Autism, Milk Link ‘Hidden’
Dairy giant Fonterra is trying to suppress explosive research linking milk with autism in children, according to a lawsuit filed in New Zealand’s High Court.
All milk and dairy products sold in Australia are potentially
affected by the research, including Fonterra’s top-selling brands Mainland, Peters, Tip Top and Bega.
A secret internal Fonterra memo, dated October 2000,reveals the New Zealand-based co-operative was warned by its own scientist of research suggesting autism, schizophrenia, diabetes and heart disease could be triggered by proteins found in all of its milk products and infant formulas. The memo, tendered in the High Court case, says there is “growing evidence, but yet unproven, that peptides released from milk may be related to occurrence of some mental disorders”.
“If the media were ever able to assemble the information shown in this
paper they could put an alarmist spin on the whole area of milk consumption,” the internal briefing paper to directors of Fonterra, then known as the New Zealand Dairy Board, says.
The research relates to a protein in A1 milk, which is the most
commonly produced milk in Australia. The protein – beta casein A1 – is also
allegedly a risk factor for childhood diabetes and coronary heart disease.
The Australian and New Zealand Food Standards Authority says all milk
sold in Australia is A1 type. Its spokeswoman said it had not warned the
public because of ongoing legal action.
The accusations are made by A2 Corporation, a New Zealand
biotechnology company formed by dairy scientist Corran McLachlan in 2000.
Dr McLachlan alleges Fonterra has secretly applied for patent
applications on research linking A1 milk with autism. But Fonterra accuses
Dr McLachlan of publicity-seeking for A2 Corporation’s own milk, which does
not contain the protein. Dr McLachlan plans to launch A2 milk in the New
Zealand market as early as Christmas.
“This is a public interest matter,” Dr McLachlan told The Australian.
“We believe this information is being suppressed and that is why we are
risking so much money on a High Court case.”
Dr McLachlan said he would be wary of feeding A1 milk to children. “I
would not encourage my kids to drink lots of milk,” he said.
Fonterra chief executive Craig Norgate denies any cover-up. “There is
nothing in the research that gives us concern. We would be the first to take
a responsible public stand if we felt it was warranted.”
A2 Corporation wants the court to force Fonterra to reveal all
research it has linking A1 milk to autism, and to put health warnings on its
The Fonterra memo says University of Florida scientist Robert Cade
reported in 1999 that children with autism and schizophrenia had extremely
high levels of BCM-7, a compound produced by the digestion of A1 milk.
The potential for A1 milk to trigger childhood (type 1) diabetes was
first reported by Auckland diabetes specialist Bob Elliott in 1994 and later
supported by further research in 1999.