Concerns over plans to swell raw milk sales

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RAW MILK could be sold in limited supplies from vending machines in some shops, if new proposals are accepted by the board of the Food Standards Agency, in a move which has disappointed some sections of the dairy industry.

A review by the agency into the controls around the availability of raw, or unpasteurised, milk, found that the potential health risks associated with drinking the liquid are working but it is open to tweaking the regulations in response to, what the FSA described as, “strong support from existing consumers and producers for continued, wider and controlled access to raw milk”.

However, Dairy UK, which represents the interests of farmers, milk purchasers, processors and milkmen, said it harboured concerns over any changes that might increase health risks to consumers.

Pasteurisation sees milk heated to kill virtually all bacteria and prolongs its shelf life.

The FSA published its proposals in a board paper yesterday following a review of raw milk controls and a public consultation which began in January.

Selling raw milk from vending machines placed in shops is currently not allowed, although they can be positioned on farm premises. Subject to the FSA Board’s agreement, the FSA will discuss the practicalities of vending machine sales in shops with producers, and any additional controls that might be required to ensure health risks are managed.

Steve Wearne, the agency’s head of policy, said: “Throughout this review process we have sought to balance consumer protection with consumer choice. It is clear that the current raw milk regulations have worked well to control the risks from raw milk. We are not advising that these controls should be removed completely as they are necessary for continued consumer protection. However, we believe there is the opportunity for us to make changes which balance modest liberalisation of sales with controls on production that ensure continued consumer protection.”

The proposals cover England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Sales of raw milk are banned in Scotland.

Robert Newbery, chief dairy adviser at the National Farmers’ Union, said: “The sale of raw milk is important to a number of our members and is highly valued by their customers. It is important that future controls on the sale of this wholesome product are proportionate and appropriate for the modern consumer and dairy farmer.”

But Dairy UK expressed its concern over the proposals in a statement: “We are disappointed by the FSA’s recommendation to consider wider access to unpasteurised milk in shops. Milk pasteurisation provides the public with a microbiologically safe product as raw milk poses a number of health concerns.

“Statistics from Scotland show that incidence of food poisoning went down after raw drinking milk was banned. Should raw milk sales be permitted more broadly, we can only hope that this decision will not bring about significant food safety issues for British consumers. Therefore we strongly encourage the FSA Board to turn down the current proposal and reiterate its support for pasteurisation of milk.”