Gir from Gujarat
AVERAGE YIELD 5-6 kg | POTENTIAL 20-30 kg The prized breed of Gujarat is highly valued for its milk and beef in Latin America. It was also used in North America to develop the Brahman breed. Gir animals are still available in good numbers in India, Courtesy: Tehelka, NBAGR
A2 Milk Vs A1 Milk. Indian Breeds Vs Imports
Thanks to the debates raging over Jallikattu, many of us have become more aware about milk (A2 Milk 🙂 ), its production and the various cattle breeds in India. The question of animal rights is a valid one. The votaries for conducting Jallikattu also acknowledge this and agree the sport needs to be monitored to prevent abuse of animals.
The debates have also raised valid questions on the nature of milk available and the policies the Indian government has fostered and followed to strengthen the genetic pool of cattle. But one also wonders about the various State Governments’ efforts in this direction. Animal welfare, nurturing the genetic pool clearly falls in the State List (as opposed to Central List and Concurrent List) as per the Indian Constitution. Paraphrased as below from Wikipedia.
- Agriculture, including agricultural education and research; protection against pests and prevention of plant diseases.
- Preservation, protection and improvement of stock and prevention of animal diseases; veterinary training and practice.
A number of questions also arise with respect to Milk and Milk giving Cattle. We shall attempt to discuss a few of the more critical ones herein.
What makes Cow’s Milk?
Simply put, milk is 87% water and 13% solids. Fats, Carbohydrates, minerals and proteins make the solids. The way the protein is structured differentiates the two major types of milk and thereby the cattle. A1 milk and A2 milk. The latter is much healthier, period. For ‘technical’ details, please read the section below. Else you may wish tomove on to the sub-heading ‘The Logic for Foreign Cattle Breed’.
Proline in Position 67 in Amino Acid Chain in A2 milk Protects
*Cows’ milk is about 87 percent water and 13 percent solids—the solids being a combination of fat, carbohydrates in the form of lactose, minerals and protein. The major component of the milk proteins is casein; in turn about 30-35 percent of the casein (equivalent to two teaspoons in a litre of milk) is beta-casein. There are several varieties of Beta-Casein, determined by the genes of the cow. A1 and A2 are the most common of these variants. Scientists named them in the order they identified them. The sole difference between the two being one of the 209 amino acids that make up the beta-casein proteins: a proline occurs at position 67 in the chain of amino acids that make up the A2 beta-casein, while in A1 beta-casein a histidine occurs at that position.
Studies in cells found that digestive enzymes that cut up proteins interact with beta-casein precisely at that location, so that A1 and A2 beta-casein proteins are processed differently. A seven-amino peptide, beta-casomorphin-7, (BCM-7) can be cut away from the A1-beta-casein protein by those enzymes, but the enzymes cannot cut the A2 protein at that location, so BCM-7 is not formed from A2 proteins. Studies in humans have not consistently found that BCM-7 is formed in the human digestive system. BCM-7 can also be created during the fermentation of milk or through the process by which cheese is made; those same processes can also destroy BCM-7.
Scientists believe the difference originated as a mutation. It occurred between 5000 and 10,000 years ago, when cattle were being taken north into Europe. Histidine replaced the proline at position 67. The mutation subsequently spread widely throughout herds in the western world through breeding.
Bos Indicus (A2) and Bos Taurus (A1)?
The percentage of the A1 and A2 beta-casein protein varies between herds of cattle, and also between countries and provinces. While African and Asian cattle continue to produce only A2 beta-casein, the A1 version of the protein is common among cattle in the western world. The A1 beta-casein type is the most common type found in cow’s milk in Europe (excluding France), the USA, Australia and New Zealand. On average, more than 70 percent of Guernsey cows produce A2 milk, while among Holsteins and Ayrshires between 46 and 70 percent produce A1 milk.*
The Logic for foreign Cattle Breed In India.
Somewhere in the 1950s as India was looking at means to improve milk production, an option was proposed to the officials concerned. Importing the Jersey / Holstein varieties of genes. Dairy experts raised some objections. But the ‘Nehruvian’ logic was that the average yield per day of the foreign breeds was better than the desi (native Indian) ones. Sadly this thinking continues to dominate much of present day administration too.
We are not sure whether the decision makers asked the right questions. Maybe they received the wrong answers. Facts like diet, environment (breed’s ability to cope in various eco-systems), the average number of months between two parturitions, number of parturitions (number of times the animal could conceive in its lifetime) are important. This will enable us to take a call on the better cattle for milk production. The better sample points taken from the US cannot be compared with the worst or even the average sample points in an Indian context. (Some of our cattle breeds are for draught purposes primarily, and hence their milk production is a bonus. Hence it is not logical to include these in the average calculations)
The Contra-Views…. A Battle over Cattle DNA
Some of the points which question the ‘Nehruvian’ policy of foreign cattle are as follows:
Yield Per day: There are numerous varieties of desi breeds. Each has adapted to the local terrain (Indian geography is very heterogenous) and for a particular purpose (milk production/ draught work) . Hence, averaging milk yield of Indian Cattle across breeds (when some breeds are for draught purpose only) and comparing it to the yield of a milk giving foreign variety makes for dubious logic.
Fertility Period and Calving over a cow’s lifetime: When we take into consideration that native Indian cows have a longer reproductive period, we find that over its lifetime, it could give as much milk if not more.
Nutrition: The United Nations’ FAO studies believe that differences in nutrition could have the biggest impact on cows’ reproductive performance and thereby milk yield. (Details in link below). The native breeds’ ability to maximize nutrition from the diet provided by Indian farmers will obviously be superior. The Kangayam breed of Tamil Nadu is a good example of a breed that thrives with a low maintenance burden on the farmer. While its yield may be lower than other cattle, it can subsist on neem seeds, palm leaves, and less water. It is also able to withstand heat, humidity, and diseases.
The foreign breed used to more pleasant temperate climes would find the Indian sub-continent a big challenge. Their genetic makeup would have no answers to the various pests/ climatic conditions/ diet availability. Increasingly food experts advise us to eat more local produce. The kinds of food that our ancestors had been eating is easier processed by our digestive system.
Indian Breeds popular Abroad:
Brazil, the US and Australia are examples of regions where Bos Indicus has been introduced and is successful. Brazil is getting international acclaim for creating a good cattle strain from our desi Indian stock. It is now an exporter of these ‘Indian’ cattle to numerous countries. How Ironic!
Cool Chilli’s Comments
Our Idiocy lends Poignancy to this Irony!
Administrators/Technocrats from the Dairy Ministry have always questioned the wisdom of bringing foreign genes into Indian cattle stock. We need to respect the points/concerns they had raised/ are raising. The per day yield of Indian breeds may be less, but over a lifetime the equation changes. The total milk produced is as much, if not more than foreign breeds. This is because Indian cattle have a longer reproductive/productive life.
The foreign breeds deliver their ‘dream yield’ in conditions far removed from India’s. Also Indian cattle farmers, a majority of whom are poor or subsistence level ones cannot afford to give the foreign cattle the diet they may need. Our desi breeds will be able to subsist on frugal, varied, cheaply available fodder as mentioned above. They would tolerate/resist heat, humidity, insects and diseases much better. American Dairy sites sing paeans in praise of the Brahman breed with the Bos Indicus genetic stock with the above traits.
But Yes, we continue to Bank on Foreign Genes
It has been more than five decades since we started experimenting with the injection of foreign DNA into our cattle gene pool. It still continues to attract our fancy. Even respected and otherwise balanced professionals like Mr Rana Kapoor (Yes Bank) very seriously think more foreign sperm needs to be imported for further improvement in yields. He does acknowledge the effect of diet too. But as we have seen, foreign genetic material may not be the answer. We may still be able to leverage it in some manner, if we work concertedly towards this. Besides, the issue of unhealthy A1 milk still remains with most foreign breeds.
A Lesson from Lantana!
The Lantana is a plant, native to Brazil which found favour in Europe for ornamental purposes. The English brought it into the Indian sub-continent in good faith from an horticultural perspective. But unfortunately for India, as reported in the January 2017 edition of Fountain Ink, it has become a forest killer. It is chocking Indian forests. Native grass and plants that herbivores normally thrive on cannot grow. Lantana is not grazing material. But birds like Lantana’s fruits and help its propagation. In search of their natural diet, herbivores and their predators reach the outskirts of (even otherwise) rapidly shrinking forests. This increases man-animal conflict. Even well meant actions (seemingly benign) look foolish when seen through the eyes of our experience.
In Ending, we need to ‘Milk for proteins’, preferably with Proline
We now have more than 50 years of experience with foreign breeds. We would have built a valuable body of knowledge. Our experiments, learning and a multitude of nuances based on region should help us. The NDDB should take stock of the situation in light of the data points emerging.
We need to minimize importing (Bos Taurus) Bull Sperm if not avoid altogether. As mentioned earlier, State Governments should do their part to ensure ethnic varieties are strengthened. Some of the feted native breeds are ‘endangered’ already. They number a few hundreds only. Their progeny is also at high risk. Foreign genes could contaminate them. Across various regions of India, hundreds of generations of farmers have devoted time. With all their contributions, trial and error, we have these celebrated native strains. The efforts of so many farmers, spanning millennia should not go waste.
On another note (though relevant) we are already witnessing reduced consumption of ‘Cola/carbonate based’ Coke and Pepsi products. Customers think these products are unhealthy. Consumers are also disturbed since their production entails exploitation of precious ground water, which impacts various vital activities including agriculture.
Can Milk help us Meat Protein needs?
In a country with a relatively low percentage of meat in our diet, milk is an important source of protein. While meat consumption is increasing, we at NewsTikka.com also believe that increasing awareness about health, environment and resource depletion will convince right thinking consumers to reduce meat intake, if not avoid it altogether. So, milk becomes more important as a source of protein.Thus we will/ should seek out A2 milk (with Proline, as compared to A1 with Histidine).
Are we ready for this?
Related Reading / Acknowledgements
A farmer’s experience with the two types of milk
*Wikipedia info on types of milk