Food Standards Agency meeting about unpasteurised milk

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Our raw dairy shorthorn (cow) and sheeps’ milk are delicious. Unfortunately, the beautiful farm that supplied our sheeps’ milk has just ceased production after 25 years!

In this family we prefer to have our food as close to ‘natural’ as possible. This, of course, is a debatable point for many food items. For example, the apples we grow are not quite as nature intended them, as they would be mere crab-apples if no cultivation or selection had ever been done, but you know what I mean. So when it comes to milk we tend towards buying ours not only from organic suppliers, assuming that their cows have greater access to healthier meadows and pastures, and thus produce a better quality of milk, but also from those who do not interfere with the milk once it has been extracted.

We buy raw, unpasteurised, non homogenised, full fat, as it comes, milk. And the cream comes to the top.

Actually, we get two different types of milk – cow’s (untreated) and sheep’s (also untreated), as my daughter and I tend towards the atopic, i.e. suffer from eczema, hay fever and asthma, and so avoid anything made with cow’s milk as it is more allegenic.

The law has, for many years, been that any milk producer may sell their milk in an untreated, unpasteurised, raw state, to their customers, as long as they do not sell it via any middlemen. So you cannot purchase such milk in shops. This means that the farmer gets whatever he/she charges for it, and no one takes a cut further down the line. I like knowing who I am supporting with my £1.20 per litre, and it ain’t Tesco!

I am not alone in seeking out un-tampered-with milk in this way, and recently I found out that there was going to be a review by the Food Standards Agency about this very subject. So, I got myself involved, and a meeting was held with the FSA at my home. Twelve raw milk buyers (private individuals) and a representative of the FSA had a lively and informed meeting. All the raw milk buyers have different reasons for choosing this natural product, but some are very new to it, while one of those present has been using only raw milk for 28 years! Some have found very specific health benefits from its use while others have not but nevertheless want to have legal access to unpasteurised milk, having read about its generally health promoting attributes.

As the meeting progressed there were various ideas expressed about increasing the availability of raw milk and how and why this could be achieved, comments which were asked for by the FSA representative. Then it dawned on me that all our opinions, ideas and speculation about raw milk could be used against us. I began to smell the despicable odour of Divide and Rule. The regulators may be able to shut down the legal access to raw milk on the basis that regulating it would be too complex as our opinions were so diverse. Were we walking into the Regulation Trap? So at the end of the meeting we stated that our unanimous opinion was (over and above all of our musings about possible improvements in the availability of raw milk to the public) that the law should remain as it currently stands. Only in that way can we be sure of our continuing access to this precious food, even if some of us have to drive considerable distances to get it.

Current Law on Raw Milk (Food Standards Agency website)

a) the milk may only be sold direct to consumers by registered milk production holdings (at the farm gate or in a farmhouse catering operation) or through milk-rounds men. Sales through other outlets have been banned since 1985 (although sales by the farmer at farmers markets are allowed);

b) the supplying animals must be from a herd that is officially tuberculosis free, and either brucellosis free or officially brucellosis free;

c) the production holding, milking premises and dairy, must comply with hygiene rules;

d) the milk must bear the appropriate health warning;

e) compliance with a) to d) above is monitored by inspections twice a year; and

f) the milk is sampled and tested quarterly under the control of Animal Health Dairy Hygiene to monitor compliance with standards for total bacterial count and coliforms.

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