the wider dairy industry has been "lukewarm at best,"​ US CEO Blake Waltrip told FoodNavigator-USA in a recent interview​: “There's an irrational fear that this is somehow going to vilify milk, when in fact it’s going to bring consumers back to milk​.

“If you think about the incredible declines in fluid milk consumption over the past 20-some years, and the fact that the millions of dollars they’ve spent have barely slowed down the decline, we’re providing consumers with a way to come back to dairy.​​”

NDC: ‘The scientific theory behind A2 milk is interesting but it’s still just that – a theory’​

National Dairy Council chief science officer Dr Greg Miller argued that the evidence was preliminary, however: “The scientific theory behind A2 milk is interesting but it’s still just that – a theory,” ​he told FoodNavigator-USA in August.

“We feel there needs to be more science conducted because we don’t yet see sufficient support for the claims being made that A2 milk has unique benefits. A2 is another choice in the dairy case and it’s good for consumers to have options. But, the view of National Dairy Council is that A2 and regular milk provide similar health benefits and have equal nutrition.”​​

Three human clinical trials

​Three human clinical trials conducted in China and Europe on a2 Milk have been published in peer-reviewed journals over the past four years, while a larger US-based study being conducted at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University [funded by a2 Milk Co] is nearing completion, said Waltrip.  “Clinical work is also being done by Dennis​​ Savaiano at Purdue University – he’s an expert in lactose intolerance – and there’s also a New Zealand government funded study in progress.​​

​​we have no influence over the Pennington study. Once we fund a study, we have to step back and stay at arm’s length, but my best understanding is that it may be completed some time before the end of the calendar year.”​​

*​ As part of the Council of the Better Business Bureau, the National Advertising Division​ (NAD) is an organization that independently evaluates the truth and accuracy of national advertising. It also works to increase the public's confidence in advertising.

A recommendation by NAD to modify or discontinue a claim is not a finding of wrongdoing and an advertiser's voluntary discontinuance or modification of claims “should not be construed as an admission of impropriety​,” says NAD. “It is the policy of NAD not to endorse any company, product, or service. Decisions finding that advertising claims have been substantiated should not be construed as endorsements.”

a2milk cows

According to the a2 Milk Company: “A2 beta –casein protein is recognized as being the original beta-casein protein in cows ​​[beta-casein accounts for about a third of the total milk]. That is, originally all domesticated cows produced milk containing only the A2 protein.​​

“However, owing to a natural genetic mutation, another milk protein - A1 beta-casein protein - appeared in Europe and spread throughout global herds via modern farming practices. Research has shown that A1 and A2 proteins digest differently. Growing scientific evidence supports that the different protein fragments produced have an impact on aspects of digestive function and support the unique benefits of a2 Milk.” ​​

Cows that naturally produce milk rich in A2 beta casein are identified using a non-invasive DNA test which analyzes a sample hair from the tail. These cows are then separated to form A2 herds and their milk is segregated in the supply chain.

While Jersey and Guernsey milk is high in A2, a2 Milk is sourced from dairy cows that produce milk containing the A2 protein exclusively, according to the a2 Milk Company.

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