We all remember the milk pioneering stalwart of India, late Dr V Kurien for his yeoman efforts to put the country on the global milk landscape through his cooperative dairying programs. If India to day can boast of a production base of around 140 million tons and rightly claim the top position among milk producing nations, this is solely due to his vision. This land mark was achieved through scientific cattle breeding using exotic breeds to increase the yield of milk accompanied by other measures to protect and maintain the herds through modern technology. While this achievement is no doubt laudable, the inability of the country to raise per capita milk consumption significantly and uniformly during the last 2-3 decades can still rankle as a national failure, whatever be the reason(s). .While in some states like Punjab, Gujarat and Rajasthan, average milk consumption is well above the national average of 290 g, it is abysmally low in places like Mizoram, Arunachal, Meghalaya, Goa, Manipur, Nagaland and Assam . Of course the national average figure went up from 178 g to 290 gm between 1992 and 2012, if that is any consolation.
Assuming that the national average availability is encouraging enough, is there a need to increase the production further? It is doubtful whether any further increase in production will improve milk consumption among the "not well to do" population from economic point of view,to any meaningful extent. However the moot question is whether the recommendation of the health agencies to take about 250 g of milk every day for good health is really the holy grail? Probably not considering that states like Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal, Goa and others where milk intake is low, the population is predominantly meat and fish eating omnivores who can get their nutrients from foods other than milk. As India is a country where more than 75% of the population consume plant foods due to cultural and economic compulsions, milk definitely play a significant role as a major source of vital nutrients some of which are not available from plant sources.
Indian population has been virtually worshipping cows for thousands of years, probably because of the economic benefits derived from this animal. However few know that the breeds of cows reared in India are superior to many foreign breeds in terms of the health protecting properties of the milk provided by them. It is a fact that almost 70% of the milk produced in India is accounted for by the modern breeds perpetuated through cross breeding with imported foreign ones like Holstein Friesian, Guernsey and Jersey. Why did India neglect its own breeds like Gir, Kankrej, Sahiwal, Ongole and others and got obsessed with foreign breeds? The answer is simple because the yield of milk in Indian desi cows could not compare well with that from foreign breeds, probably due to their subsistence level of existence on account of not looking after them properly. India will realize the mistakes if reports from Brazil where Indian breeds were imported long ago are yielding milk as much as 70 liters a day! The tragedy is that pure semen from these original Indian breeds is now being imported into India to upgrade our cattle population! Recently it was reported that a Gir progeny in Brazil fetched more than Rs 6 crores during an auction!
Another little known fact is that Indian breeds provide milk of superior nutritional quality compared to that from exotic imported breeds though it may be a little too hard for a lay man to believe this claim. Western world is now realizing that milk from the breeds which are predominant in Europe and America carries a form of casein that is associated with diseases like CVD, Type I diabetes, autism etc and this awareness is making them go for changing their cattle breeding system to raise herds that give more healthy milk. After all milk is 85% water and the rest made up of lactose, fat and casein protein. The healthiness of milk is assessed through an analysis of the type of caseins present and almost 30% of casein present belongs to the beta casein variety. There are two types of beta caseins, A1 and A2 in the milk from almost all cows. The ratio of A1 beta casein to its A2 counterpart holds the key to how far the milk is healthy. It is the A1 component of beta casein that is the culprit in causing the diseases while A2 component is absolutely harmless. In most Indian cattle the gene responsible for A2 casein is predominant producing milk with A2 beta casein in the range 92-100% while foreign breeds have A1 gene yielding milk some what richer in A1 type of beta casein compared to that in milk from Indian cows. on an average milk from foreign breeds does contain about 60% A2 beta casein.
Why is that A1 beta casein is harmful and is being shunned across the world? A1 beta casein containing 209 amino acids has Histidine as the 69 th one in place of Proline in the A2 version which makes a big difference. While the casein is normally digested in the GI tract, peptides and amino acids are generated which are absorbed by the blood for further metabolic tasks. However the A1 version of beta casein generates a fraction called Beta casomorphin-7, also known as BCM-7, which can interact with digestive system, internal organs and brain stem with some adverse consequences, though conclusive proof for this claim is not yet established. But writing on the wall is very clear. World over people are realizing the superiority of milk from Indian cows and are willing to pay more for it because of its high A2 casein content and this milk is becoming popular under the name "A2 milk".
Sale of healthy A2 milk in Britain and Ireland is reported to have reached Rs 100 million mark in just one year after its launch. A2 milk is now available in 1,000 stores across UK and Ireland. In Australia and New Zealand, A2 milk is currently the fastest growing product with a share of 8 per cent of the milk market, the sales increasing by 57 per cent in a year. Multinational food companies are vying to get into A2 milk business smelling fortunes in this sector. China too does not want to be left behind and is emerging as a strong market for A2 milk after the scandal surrounding the sale of spurious baby milk powder some years back. It is expected that China's intake of A2 milk in the rapidly growing infant food market will double by 2020. It is a mystery as to why foreign breeds are loaded with the predominant A1 gene while Indian cows do not have this gene at significant levels. Since cow has a history of more than 10,000 years, there must have been mutations in the gene in foreign cows to change the nature of beta casein over a long period of time, probably due to the environment where they were bred.
National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources in India (NBAGR) has launched the National Gokul Mission under which it is to set up integrated indigenous cattle centers and "Gokul grams" for upgrading indigenous cattle. In each village identified under the gokul gram program 1000 cattle are to be maintained out of which 600 would be milk yielding while 400 are unproductive. Through sale of milk and other products like dung and urine distillate
these units are expected to be economically viable and taking care of unproductive cattle also is ensured. With outstanding veterinary scientists working in India, it is a question of time before Indian cattle start increasing the milk yield from the present pitiable levels of 4-6 kg per day to match that of foreign breeds 25-39 kg a day. India has no other alternative but develop desi cattle, about 37 recognized species, which constitute 79% of the 300 million cattle population.