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A for Apathy - The a2 Milk Company

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A for Apathy

July 6, 2009

The Government’s refusal to back A2 milk research is a mistake, both in a particular and a general sense, writes The Press in an editorial.

It sends a signal that the Government is not enthusiastically behind the development of the food technology so vital in enhancing New Zealand’s export earnings, and that it is complacent about the success of the nation’s dairy products on world markets.

The Government’s decision is also regrettable in that it involved such minor expenditure.

A conservatively estimated $60,000 was needed to convene an international panel to review the European Food Safety Authority’s conclusion that no safety issues arose from the consumption of regular milk. That finding was definitive, the Government said, and it would be difficult to form a review panel with experts not already committed on the milk question.

Both points are doubtful. The European finding is far from the last word on the issue, with reputable scientists critical of it and comprehensive scientific investigation of A2’s claims incomplete.

The review panel was meant to scrutinise the methodology of the European research rather than its findings a review that would have allowed New Zealand to make a more informed decision about whether to continue with A2 research.

The Government’s insistence that the $60,000 cost of convening the panel was unjustifiable adds to the weakness of its case. The amount of money would put no strain on its budget, and is minute compared with the potential gains from A2.

This strengthens the critics’ argument that the food and dairy establishment is determined not to encourage A2 research because it might undermine the New Zealand industry.

Their case is not just speculative. The intervention of the New Zealand Food Safety Authority in the debate has been questionable less than scrupulous or objective.

Strong evidence that A1 milk was damaging to health would require a restocking of the nation’s herd a lengthy and expensive process and would undermine New Zealand dairy sales.

Concern about that is understandable, but it is risky not to confront it. Discouraging research will not block more work on A2 and the emergence of definitive answers about it, but it will hinder New Zealand’s ability to exploit A2’s advantages should they be established.

A prudent industry, backed by the Government, would be energetically seeking answers rather than staying aloof.

The Government would deny it is ignoring the issue. It has said private companies can do the research if they want to.

No doubt they will, but it would be faster were it sponsored by the Government and more available to the whole industry.

The absurdity of this business is added to by the launch last week of the Government’s $190 million fund to invest in the agriculture and food industry. It was accompanied by considerable fanfare and affirmations about the commitment of the Government to boosting the productivity of the primary industries.

The fund is welcome, but if its beneficiaries and sponsors are closed to innovative research and development its results will be less than optimal.

The narrow-minded and apathetic official approach to A2 is not encouraging in that respect.

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