Now desi cow’s milk is the new health fad
The best and superb reason to save the desi cow has nothing to do with bovine politics. It is milk. Desi doodh, or A2 milk from indigenous cows, is becoming the latest health fad, with small dairies and big brands like Amul entering the market.
Much of the cow milk available in the market is A1, from crossbred or foreign cows. Though research is not conclusive, some studies have shown that A1 can trigger inflammation in the body, potentially leading to ailments like diabetes and heart disease. A2, on the other hand, has found favour with the health-conscious and the lactose-intolerant who say it is easy to digest.
In fact, it's already got takers abroad. A Sydney-based company , a2 Milk Company , has found an international following in New Zealand and China and is expanding to the United States. Back home, Amul has responded to the new interest in A2. It recently launched a premium desi cow milk product in Ahmedabad and plans to add the Surat market next. However, Amul managing director R S Sodhi admits that the market is niche. "When you want to sell it at a premium price, the market is very small. But gradually, awareness is growing."
A small but growing band of dairy farmers is also catering to this new market. V Shivakumar, a former Wall Street programmer, realized the difficulties of sourcing A2 milk because of a lactose-intolerant newborn. He went on to form the Coimbatore-based Kongu Goshala to preserve Tamil Nadu's Kangeyam and Tiruchengodu breeds. He also runs a mobile app Kongu Maddu, where people can place orders for A2 milk. Gurgaonbased Back2basics breeds Gir cows for A2 milk which it supplies to households in Delhi, Noida and Gurgaon.
When retired market researcher Titoo Ahluwalia first started keeping cows at his farm in Nandgaon, a coastal village near Mumbai, he was more interested in generating dung for his organic vegetables and ensuring his children grew up around "these gentle, giving animals". When he read up on desi cows, he realised the benefits of the milk. "Regrettably, many desi varieties of cow are already close to extinction," says Ahluwalia.
While most dairy owners deny any problems related to consumption of A1 milk, they do admit that local cows are much more in tune with India's climate conditions, and therefore remain healthier. "Desi cows are heat-tolerant and tick-tolerant, and they have good immune systems, so we hope to have more of our European cows cross-breed with them." says Aniket Thorat of Bhagyalaxmi Farms in Pune which prides itself on keeping its Holstein-Freisian cows in a controlled space of wellness -that includes playing Indian and western classical music to them and following organic processes.
Foreign and crossbred cows, such as Holsteins, give far higher volumes of milk compared with, say, the desi Gir cow -the biggest reason for their overwhelming popularity among dairy farmers. Desi cows are bred largely by religious communities and ashrams, where the animal is revered and productivity is not the prime motivation. According to one farmer, there are just about 15,000-18,000 Gir cows left in the country. Brazil, which imported them from India in the late sixties, has a far higher population.
The National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources, Karnal, has been trying to motivate farmers to shift to A2 breeds, with some success, says Monica Sodhi, a scientist at the institute."Here, in Karnal, farmers sell A1 milk at Rs 40-45litre, but A2 gets them a higher rate of Rs 65-70litre. Right now, farmers and dairies from all over India have sent us close to 1,000 semen samples to test (genetically) whether they are A2 or A1."
In 2012, Dr Sodhi published a paper in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology which says that incidence of type-1 diabetes and cardio-vascular diseases is low in populations with high consumption of the A2 variant of milk. "It's closest to mother's milk and is easily digested by humans. However, there's no conclusive study available yet on A1 milk and if it's harmful for health. But what we have seen is that a byproduct created during breakdown of A1 milk in our digestive tract can lead to health problems." A combination of health, spiritual leanings, and that eternal quest for the good old days has motivated some individuals to create awareness about the desi cow and to lobby with various agencies to increase its population before it is too late. "Life has reached a point where we really have to rethink what we feed our children every day ," says Mumbaibased Rekha Khanna who is working with several gaushalas across the country to promote desi cow products.
Cancer survivor Amit Vaidya, 38, says he returned to India from the US after doctors there told him that he didn't have long to live. Left with no other option, he underwent `cow therapy' and swears by A2 milk and its byproducts, ghee and yoghurt. "For me, though, I have to go one step beyond just having A2 milk; I need to know what the cows are eating -if they are grass-fed, living an organic life. Their milk will also then add nourishment to our bodies. To put it simply, you have to know where and from whom your milk is coming!"