On 31 March, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the UK hosted an open meeting for anyone interested in the future of raw drinking milk. Forming part of an ongoing review of existing regulations, with a public consultation open until 30 April, the meeting was attended by more than 150 people, representing a diverse range of interests.
Gerry Danby from Artisan Food Law was among the participants, and brings us this update:
10 million+ litres consumed without incident
Since 2002, there have been no reported outbreaks of illness associated with raw drinking milk in the UK, while throughout this period well in excess of 10 million litres of raw drinking milk have been consumed. The absence of any reported outbreak is no accident, but rather a credit to the high standards of production applied by today’s raw milk producers.
It fell to raw milk consumer and enthusiast Peter Campbell-McBride to highlight the “absurdities” in the present application of the regulations. Consumers are well-informed, says Peter, and they expect regulation but not when it regulates choice out of existence. The distinction between possibility and probability needs clearly to be drawn, it is possible raw milk may carry pathogens but the evidence shows it is not probable.
Also speaking at the meeting in London was raw milk producer, Steve Hook. This was, as he wryly commented, the second time he had been asked to speak by the FSA. The first occasion was at Westminster Magistrates Court when the FSA prosecuted him (the prosecution was later dropped) for selling raw milk using a vending machine. Today, Hook and Son sell locally at farmers’ markets and online through their website, but they could benefit extensively from additional market opportunities.
The raw milk vending machine
Survey data commissioned by the Food Standards Agency revealed that 77% of those surveyed supported continued sales of raw drinking milk and while 19% expressed interest in buying or consuming raw milk only 3% do so regularly. In short there is significant unmet consumer demand which raw milk vending machines could do much to meet.
The FSA’s position on raw milk vending machines appears to be:
- Sales from vending machines on farm premises or at a farmers market are permitted
- Raw milk vending machines cannot be placed in ‘retail outlets’
- Sales from vending machines located remotely from the farm are not permitted
Many argue that the distribution of raw milk by means of vending machines helps satisfy consumer demand. When placed, for example, in a local village shop, it supports both shop and farmer, and offers convenience for consumers.
Encouragingly, the point seemed to register with Steve Wearne, the FSA’s Director of Policy, who commented in the closing discussion stating:
“…people here have made very compelling arguments around putting the producers own vending machines under their control in a village shop or so on and expanding the routes to sale …”
There has never been a better opportunity for the FSA to prove its worth and collaborate with raw milk producers in pursuit of a common aim – the sale of safe and nutritious raw drinking milk. We can only hope that those compelling arguments Steve Wearne refers to find favour with the Board of the FSA. They must surely have taken away the message that consumers of raw milk are well informed and care passionately about the food they consume. If the FSA is serious about protecting consumer choice, the present confused interpretation of the law must be addressed to make it clear that vending machines used responsibly are an acceptable route to market beyond the farm.
We may get to learn of the outcome of the consultation later this year in July. Meanwhile, the presentations and discussion are available to watch online…