Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Patently insane

If you think it's crazy that corporations can sue you for saving seeds, then sit down, because this one is going to really knock you out.

First, a little background -- as you may recall, we've added Irish Dexter cattle to our homestead to expand the types of cheese that we make. We currently make seven or eight different cheeses for ourselves using goat milk, but we thought it would be fun to add cow's milk to the mix. There has been a lot of talk lately on an Internet group about cows having A1 or A2 milk, referring to the beta casein content of the milk. It sounded like the A2 milk might make better cheese, which got my attention, so I started doing a little research.

I could have spent all day reading about this, because the information out there is overwhelming. There are lots of Internet articles, as well as a book, which claim that A1 beta casein is responsible for heart disease, diabetes, Crohn's, autism, and more. Sounds ominous. And the answer is to simply drink goat milk, which several sites claim is all A2 beta casein or drink milk from cows that have all A2. This is where it gets interesting.

A corporation, appropriately named the A2 Corporation, created a test to determine which gene your cows possess. UC Davis will run this test for you, so you can see whether your cattle have the A1 or A2 genes or one of each. However, after you've paid your money to get this test, what can you do with the information? Well, not much. This is where it gets interesting --

Any person who intends to form a herd of animals used to produce A2 MILK®, or milk free of beta casein A1, and/or produces and/or sells such milk, may be infringing A2 Corporation Limited's intellectual property rights.

Huh? So, if we send in our cow's milk and discover that she's got two A2 genes, and we use her to produce milk, we're infringing on your intellectual property rights? You're going to sue me for milking my cow because I used your test to determine that she has two A2 genes? I would say that this is crazy, except that I'd also say it's crazy that farmers get sued for saving their seed, so apparently the Patent Office doesn't care what I think. So, this corporation thinks (and the Patent Office agrees) that since they own the test for the genes, they have the sole right use those genes -- even though I own the cow, feed the cow, and take care of all her needs. From a legal perspective, it sounds a lot like the deal with using patented seeds -- you do all the work, but the big corporation gets to tell you what you can do with the end product.

From my perspective, however, it sounds like being told that I can't use the results of my milk tests that I send in monthly to the lab. I send in my goat milk every month to a lab in New York, and they test it for butterfat and protein. I can use that information for whatever -- put it in advertising, brag about it on Facebook, or use it to make breeding decisions in the hope that my offspring will produce higher butterfat. The lab doesn't claim to own the results, and they certainly don't tell me what I can do as far as production. Yeah, yeah, I know, but supposedly the A2 Corporation actually discovered all of this intellectual property about A2 beta casein, whereas the lab in New York just tests for butterfat and protein, which no one owns as intellectual property.

So, maybe this is where the real story begins. I was seriously starting to rethink my plan to milk cows as I was reading A1 Beta Casein: The Devil in Your Milk by Vin Miller, and then I read through the comments. The last comment really made me start asking questions. Supposedly all mammals had only A2 genes until a few thousand years ago, and then there was a mutation that caused some cows to start producing A1. I'd love to know how they figured out what was in cows milk a few thousand years ago, since this test was just developed. Anyway, if A1 is responsible for all those diseases, then why didn't the incidence of those diseases go up when cows started producing A1 thousands of years ago? Why have those diseases only sky-rocketed in the last generation? If those diseases have anything to do with dairy consumption, maybe it has more to do with how dairies have changed in the last generation.

And in case you decide to do a little reading, the college professor in me just has to point out Betacasein.org, which looks like this lovely, informative, unbiased website. And it's exactly the type of site that I would have jumped all over if a student had used it in a speech or paper when I was teaching. Many people incorrectly assume that all dot-org sites are non-profits. Although that was the original idea, those sites are often sponsored by corporations that want to get their info out there and make it look like an independent source. This site has no author, is sponsored by no one, and has no physical address, phone number, or email for providing feedback, which are all of the red flags for a corporate-sponsored site. Did I mention that the A2 Corporation sells A2 milk in New Zealand?

I'm glad I finally took a little time to do some reading on this topic, because I can now say that I won't be doing A2 testing, and I don't care which casein is in my cows' milk. If people have been consuming it for thousands of years already, I really don't think it's responsible for all of today's maladies. However, if I were a big corporation wanting to make some money off of a test that I'd created, I might feel differently.


kstrating said...

OK, so here's a query: Can you test for A1? Assuming so, and no one is claiming intellectual property for it (seeming, not to "want" it), can you do the test in reverse?

kstrating said...

Wanted to add -- GREAT points about the history of A1 & A2! Leaves me wondering about the validity of these assertions, as well.

momanna98 said...

Wow. That is nuts!

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

The test developed by A2 Corporation will tell you whether your cow has two A1 genes, two A2 genes, or one of each, so it doesn't test exclusively for the A2 gene. And if you noticed the trademark sign following A2 in the quote, that means that if anyone uses that phrase, they're infringing on trademark. I can't believe the stuff people can get trademarked these days!

LindaG said...

Money talks....
If those diseases have anything to do with dairy consumption, maybe it has more to do with how dairies have changed in the last generation.

That is what I think the problem is, exactly. I also read in an issue of, I think either Grit or Hobby Farms, that it is the big corporations that cause this A1 to be a problem (if indeed that really is what the problem is), because they milk infected cows. It's some sort of disease that causes stuff like Crohn's. It's untreatable in cattle, but because it's treatable in humans, they go ahead and sell the milk rather than destroy the cattle.

I'm glad you make so much of your own cheese. It's something I might like to try some day. :)

Ray Dixon - Pure Spontaneity said...

Another example of the government getting in the way of people with a stupid patent law. There must be someone else out there that can test for these genes. If not, then someone out to develop another test and market it, but without the craziness.

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

LindaG, the disease that many believe causes Crohn's is Johnes. There is a very simple blood test that can detect it, and I'm happy to say that my goats all tested negative.

Ray, even if someone else has a test, no one can sell "A2 Milk" because that is trademarked by A2 Corporation. Did you notice the trademark symbol in the quote that I cut and pasted? I don't understand how people can get trademarks for stuff that is NOT unique. I always thought trademarked names were supposed to be unique -- like Kleenex actually made up a word to name their tissues.

Ray Dixon - Pure Spontaneity said...

Sounds as if it might be a wise investment to make a call to a patent lawyer.

SkippyMom said...

This would probably be an impossible feat, but perhaps the dairy farmers [small & large] of the world [or in the US] should get together and decide to call the A2 gene something different. Or how about marketing the milk as simply "Not A1" - they never said you couldn't use the word A1 did they? :) I know that is simplified answer to a REALLY stupid problem [the company is stupid, I mean] and it shouldn't be this way. They shouldn't be able to own the rights to your milk and milk by products. Wrong on so many levels.

Quinn said...

This is a pretty big piece of ridiculousness! Does it matter where you have your cattle tested for A2? Are they claiming it for all A2 tests or just the ones they do?

I have this site bookmarked in the event that I ever wanted to have our cow tested. The American Dexter Cattle Association is taking samples to Texas A & M.


I haven't had it done yet, and don't know that I will. I'm not exactly going to sell our cow if she's not A2 and hope to find one that is. You make some really good points and now I don't know if I ever will.

Amy said...

Crazy. I just don't understand how you can patent animal genes, plant genes, etc.

Haley said...

That is insane. It would be like if there were a test pregnant women could do to see if their children would be brunettes, and then if they were, suing women for having brunette children.

I think there is a serious problem with the patent office. You shouldn't be able to own rights to something that just exists in nature.

And I totally agree about the A1 probably being made out to be bad--every time I turn around they are telling me real food is bad. Meat or oil cooked past a certain temperature will apparently give me cancer, etc. But why has cancer become an out-of-control problem only in the past few decades?

Oxray Farm said...

Wow, this is crazy, but not surprising! Thanks for the info.

Brook Besor Farms said...

Great post. We also have added our first dairy cow (after having goats for the past few years) and have been wading through the A1/A2 information. Excellent observations. Too often, those that scream the loudest about something are profiting the most from it.


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