Lack of clarity about routes of sale was uncovered late in 2011, when producer Longley Farms in East Essex teamed up with the luxury department store Selfridges to sell raw milk from a vending machine in its London food hall.
Local environmental health officers approved the installation of the vending machine, sparking a row over whether it was within the law or not.
According to the FSA, current rules outlined in the 2006 Food Hygiene Regulations that govern the sale of raw milk did not offer clear advice on online and vending machine sales, which has led the FSA to publish its proposals today.
Under the new food safety proposals farmers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland should still be able to sell raw milk and cream directly from their farms, farmers markets or the internet. The rules would not affect Scotland, which has an outright ban on the sale of raw milk.
However, it has been made clear that farmers will not be allowed to sell from vending machines in other shops.
New routes of sale
“The new routes of sale that have emerged over the last few years have tested the interpretations of the current regulations and where it is acceptable to sell raw milk,” FSA head of policy Steve Wearne said.
“We do not believe the regulations need changing, but businesses and those who enforce the rules need greater clarity on what is acceptable. The guidance we are proposing will deliver that.”
The FSA has said it would prefer to retain the existing system of selling raw milk, but hoped to add clarity to the rules through the consultation.
Wearne said the FSA’s view remained that pasteurisation was the best way to address the risks from raw milk, because it would destroy germs that cause illness.
But in acknowledgement of the market for raw milk and strong support for consumer choice, “our preferred approach therefore seeks to strike the right balance between allowing consumer choice and protecting public health”, he added.
The dairy industry’s biggest lobbying body Dairy UK had previously called for an outright ban on farmers selling raw milk and cream, regarding it as a threat to the industry’s safe and nutritious image.
Dairy UK also issued a tough code of practice in 2012 for unpasteurised milk processors, which included a detailed Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point analysis that covered microbiological testing, animal health, milking, storage, separation and filling.
In 2012 a spokesman from Dairy UK said: “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.”
Meanwhile, Dairy UK said it would respond to the FSA’s consultation in due course.