São Paulo a land of high-end milk and honey for cattle farmers

. Dec 10, 2020
milk production brazil Brazilian milk-producing farm. Photo: Yanawut.S/Shutterstock

Brazilians consumed an average of 124 liters of cow’s milk in 2019, making the country the fourth-biggest milk-drinkers in the world. And it is a growing sector, with production and consumption increasing by 139 and 131 percent, respectively, between 1990 and 2019. Indeed, production grew at 1.5 times the rate of the Brazilian economy throughout the same period, and it is one of the 13 products that makes up the country’s basic basket of necessities.

While the market for Brazilian dairy products was largely rudimentary throughout the vast majority of the country’s history, the sector has come on leaps and bounds in the last three decades, thanks in part to research and technological modernization.

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More recently, the biggest development in Brazil’s dairy market has been the increased investment in so-called ‘A2 milk.’ Regarded as easier to digest and sold at almost three times the price of traditional A1 variety, the difference between the varieties lies in the presence of beta-casein proteins — or, more specifically, the form of beta-casein proteins each type contains.

Traditional A1 milk comes from cows with a dominant gene that allows them to produce A1 type beta-casein. However, this form of protein metabolizes into a substance known as beta-casomorphin-7, or BCM-7, which some studies have found to produce a bloated sensation in humans. A2, on the other hand, comes from cows with the recessive A2 gene, meaning they have proteins that do not release BCM-7 and thus are deemed to be more easily digestible. A2 type beta-casein, coincidentally, is also present in human breast milk.

Pioneered in New Zealand

The A2 variety was first developed by researchers from New Zealand in the 1990s. The country has produced A2 since 2003 and is also the world’s largest exporter of powdered milk. Indeed, ‘A2 Milk’ is a registered trademark in the country.

With slogans such as “Love Milk Again” and “Feel the a2 Milk Difference,” the a2 Milk Company has expanded its operations from New Zealand to the U.S., China, and the United Kingdom. Supermarket chains such as Waitrose in the United Kingdom and Whole Foods in the U.S. endorse the company’s claims that A2 milk eliminates the discomfort that affects a large part of the population that has trouble digesting regular milk.

The a2 Milk Company’s marketing strategy largely exists of testimonials from consumers who previously had trouble digesting dairy. Several begin with the individual saying they thought they were lactose intolerant, but switching to A2 has been the solution to their milk-drinking woes.

Crucially, in 2015, one of the patents held by a2 Milk expired, opening the floodgates for competitors to produce their own brands. Even before this, some Brazilian producers were preparing for the chance to make A2, running genetic tests on their dairy cows.

The first Brazilian brand to obtain certification to sell A2 in 2019 was Letti a2, produced in the interior of São Paulo state.

That same year, the independent Beba Mais Leite (Drink More Milk) organization launched its A2A2 seal of approval, which acts as a certification to ensure the origin of A2 milk in the country. As part of this process, Beba Mais Leite signed a cooperation agreement with the Brazilian Agriculture and Farming Confederation.

There are currently 20 large A2-producing properties in Brazil, with a combined total of 35 million liters per year. While this is still less than 1 percent of the nationwide production, the sector is angling for a larger slice of the market.

São Paulo boosting A2 milk production

The Animal Science Research Institute of the São Paulo Agribusiness Technology Agency (Apta) — linked to the state agriculture secretariat — is working on a program of genetic modification to develop a herd of cows that exclusively carry the A2 gene, expanding the production of this “easily digestible” variety in Brazil’s richest and most populous state.

“We use A2 bulls and take the genotypes of the cows, before scheduling the mating process. The idea is that all the cows, regardless of their breed, will produce A2,” explained researcher Anibal Eugênio Vercesi Filho.

Meanwhile, the São Paulo state agriculture secretariat created the More Milk More Income Plan, to coordinate the productive chain and increase output and quality. The plan also foresees supporting regional farming projects, such as those involving the production of A2 milk.

Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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