FSA defers decision on raw milk in UK as Australia considers raw milk regulation
The UK’s food safety regulator, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has decided to maintain current regulations controlling the sale of raw milk, while further evidence is gathered to allow FSA board members to make a final decision on whether to revise the rules.
Following a review of the current raw milk regulations, the FSA had proposed exploring the scope for wider access to raw milk, including limited sales from vending machines in shops.
Currently, raw milk can only be bought in the UK directly from farmers. Sales are subject to strict controls because unpasteurised milk may contain harmful bacteria such as E. coli, listeria, salmonella and campylobacter. Any changes to the current rules would not apply in Scotland, where the sale of all raw milk is banned.
The FSA said the proposals were discussed by its Board at a meeting on Wednesday 23 July 2014. The FSA Board concluded that additional evidence was required on risks from specific pathogens. More detail was also requested on the proposed testing regime that would be necessary to allow extended sales while maintaining consumer protection. The Board said a final decision should not be made until the European Food Safety Authority has delivered the findings of its own review of the risks from raw milk which is expected in December 2014.
Board members noted that although the small number of current raw milk consumers seemed relatively well informed on the risks linked to drinking raw milk, an overwhelming majority of consumers did not seem to be aware of these risks. Therefore, the FSA Board decided that wider access to raw drinking milk could lead to significant public health issues.
The FSA Board said wider access could also mean rapid growth for the raw drinking milk (RDM) market. Although current controls were deemed “robust and appropriate” for the current RDM market, Board members said that controls would have to be adapted swiftly should the market grow and questioned whether the FSA would have the capacity and resources to maintain the level of control and testing.
Dr Judith Bryans, Chief Executive of the UK’s dairy industry representative body Dairy UK welcomed the decision, stressing that milk pasteurisation provided the public with a “microbiologically safe product”, and that raw milk posed a “number of health concerns”.
“Statistics from Scotland show that incidences of food poisoning went down after raw drinking milk was banned,” Dr Bryans said. “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,” she said.
Producers of raw milk say it tastes better than the pasteurised variety, contains “good” bacteria to encourage a healthy digestive system and has more naturally occurring nutrients. Some also claim that it can be digested more easily by people with lactose intolerance.
The FSA will now consider the conclusions in more detail and agree on a timeframe for delivering the additional work the Board has requested.
Australian regulators proposing to allow wider range of raw milk products
Meanwhile, the Australian food regulator, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has called for submissions on a proposal to allow a wider range of raw milk products to be sold in Australia.
The Food Standards Code currently permits the production and sale of a very limited range of raw milk cheese such as cheese that have been cooked in production (for example, parmesan and gruyere).
FSANZ Chief Executive Officer Steve McCutcheon said that under the proposal, other kinds of cheese such as blue cheese or cheddars may be processed using raw milk, “as long as stringent requirements in the Code are met”.
“These include additional animal health, milking hygiene and temperature control requirements,” Mr McCutcheon said. “Businesses would have to demonstrate to enforcement agencies that they are able to meet the requirements,” he said