ACCC launches major investigation on raw milk even after bath milk recall

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 15th December 2014
Raw milk controversy continues even after bath milk recall
Raw milk controversy continues even after bath milk recall

The debate around raw milk continues after dairy company Mountain View Farm recalled its Organic Bath Milk product. The recall came after the product was implicated in the death of a three-year-old child, who had consumed it.

ACCC to investigate possible ACL breaches

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced on Friday that it was leading a national investigation of consumer law regulators into possible breaches of the Australian Consumer Law by sellers of raw milk when sold as a cosmetic product.

The ACCC said regulators would consider issues including whether product labels mislead consumers; whether the sellers’ obligation to provide safe goods has been met and whether voluntary or mandatory changes will address health concerns.

Bath milk product’s labelling to be reviewed

“We have chosen to  voluntarily recall our Mountain View Bath Milk this is to give us time to discuss with the health department in regards to reviewing the labelling,” Mountain View Organic said in a statement on the Company’s website. “We are happy to review the labels together with the Health Department,” it said.

Raw milk consumption

Experts have responded to controversy surrounding the bath milk, saying the consumption of raw milk can be problematic. The sale of raw milk for human consumption is illegal in Australia.

Dr David Everett, Associate Professor in Food Science, University of Otago and President, New Zealand Institute of Food Science and Technology said recent evidence had “shown that raw milk is not a sterile product when produced by the mother, but it is safe to directly feed the new-born”.

Raw milk is subject to strict controls because unpasteurised milk may contain harmful bacteria such as E. coli, listeria, salmonella and campylobacter.

“The problem arises when the product is packaged, transported to the point of sale, and stored, as the conditions during these steps are not always well-controlled and monitored,” Dr Everett said.

“Spoilage and pathogenic bacteria can be introduced and grow in number during these stages,” Dr Evertett said. “Primarily for this reason, raw milk should not be sold for human consumption. Pasteurisation is a simple heat treatment that has no significant impact upon nutritional value, thus the only reason for consuming raw milk is personal preference,” he said.

‘Vulnerable’ people should not consume raw milk, experts

Lydia Buchtmann, Campaign Convenor and spokesperson for the Food Safety Information Council, Australia, said that pasteurisation had “done a great deal to reduce food-borne disease since it was introduced in Australia in the 1940s.

“There are also a few unpasteurised hard or semi-hard cheeses imported into Australia, including extra hard-type cheeses (parmesan types), the Swiss cheeses Emmental, Gruyere and Sbrinz, and Roquefort cheese, but these have to undergo strict production processes and testing,” Ms Buchtmann said. “They must also be labelled that they have not been pasteurised,” she said.

“Vulnerable people such as pregnant women, people with reduced immune systems, the elderly or young children should not consume raw milk or raw milk cheeses as they can get seriously ill if they get food poisoning,” Ms Buchtmann said.

Bath milk sometimes consumed despite labelling

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced on Friday that dairy company Mountain View Farm had recalled its Organic Bath Milk, after it was implicated in the death of a three-year-old child.

The bath milk contains raw, or unpasteurised, milk and is sold in one and two litre varieties.

In Australia, the sale of raw cow’s milk for consumption is illegal however the ACCC said it understood that some people do consume the product despite it being marketed as a bath milk.

“Mountain View Farm Organic Bath Milk has been linked to a number of recent health concerns in young children after being used as a substitute for regular pasteurised milk,” said Delia Rickard, ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard. “The message from health agencies is clear: do not drink unpasteurised milk,” she said.

“The recalled product is called Organic Bath Milk and labelling indicates that it is a cosmetic product,” Ms Rickard said. “It also carries a warning that the product is not suitable for human consumption,” she said.

“Nevertheless, this product is sold in containers that resemble commonly used milk containers, and four children under the age of five have fallen ill after drinking contaminated raw milk in the last few weeks, while the death of the three-year-old has been referred to the coroner,” Ms Rickard said.

Australian Food News reported in July 2014 that Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) had released second calls for submissions on a decision of the Food Standards Code, and a proposal to allow a wider range of raw milk products to be sold in Australia.

Raw milk regulation elsewhere

Australian Food News also reported in July 2014 that the UK’s food safety regulator, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) had 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.

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.

US study finds increase in raw milk-associated outbreaks

Meanwhile, a study published on 10 December 2014 in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal found that the average annual number of outbreaks due to drinking raw (unpasteurised) milk had more than quadrupled since the last similar study. The increase was from an average of three outbreaks per year during 1993-2006 to 13 per year during 2007-2012.

The study found that overall, there were 81 outbreaks in 26 states from 2007 to 2012. The outbreaks, which accounted for about 5 percent of all foodborne outbreaks with a known food source, sickened nearly 1,000 people and sent 73 to the hospital. More than 80 percent of the outbreaks occurred in states where selling raw milk was legal.

The CDC said that as more states have allowed the legal sale of raw milk, there had been a rapid increase in the number of raw milk-associated outbreaks.

Since 2004, eight additional US states have begun allowing the sale of raw milk, bringing the number of states where raw milk sales are legal to 30. At least five additional states allow cow shares – a practice where people can pay a fee for a cow’s care in return for some of the cow’s raw milk – for a total of 10 states as of the most recent survey. If more states begin allowing sales of raw milk, the CDC predicts the number of outbreaks and illnesses will continue to rise. The CDC recommends against consuming raw milk, especially for people who may be more likely to suffer severe illness (children, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems).