The dairy industry’s biggest lobbying body, Dairy UK is to issue a tough code of practice for unpasteurised milk processors ahead of a major review of ‘green top’ sales.
Last November, Dairy UK called for an outright ban on farmers selling raw milk and cream, which it regards as a threat to the industry’s safe and nutritious image.
The new guidance includes a detailed Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point analysis covering animal health, milking, storage, separation and blending, filling and microbiological testing. It said the code had been drawn up with dairy farmers and technical experts, but denied it represented a softening of attitude towards raw milk.
A spokesman said: “There has been no change of policy. We would prefer that legislation throughout the UK was in line with Scotland where sales of raw drinking milk and raw cream are prohibited. However, a code of practice will help reduce the risks.”
Although there have been no recorded incidents of food poisoning linked to raw milk since 2002, the issue was put firmly back on the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA’s) agenda when Selfridges’ London food hall installed the first raw milk vending machine in a high street store at the end of last year.
Angry bosses were forced to suspend sales after just three months, pending a FSA investigation – although local environmental health officers had approved the installation.
The row highlighted loopholes in the 2006 Food Hygiene Regulations covering raw milk sales in England, which failed to take account of internet and vending machine sales.
Producers argue both fall within the spirit of the law, which permits sales of raw milk direct from the farmer to consumer or via a distributor, but only by doorstep deliveries.
Steve Hook of organic Longleys Farm, East Sussex, which owned and operated the Selfridges machine, and sells 5,000 pints a week via the internet, farmers’ markets and a milk round, described the new code of practice as a “major step forward”.
“In the past raw milk has copped the blame for food poisoning unfairly. But as producers we all need to be squeaky clean. We can’t afford to have any loose canons,” he said.
“I don’t regret going into Selfridges. It forced the issue and we welcome a debate. There is a lot of prejudice surrounding raw milk, but consumers want it and it’s here to stay – I think Dairy UK recognise that.”
Its spokesman added: “Our position is based on a precautionary approach. Raw milk can potentially contain pathogenic bacteria. Pasteurisation is recognised internationally as destroying any harmful organisms. Therefore, Dairy UK maintains that it should be pasteurised before being supplied for consumption as liquid milk.”
A review of the 2006 regulations was approved at the FSA’s board meeting in March. It said it would consult with industry and consumer groups, but no timetable had been set.