Remember the big raw milk debate? It’s been quiet over the past few months, but the Food Standards Agency board is set to revisit the contentious question of whether it should permit wider sales of raw drinking milk in the next few weeks.
The watchdog decided to maintain current regulations regarding the sale of raw drinking milk last July pending an investigation by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) into the matter, after a public consultation held last year suggested there were grounds for “a modest liberalisation of sales” and a modernisation of controls on how raw milk is sold.
When the FSA board looks at the issue again, this week’s recall of some unpasteurised goats cheese sold by Neal’s Yard Creamery may well play on its mind. Though only affecting a small product line (and cheese rather than raw drinking milk), the recall – over fears of listeria contamination – highlights exactly why many mainstream dairy producers are so nervous about any relaxation in raw milk controls.
Those in favour of increasing raw milk consumption often speak of its increased nutritional benefits and antimicrobial components not present in pasteurised milk, but those against fear it could expose consumers to unreasonable safety risks – and risk the industry’s reputation should recalls become more common as consumption increases.
In its review, EFSA called for “improved communication to consumers on the hazards and control measures associated with consumption of raw drinking milk”, but the industry is right to worry this might be easier said than done. When recalls are publicised in the media, will consumers remember the specifics – such as, for example, an unpasteurised goats milk cheese – or will they simply register that there’s been a safety scare involving a dairy product?
With dairy quotas set to be lifted shortly and producers desperate to inject value back into the market in light of supermarket price wars and commodity market crashes, expect the debate about raw milk to be as vociferous as ever.